England’s Graeme Swann (centre) celebrates the wicket of Virat Kohli at Motera in Ahmedabad yesterday
It’s fun to watch Graeme Swann bowl; rolling windmill action, floppy hair, and that lovely clean action. Almost four years after his Test debut, Swann is back in India and a lot has changed in this duration.
Back then, he was an understudy of Monty Panesar. Yesterday, he became England’s most successful spinner, surpassing Jim Laker’s 193 wickets. “It is a proud moment.
I always say I’m not a stats man but when people told me I was near Jim Laker I was genuinely excited. When you’re growing up these are the famous names of the game, you don’t even dream of emulating them, let alone going past them,” he summed up.
Such is Swann’s importance to this team that when he rushed home to be with his ailing newborn daughter, forget the team, there was a panic even in the English press. Swann himself had some self-doubts. “Flying home last week I was a bit concerned that I would not have good rhythm,” he said.
But his captain, Alistair Cook, had faith. “Ideally I would have liked him to have more practice but he is an experienced player,” Cook had said on match eve. Yesterday, Swann repaid that faith. With the pacers erring in their line on a dead pitch, Cook introduced Swann as early as the 14th over. Almost immediately, the off-spinner had Gautam Gambhir in a bind.
Swann might lack the fanciful doosras, but he brings a classical charm with his bowling. Yesterday, he repeatedly tossed the ball up, gave batsmen no room and constantly probed them with his off breaks and variations in pace.
The way Swann foxed Gambhir in the second ball of the second over after lunch, only to see Matt Prior missing a stumping chance, perfectly showcased his art. It looped up and drew Gambhir forward before it dipped rapidly and spun away. Two balls later, though, Swann had the last laugh when Gambhir, trying to make room, was bowled by a delivery that skidded on.
“At lunch time we sat down and came up with a new game plan. I don’t think we bowled straight enough in the first session,” he said, adding, “On a pitch that is low and slow you have to attack the stumps a bit more. I think we did that as the game went on.”
Swann ensured that England didn’t let India run away with the game by bagging a bunch of wickets – Sehwag fell while trying to sweep, Sachin Tendulkar was beaten in flight and miscued to deep midwicket and Virat Kohli got a glimpse of that old world charm when a classic off break went through his bat and pad gap.
However, Swann rightly believes that the things could have been different had the England held on to their catches. “If we had five or six it would have been an exceptional day for us and would have knocked 60 runs off the total,” he said, adding, “It’s always frustrating when you drop a catch.
We just have to be a little sharper for the rest of the series.” Swann’s success surely posed one question: Did England err in excluding Monty Panesar? Swann though lauded his teammates’ efforts. “Support- wise I think Samit did a very good job for us with the ball.
“The seam bowlers’ job today should be put into perspective. That first session was very tough. We had a guy in exceptional form who tried to take the game away from us. I think they all came back very strongly.” That they did but it was Swann who inspired them with a crafty performance.
► At lunch time we sat down and came up with a new game plan. I don’t think we bowled straight enough in the first session.
- Graeme Swann on how England's performance got better