Swann: 'Being the No 1 team would be great'

England want to rule the world, and with the planet's best spinner Graeme Swann in their side they have a chance
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After the Lord Mayor's Show comes... well, certainly not the dustcart. But with Sri Lanka doing little to promote Test match cricket as the be-all and end-all of the international game, England's first series since the Ashes euphoria of four months ago may feel more like a "come as you are" street party than a suited-and-booted city pageant.

Almost from the moment in April when they lost the World Cup final to India, Sri Lanka have been in a state of flux, with just about everybody – captain, vice-captain, selectors – rushing to resign. Even worse, from a spectator's point of view, there will be no Lasith Malinga on view later this month, as the fast bowler, who is wonderful to watch, has decided to retire from Tests.

And just in case anyone doubted that the tail now wags the dog in many parts of the cricket world, most of Sri Lanka's best players will pitch up in England not much more than a week before that First Test and only once they have had their fill of Indian Premier League rupees.

This is not to say, of course, that Sri Lanka will be easy meat for England – in Cardiff, at Lord's or when Hampshire's Rose Bowl stages its maiden Test to round off a three-match series. But the visitors' easy-come, easy-go preparations for a contest between the third- and fourth-ranked sides in the International Cricket Council's Test standings hardly supports the notion that these games really, really matter to them.

Nor will the low-key build-up to Cardiff do anything to weaken the theory that there are two types of Test cricket: the Ashes and everything else. But perhaps that is our fault. Maybe as a nation we are too obsessed with that funny little urn; everything else seems second-rate.

Well, you could try that idea on Graeme Swann, but don't expect a "maybe yes, maybe no" sort of response. "Too obsessed? No. Not at all," said the England spinner. "It's the biggest thing in cricket, the greatest sporting event on the planet.

"It is the most important series England and Australia play, as simpleas that. The biggest Test series in cricket, full stop. Of course every series is important, but if you ask any of the players what is top of their wish list then winning an Ashes series would be it. That's just how it is. For me, the Ashes will always be the premier cricket event, the one that I will always be desperate to play in and desperate to win."

There will be much talk over the next three weeks about how England must put their achievements in Australia behind them and start this summer with clear minds and new targets.But while Swann will buy into that philosophy without any difficulty, his honesty about the importance of the Ashes is refreshing in these days of on-message utterances.

Come 26 May, though, we can rest assured that the world's No 1 slow bowler will be thinking about Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan rather than Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey. "This is a massive summer for us," said Swann. "After the winter we've had it would be a real shame if we didn't carry on the good work. We want to be No 1 in the world and if we can beat first Sri Lanka and then India later this summer I think we'll have gone a long way towards doing that.

"It's important for us to keep getting better and better, especially in our home conditions. We have got to make it as tricky for people playing England in England as teams used to find taking on Australia in Australia.

"Being the No 1 Test team would be a great title to have and it's what we are going for. We've made no secret about that – we want to be No 1 in both Tests and one-dayers. We've got a better chance of doing it, sooner rather than later, in Test cricket, whereas the one-dayers might take a bit longer."

England are third in the Test rankings, behind India and South Africa. But with a four-match series against the leaders to follow Sri Lanka's visit, the summit – which was obscured for so long by Australia's seemingly immovable presence – is now in view.

As for Swann, this summer's meeting with India will complete a remarkable cycle. Hard though it is to believe, given what he has achieved, it was only two-and-half years ago that the off spinner made his Test debut in Chennai – creating an instant impression by dismissing Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his first over.

Now he has played 29 Tests, taken 128 wickets at 28 apiece, picked up 10 five-fors and installed himself atNo 2, behind South Africa's Dale Steyn, in the Test bowling rankings.

"I've certainly enjoyed a halcyon period," said Swann. "In some ways it seems a lot longer than two-and-a- half years, but I've loved every minute of it and I could probably recall every wicket if I tried hard enough.

"As a team, we've won two Ashes series in that time, and a first in Australia for more than 20 years, so I think that says a lot about what we've done and where we've come from."

Spinning round the world

How the stats stack up in Test cricket over the last two years:

Graeme Swann (Eng)

Tests 24, Wkts 101, Per Test 4.2, Avge 27.97, 5x 8

Shakib Al Hasan (Bang)

9, 40, 4.4, 32.42, 3

Nathan Hauritz (Aus)

13, 49, 3.7, 35.75, 2

Daniel Vettori (NZ)

13, 52, 4.0, 36.40, 1

Sulieman Benn (WI)

10, 31, 3.1, 37.54, 3

Harbhajan Singh (Ind)

16, 63, 3.9, 39.33, 2

Saeed Ajmal (Pak)

9, 33, 3.6, 39.72, 1

Ajantha Mendis (SL)

9, 27, 3.0, 43.11, 1

Paul Harris (SA)

13, 322.4, 49.56, 1