Swann wants home help to assist the 'world's best bowling attack'

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The Independent Online

In the manual of phoney-war declarations, it was hopelessly tame. Old-time practitioners would have considered it a slur on their bad name to trot it out in public.

But it had a certain telling resonance and Graeme Swann probably knew it. Invited to assess what playing in England might mean for his team in the crunch series against India which starts tomorrow, he said: "I always believe that home advantage should be exactly that. I think we should tailor pitches to suit our seam attack because on our pitches it's the best bowling attack in the world. Whether we actually get those here we'll see.

"It's not an exact science, or it is, but it's beyond me. The most important is that the ball swings in the air. If it does that, we will be very, very dangerous."

There in a nutshell – and Swann does not do nutshells often because he is too extravagant a character for that – he had it. England, with a little help from their friendly groundsmen, believe that they can bowl out India twice.

In addressing the point, Swann also inadvertently allowed another line of thought. If England's attack is as good as he estimated, there is a case for playing all four fast bowlers plus himself in a five-man attack at Lord's.

It is not the balance that England have favoured lately and they have backed themselves with some success to win series with four bowlers. Nowhere was the strategy better demonstrated than in Australia last winter when they won three matches by an innings.

But India are different. Their batsmen, as Swann said, are much lauded. Three, perhaps four of them, are among the best players of their generation, and that is in the significant absence of their unprecedentedly dashing opener, Virender Sehwag.

With the pitch likely to be sporting if the weather, as forecast, is fitful, now may be the time to give the bowlers their opportunity to force an early lead in the series. It would mean upsetting the balance by omitting a batsman and moving the wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, up to six in the batting order, but it would also be a declaration of intent.

There would be an inherent risk because if the pitch is that encouraging to bowlers, England may need all the batting they can get. But their upper order has been in prime form since the start of last winter.

Such a move would be surprising and is unlikely to happen. There is not the vaguest hint among the squad that it is a possible course of action and although Tim Bresnan was determined not to reveal too much information, he clearly still presumes that the last place in the side is between him and Stuart Broad. "I can only try to bowl as well as I can in the nets," said Bresnan.

Rahul Dravid, an old campaigner who played the first of his 153 Test matches 15 years ago at Lord's, was less certain than Swann about the virtues of England's bowlers. But then since that day when he scored 95 (another debutant, Sourav Ganguly, made a hundred) he has seen and done it all. "All of them are high-quality bowlers but whether they are the best I have ever played we will have to see in the series," he said. "In the four Test matches we will see how they perform against our guys. We have young bowlers who are improving. It will be a great contest." It is possible to infer from those comments that Dravid knows how good England's bowlers are and is only hoping that the likes of Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar can prosper quickly in favourable conditions. But he will be aware that their inexperience favours the home side.

Dravid was unheard of when he came to England 15 years ago, though as he recollected yesterday, he had already played five years of Indian domestic first-class cricket. It was as hard to break into India's side then as it is now. "To come here on a tour of England I had to have good fortune even to play the Test match," he said. "But there were injuries and I got an opportunity. I knew it was probably the only one.

"I waited for years, I knew the significance and the importance of it, but I was lucky. I walked across the ground with Srinath when I was about 50 not out overnight. I knew it was a significant innings that gave me breathing space, to be able to score and establish myself. Scoring 90 here and then another 80 at Trent Bridge gave me a lot of confidence. I never expected to be here 15 years later talking about it, absolutely not."

If one thing was crystal clear yesterday, it was how much both sides were delighted to be at Lord's. Dravid's memories of the ground have naturally been enhanced by his wonderful maiden Test match but he meant it when he said: "Coming back you always feel at home, that this is a place of cricket, a place that truly understands the history and the tradition of the game."

Swann became dewy eyed about the old place too and happily described the series as the major draw of the summer. "It's a massive series," he said, "but whether it'll be tougher than Australia is hard to say. Going to Australia and winning 3-1 there was probably the toughest series I've played in.

"I don't know whether we're favourites but I'm very comfortable when I look at the two teams on paper. India have a much-lauded batting line-up and rightly so. If anyone said to me you can pick and choose from both teams, I'd be pretty happy with the one we've got at the moment. I'm very happy with our side on paper."

Only on the pitch will it count. The pitch is what will determine England's side. Bresnan's public appearance yesterday probably meant nothing. Unless England are taking the bold road to glory.

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