As Graeme Swann put it – and no player is more aware of the needs of headline writers: "History is there to be rewritten." He was discussing the possibility of England hunting down the 340 runs they needed to win the first Test against Sri Lanka, which by the end of the third day had been reduced to 229.
"I don't like stats whatsoever," he said. "Just because someone won a game in 1912 chasing 290 or in the Kerry Packer era someone got 350 – this is 2012 and this is the game we're playing."
Cricketers, like politicians, ignore history at their peril but Swann was right in one regard. History was there last night for England to make – a considerable slice of it, too. They have never made more than 332 to win a Test. That total was reached not in 1912 but in 1929 at Melbourne, when Percy Chapman's team were giving Australia the runaround. In Asia, England's best fourth-innings chase is the 209 that beat Pakistan by five wickets at Lahore in 1962. But on five occasions when they have been asked to make more than 300 to win a Test on the sub-continent, they have lost. In making England slight favourites, Swann was indeed cocking a snook at the past.
Nor did he seek glory boys. He said what everybody was thinking England needed but had not exhibited this winter. "We need a bit of good old-fashioned roll-your-sleeves-up and get-your-head-down," he said.
It was a good day for Swann and like a few of these England players, he needed one. He did not really see his 6 for 82 as a response to critics since he is mildly surprised to have any, though if there were any, he supposed it was.
Although he is not a stats man, Swann did mention that it had been pointed out by Alastair Cook that his stats on the ill-fated tour of the UAE were better than his career stats, which are eminently respectable. Indeed, they were: he took 13 wickets against Pakistan at 25.08 runs each with a strike rate of 53 while conceding 2.84 runs an over. During his Test career he had until this match 166 wickets at 28.53, 57.78 and 2.96. But the real point is that Pakistan's spinners did better and England lost.
Swann bowled crisply in Sri Lanka's second innings, fortified by striking early. It was as if once he removed a left-hander early, he was more confident about bowling to right-handers who have tended to milk him lately.
"It is obviously nice to be in the wickets and to have the plaudits and be the centre of attention," he said. "In that regard it has been a short while and it's nice to be back. It's a good pitch to bowl on but it's also tempered by the fact that it's a good pitch to bat on as well and people who are prepared to apply themselves and get their head down are very hard to shift. Mahela Jayawardene proved in the first innings that with the right technique and temperament it's pretty heavenly to bat on.
"The most frustrating thing for me in the first innings was when Jayawardene was toying with us as bowlers. I felt like an 11-year-old bowling to him at one stage. He was scoring singles at will, twos at will, he was farming the strike, we just didn't know what to do for a while. To bamboozle him with my doosra second time round was very pleasing."
All England needed last night was somebody to bat like Jayawardene and make Sri Lanka look like 11-year-olds.
Chasing a dream
England's highest Test run chases:
332-7 v Australia 1928-29
315-4 v Australia 2001
307-6 v New Zealand 1997
298-4 v Australia 1895
294-4 v New Zealand 2008
284-6 v New Zealand 2004
282-9 v Australia 1908
282-3 v New Zealand 2004
263-9 v Australia 1902
251-8 v South Africa 2000Reuse content