Stage set for Swann to turn the screw


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The Independent Online

Graeme Swann has been conspicuous by his quietness for most of this summer. But while England have moved to within touching distance of a world title without much wicket-taking assistance from their spinner, today could be tailor-made for a significant appearance on centre stage.

Having started the season's first series, against Sri Lanka, as the game's second-ranked Test bowler (behind South Africa's lightning-quick seamer Dale Steyn), Swann has slipped down to fourth spot.

That will not worry him much. Well, not much apart from the fact that his big mate and Twitter rival Jimmy Anderson is one of those now above him. And even if it did rankle, he could console himself with the thought that he has had precious little chance to shine since taking four for 16 in seven overs during that dramatic Sri Lankan collapse in Cardiff two and a half months ago.

Generally, there was too much rain about during the first half of the summer for an off-spinner to be in his element. And ever since India arrived, Messrs Anderson, Broad, Tremlett and Bresnan have been quick to clean up.

But cometh the hour (and a pitch getting dryer and taking more spin all the time), cometh the cheeky chappie.

At Trent Bridge, Swann delivered a total of 15 overs across India's two innings and ended up with nought for a distinctly unflattering 97 runs. And in their first knock here, he was called upon to send down only four overs, again going wicket-less.

Edgbaston, though, is usually the spinner's friend – if not during the first half of a game then certainly towards the end of it. Shane Warne always looked forward to bowling in Birmingham, as he recalled a couple of days ago during one of his TV commentary stints, and Swann will have plenty of happy memories of his last Test appearance in England's second city.

Not required to turn an arm 12 months ago while Pakistan were being routed for 72, he came spectacularly into his own a couple of days later with a magnificent return of six for 65 from 37 overs.

Those figures remain Swann's Test best. And while it would be asking a fair bit for him to get close to them in what remains of this match, England will expect their slow bowler to make life increasingly difficult for India's batsmen. Assuming he is needed, of course.

Although yesterday's remarkable scorecard certainly suggested otherwise, the visitors' spinners – leggie Amit Mishra, off-break bowler Suresh Raina and all-sorts operator Sachin Tendulkar – did get a fair bit of turn. The trouble was, England were already well on their way to an enormous total and none of those three bowlers have either the control or the ability of Swann.

Even before completing his double century, Alastair Cook was talking about the need for England to "bat big" because batting last on this pitch would not be easy. Well, Cook and Co could not have batted much bigger – and if India can get past the home seamers then Swann could have a field day.