Swann thankful Hawk-Eye has pushed umpires to lift a finger

England's premier tweaker has benefited from playing in an era when lbw decisions can be checked. Stephen Brenkley reports
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The Independent Online

Law 36 has changed Graeme Swann's life. Without it, he might not have been sitting there yesterday holding court, he would not be the best spin bowler operating in world cricket, he would not be quite so attractive to sponsors, he might not even be so prolific on the Twittersphere.

It would be pushing it a bit to say that Swann owes it all to leg before wicket, but not by much. The most contentious dismissal in cricket, as enshrined in the 36th of the game's 42 laws, or at least the modern interpretation of it, has propelled Swann to his position as the No 1 ranked Test spinner. He is feared by all foes, coveted by his colleagues and he ought to take law 36 with him to bed at night and clutch it to his bosom.

In another age it would not have happened. Swann, a master craftsman it should be noted, has been aided and abetted by the modern regard for lbw. For more than a century it was something that was there, largely to be ignored by umpires. Batsmen playing against spin bowlers had virtually to be treading on their stumps when the ball struck their pads to see an upraised finger.

The grey mat and Hawk-Eye in slow-motion replays, allied to the decision review system, have changed things forever. Swann has taken 138 wickets in his Test career and, having overtaken in the year the likes of Johnny Wardle, Johnny Briggs and Wilfred Rhodes, he has in his sights Hedley Verity, Fred Titmus and Tony Lock whose tallies he could have overhauled by the end of the summer.

Of his haul, 41 of his Test victims or 30 per cent have been lbw, a much higher proportion than any other England spinner. The two most prolific England spinners of all time (so far) are Jim Laker and Derek Underwood with 193 and 297 wickets respectively. Only 17 per cent of Laker's wickets were lbw, only seven per cent of Underwood's.

"Hawk-Eye was the first thing which allowed umpires to review their decisions off the field and think 'Hang on a minute, I'd never have thought that was out but perhaps it is out.' DRS [the decision review system] has really helped that," said Swann yesterday as England gathered in Hampshire for the inaugural Test match at the Rose Bowl, which begins on Thursday.

"They seem to be more willing to give them out in Test cricket. In county cricket there's no TV, there is no close inspection about what's going on, so if there's doubt the umpire is happy just to say not out. The joke was that on the fourth morning they would start firing them out so they could go and play golf. It's not just the reviews, but I think that has played a massive part."

So far, the benefits are being felt largely in international cricket as Swann's case shows. He might owe 30 per cent of his Test wickets to lbw but in the County Championship the figure drops to 15 per cent.

It is not before time and it could be argued that men like Underwood were denied countless verdicts by umpires unwilling to take risks. Hawk-Eye has opened everyone's eyes, and on the bland surfaces too often paraded as Test pitches now it has been a necessary addition.

The lack of DRS in England's second Test series of the summer against India may or may not erode Swann's effectiveness. True, he will not be able to ask for reviews – but then nor will India's batsmen, against umpires emboldened by seeing replays.

"I don't know if it's a distrust of technology or a bit of kidology on their [India's] part," said Swann. "If they don't want to do it, fair enough. The whole point was to get rid of those glaring errors that could swing a Test match either way. It has definitely done that."

Swann being Swann, he could not resist playing to his audience a little and had a gentle jibe at England's prodigious batsmen, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, not necessarily known for their entertainment value.

"I'm not a great watcher of cricket but when those two are batting, my God, I struggle to keep my eyes open. I adore the fact they love batting and bat all the time, but I would happily watch an Ian Bell or a Matt Prior. I always watch KP as well ... but Cook, Strauss and Trott, if there is an uglier top three in the world I don't know of it. But they are amazing and I would not change any of it. I would happily pay their salaries." A team fine at the least, after that.

Graeme Swann is a brand ambassador for Kingfisher Beer