Swann no longer looks like a duck out of water

  • @stephenbrenkley

Unless specifically informed otherwise, it is safe to assume that England are perpetually searching for another spin bowler or a different wicketkeeper. The latest two to be plucked out in each category are, respectively, Graeme Swann and Philip Mustard, whose displays in the first one-day international against Sri Lanka on Monday have begun to assume a titanic hue, since the tourists' performance in other areas was so worryingly ponderous.

Mustard was making his international debut and while his 27 from 17 balls and one stumping was not quite the stuff dreams are made of, it showed enough of the cut of his jib to satisfy all onlookers.

Swann perhaps had a harder task, for several reasons: international finger spinning is tough and getting tougher; he was replacing Monty Panesar who, whatever his form, has an iconic public status; and he was returning after one cap nearly eight years ago.

The nerves settled quickly. His first international ball for England since 23 January 2000 at Bloemfontein spat and twitched with the venom of a snake in the nearby forests. The rest of his spell was as probing and mature as could have been expected given the high quality of the opposition and he also scored 24. Swann is now the hot favourite to return as the second spinner in the Test series in December.

He was first picked in an England squad for The Oval Test in 1999 and went on the tour to South Africa that winter. It is fair to say that once there, he covered himself in opprobrium rather than glory.

"I can't remember any specific instances of wrongdoing apart from missing the coach a couple of times," he said. "I was 20, very naïve about cricket and life and it taught me a hell of a lot. When people come up and ask what you did wrong and you can't put your finger on it you realise you probably weren't ready.

"So it's probably the best thing that happened to me, in a perverse sort of way, and I'm glad because I'm a far better cricketer for it."

It is also perverse then that his best season as a cricketer remains that of when he was 20. He has never done better than his 57 wickets and 727 runs that season. But Swann did not look an ugly duckling on Monday night and that is a large part of the international battle. He may already have glided into a place later in the winter.