Swann's sheer pugnacity with both bat and ball is built to last
Bravo has shining potential but he will look back at this match with little fondness
Sunday 20 May 2012
If the thunder don't get you, wrote the Grateful Dead, then the lightning will. It seems unlikely that the Californian band were keen followers of cricket, but as a rock music fan Graeme Swann would surely appreciate the relevance of that lyric from "The Wheel".
Get through England's specialist batsmen and you run into Matt Prior, who has six Test centuries and an average of 43. Squeeze past him and you must deal with Tim Bresnan, average 40, and Stuart Broad, whose top score in Tests is 169 on this ground.
Dismiss all three cheaply, as West Indies did yesterday, and a team might feel as though they have broken England's resistance. Wrong. While the tourists contemplated an effective morning session their hopes of recovery disappeared in a flash, as Swann's fulminating innings of 30 from just 25 deliveries brightened up England's day.
Bresnan's superior batting contributed to his selection ahead of Graham Onions and Steven Finn here. That could be seen as a defensive move, but the coach, Andy Flower, and captain, Andrew Strauss, would argue that they were playing a smart numbers game. Every man in the lower order might not succeed, but at least one should. If Bresnan and Broad don't get you, then Swann will.
Ottis Gibson has done a sound job since becoming West Indies coach, but as a former member of the England back-room team he will know how Swann bats. It was curious, then, to see Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach encouraging Swann to drive through the off side. When the ball is at his ribs or higher, Swann is uncertain. Allow him to play on the front foot andyou will pay.
Led by Roach, West Indies claimed the first session, and with the third ball after the interval, Edwards bowled Broad to leave England with a lead of 99 and only two wickets in hand. Swann joined Ian Bell and quickly proved that he is as adept at changing the direction of a game with the bat as he is with the ball.
Consecutive fours in his first over ignited the counterattack and Swann continued to assert himself, thumping Edwards to the long-on boundary and then punishing Roach. By the time he was dismissed, bowled trying to mow a straight delivery from Shannon Gabriel over midwicket, England had added 55 in 8.3 overs and fielders' hands were disappearing back into their pockets.
Swann's pugnacity aided his team's position, and was a perfect complement to Ian Bell's more gentle progress at the other end.
Bell scored a century for Warwickshire recently but in nine Test innings during the winter he managed only one 50. Although Bell retains the faith of Flower and Strauss and remains a key man in the middle order, every batsman likes to start the international summer with a decent score. By his standards, Bell's 61 was unobtrusive, occupying more than three hours and containing only four fours.
He will feel a good deal better for it, though, and when he was last man out England's lead had grown to 155 and the tourists' hopes of forcing their way back into the match were fading.
Three quick wickets before tea placed West Indies in even greater trouble, and left them to reflect on another tail-end assault that had dented an improving position. In their recent Test series against Australia in the Caribbean, the Windies were competitive throughout but were undermined by their failure to clean up the Australian tail.
England were already in credit when Swann walked to the wicket, and his 34-minute blast boosted their bank balance quickly. In the final session, the off-spinner then did what he does best, removing Darren Bravo for his first wicket of the match.
Bravo is a batsman of shining potential but he will look back on this match with little fondness. The victim of a comical run-out in the first innings, Bravo then dealt out similar treatment to Kirk Edwards and had made 21 when he played for the off-break, only for Swann's arm ball to crash into his stumps.
Swann has dismissed many batsmen in this fashion. When he is around, lightning always seems to strike twice.
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