Swann fits the bill so Monty must go down pecking order

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The Independent Online

There are occasions when somebody simply looks the right fit for big-time sport. This is nothing to do with outstanding talent, though that always helps, but involves conviction, knowledge, wisdom, intelligence and the certainty that because of all those qualities you have learned your craft.

It is like finding a shirt that is neithertoo tight nor too loose, and while it is not quite impeccably measured it feels and looks comfortable. Yesterday was one of those times. Throughout the second day of the Second Test, but especially in the middle afternoon session, Graeme Swann was aplomb personified. His off-spin was not exactly threatening but it was never innocuous. It was invariably smart. This was only his second Test, but the performance was that of somebody who had been round the block and therefore knew all about being streetwise.

Swann provided an immediate indication that he might have much of what it takes when he delivered his first over in Test cricket a few days ago in Chennai. The stuff he purveyed in those six balls was not that auspicious, but it brought him two wickets. He was only the second man in the history of Tests to take two wicketsin his first over.

After he finished with 3 for 122 in 45 overs yesterday it would be daft to suggest that here at last is the miracle mystery bowler for whom England have been searching. But Swann's carefully constructed control, his concentration on a pitch which granted him some encouragement, may just have altered the balance of England's side for the foreseeable future.

Monty Panesar and his pleasing action began this tour as the No 1 spinner and the obvious option for the Ashes next summer. The side has been constructed to accommodate Panesar as a non-batsman and non-fielder.But Swann is the shrewder cricketer, and not only because he can bat and field much better. He has learned as the years have gone by, assimilated advice and put that into practice.

He has always been a good bloke to have around, but after being picked for a tour of South Africa when he was 20, it took him eight years to get another chance in England's one-day side. Still, he was on this tour as England's second spinner. Not exactly a makeweight, but embodying the slenderness of England's spin resources.

It was instructive yesterday that between the spinning pair, Swann bowled the slowest ball and also the fastest ball. He was regularly varying his pace, though usually keeping a tight line on or just outside off-stump, and employing the skills of drift and drop.

Off-spinners have long been out of favour. The idea that a finger-spinner turning the ball into the right-hander could be effective went out about the same time as black-and-white television. True, Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh are billed as off-spinners, but hardly in the conventional sense. Discounting those two and the Pakistani Saqlain Mushtaq, who also brought something else to the party, the off-spin bowler who has taken most wickets in the past 20 years is Carl Hooper of West Indies, who was much more batsman than bowler.

Swann might (and it is important not to get carried away with the two-match career of a 29-year-old who has seven Test wickets) perform the sort of role for England that Ashley Giles once undertook, sometimes to widespread but ill-conceived derision. Giles was an unsung defensive spinner, who did a holding job for England over54 Tests. His 143 wickets might have been earned at 40 runs apiece, but he conceded only 2.86 runs an over.

It was heartening to watch Swann bowl with Andrew Flintoff in the afternoon session. Swann had made a breakthrough that had never looked like coming England's way as Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid took their partnership to 314, India's second highest for the second wicket. With beautifully flighted balls, Swann, in a period of marvellous perseverance, removed them both. Kevin Pietersen, who was impressive in his outlook yesterday, immediately called for Flintoff. In partnership they bowled 12 overs for 13 runs and two wickets. Had Alastair Cook not grounded a straightforward chance in the gully offered by Yuvraj Singh off Flintoff, the match might have been turned on its head.

As it was, India regrouped. Their eventual total of 453 from 158.2 overs was not dissimilar to the 469 they made at the same ground against Australia, albeit in 129 overs, two months ago. That was enough then for them to go on to win by 320 runs as their spinners Harbhajan and Amit Mishra took 12 wickets between them.

England might go on to lose this match, but they might also have found a player.