Warne backs Swann to shine in the Ashes

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The Independent Online

Australia legend Shane Warne ranks England 's Graeme Swann as the world's most improved cricketer and believes he has the ability to spin his side to a famous Ashes victory this winter.

Swann, 31, has enjoyed a dream run since making a belated Test debut in 2008 - more than eight years since his first call-up.

To date he has taken 91 wickets in 20 Tests, with seven five-wicket hauls, and he is also a fixture in the Twenty20 and one-day sides.

Warne, widely regarded as one of the finest bowlers in history after accumulating 708 Test scalps with his leg-spin, has monitored Swann's progress and is impressed.

While he feels his former team remain a strong side he highlights Swann as the tourists' potential match-winner on helpful Australian tracks.

"England are coming good and they are doing really well at the moment," Warne, who is a global ambassador for 888poker.com, told Press Association Sport.

"Australia are going pretty decent too so I think the Ashes series is going to be a really close contest.

"But this winter is probably England's best chance to win (in Australia) in the last 20 years. Certainly in my time it was often the case that when they came over they'd have to play their absolute best and we'd have to play poorly for it to be a close contest. This one coming is their chance to give it a real shake.

"Graeme Swann is the big key if they do, he is probably the most improved player in world cricket. It's the first time England are coming to Australia with an attacking spinner who can take a five-for and win you a game on the last day.

"Guys like Ashley Giles did a great job for England but that element of attack is what they've lacked.

"Three or four wickets over here - Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane - all turn so you need a spinner who goes after wickets rather than just containing.

"He's one of a few new faces who haven't got a lot of scars from previous tours, so I think they'll do fine."

Australia's own slow bowling options are numerous, with finger spinner Nathan Hauritz now joined by wrist spinner Steven Smith, who made his Test debut in last week's first Test against Pakistan.

They are backed up by a number of options elsewhere in the side, with a the likes of Simon Katich, Michael Clarke and Marcus North all potential partnership breakers.

North took six wickets in the second innings against Pakistan at Lord's to earn a space on the new 'neutral' honours board and double his wicket tally in Test cricket.

Warne, despite his hundreds of wickets and fondness of playing against England, never managed five wickets at HQ, an irony that is not lost on him.

"I think I got four wickets a few times but I never got there," said Warne, who was speaking as the online poker operator launched a promotion for new players to receive a US dollars 3,500-valued welcome package and 25% instant bonus.

"I actually thought Marcus bowled pretty well though, so good luck to him, that's just the way it goes. North, Katich and Clarke all have Test five-fors now, so they're no mugs.

"At least I did get to ring the bell at Lord's to start play which was a fantastic honour. That'll make a nice picture for my book when I finally get round to writing it!"