When Graeme Swann was picked for this England touring squad there was mild surprise. When he replaced Monty Panesar as the only spinner in the starting XI the eyebrows twitched a little higher.
When it was announced yesterday that he will miss today's final match of the series with a torn hamstring there was sympathy and a definite feeling that the team would be slightly weaker. How the wheel had turned. It was virtually impossible to avoid mentioning what becomes of ugly ducklings.
Swann has seized his chance at redemption in the first four matches of a triumphant one-day series. Brought back after seven years – and in for one of the team's most recognisable figures – he has taken seven wickets with his off-spin at an average of 22.28, a strike rate of 34.2 and an economy rate of 3.90, all good going by any standards. He has also scored crucial runs in the late middle order and taken important catches. He will be missed and that fact demonstrates how quickly sport changes.
"Graeme has bowled beautifully," said coach Peter Moores. "He has been the most aggressive spinner on show on both teams. He has turned the ball more than most and taken his opportunities to dominate when he can, bowling aggressively in those middle overs.
"He has had a really good trip, the key for him is that he keeps his feet on the ground, keeps doing what got him here and the rest will look after itself. He couldn't have done much more to put himself in the Test frame. It's a shame he's not playing because he would be under consideration for man of the series."
There was a minor warning to Swann in Moores' justifiably handsome tribute. Part of the reason he was kept out of the team after touring South Africa in 1999-2000 where he played a solitary one-day match was that he had a reputation as a bit of a lad. Now is not the time to revive that.
Panesar will almost certainly replace him, the only change to the team in the whole five-match series. He has cut a slightly aloof figure these past three weeks while England have carved out a winning 3-1 position without him. His coach was sharp enough to recognise how hard it might have been after being dropped from the one-day team for the fifth time in a year.
"It's been tough," said Moores. "You come to the sub-continent as a spinner and you think there's every chance you'll play. A series of factors has kept him out, Swann doing well, the seamers bowling really well, the wicket dictating that seam has been as effective as spin.
"It's part of his progression. He has started on the journey in one-day cricket but it's still very early. Monty is improving all the time. We saw that in the India series. He has enough variation already to be a successful one-day player. The more you play, the more experience you get, the better your decision making gets."
Swann is expected to be fit in two weeks. He has a grade two tear on a scale that goes up to five and the fear if he played was that it might worsen to grade three or four. Had he played England would have been unchanged in their bid to beat Sri Lanka 4-1. It would have been only the third time and the first for 20 years that they had selected the same team for five successive matches. As it is, it was only the fourth run of four – a significant shift in policy and apparently a winning formula.