Swann: spat with KP did not cause 5-0
Stand-in captain brushes off talk of discord with Pietersen ahead of final match of a gruelling year
England have one more shot at redemption today.
Since they are the best Twenty20 side in the world their chances of leaving this tour of India with something to show for their efforts should be correspondingly high.
But there are other factors. For a start, they lost their most recent T20 match when chasing a paltry target of 113, against the West Indies at The Oval last month. That began an unfamiliar predilection for defeat that has continued unhindered in the one-day series here.
There is no question that the tourists have had enough, that many of them have been playing cricket uninterrupted for what seems like forever, that they are desperate for a break and that, whatever they say, this will affect them in the solitary T20 match at Eden Gardens today.
Conversely, several of the squad are young men for whom today's match is an opportunity to show that they should have enduring international careers. Graeme Swann, the captain in place of the injured Stuart Broad, insisted yesterday that a line had been drawn in the sand after the embarrassment of the 5-0 one-day series reversal.
"Sometimes a change is as good as a rest," he said. "Everyone's buzzing, everyone is looking forward to it. The spirit in the camp is still very high, which is unusual for a team who have lost 5-0. It's a young and resilient squad." India, buzzing a bit themselves, may take advantage of the youth and crush the resilience one last time.
Much of Swann's briefing was taken up with discussing his recently published book, The Breaks Are Off, and the comments he made about Kevin Pietersen. He said, albeit in a few sentences in a volume of more than 200 pages, that in his opinion Pietersen was never the right man to captain England and was not a natural leader.
Right or wrong (and probably right, but when Pietersen was appointed he looked the only man to some), that judgement has partly dominated this tour. The management has been at pains to deny that it provided the remotest reason for their annihilation and Swann concurred yesterday.
"My relationship with Kev is unchanged, it's fine," he said. "It's a story that people were trying to make that wasn't there. I have read about dressing-room disharmony and discord. Unfortunately, guys who are thinking that probably haven't got their finger on the pulse. It wasn't a distraction for us, it was a distraction for guys on the periphery, on the outside of the team."
But Swann's account of it pays no heed to the delicate balance within dressing rooms. Top-level sport is often about narrow margins (not that it applied in this ODI series).
It is why teams employ specialists, from psychologists to analysts, to give them an extra edge. Anything that detracts from that edge is potentially harmful. But Swann was not having it. "It has been a distraction to the press, it has not been a distraction to the players," he said.
"There are other reasons we lost 5-0. Even the most one-eyed journalist might be able to see that it was our deficiencies of bowling and batting on this trip that cost us the series not what the book said."
Pietersen and Swann have shaken hands on the matter, though not yesterday, it is to be hoped, because Pietersen has a fractured thumb that is likely to keep him out of the game. He had a thorough workout in the nets at Eden Gardens and though he never looked entirely comfortable, England will give him every opportunity to play.
It is England's 45th and last match of the year, which has included seven Twenty20s, 30 one-day internationals and a mere eight Test matches. Enough is enough.
Possible teams: England: GP Swann (capt), C Kieswetter (wk), AD Hales, IR Bell, RS Bopara, JM Bairstow, SR Patel, JC Buttler, TT Bresnan, ST Finn, JW Dernbach.
India: MS Dhoni(capt, wk), AM Rahane, RV Uthappa, V Kohli, RG Sharma, SK Raina, RA Jadeja, R Ashwin, P Kumar, RV Kumar, VR Aaron.
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