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Lawrence Booth: Swann’s numbers add up

September 2nd, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Strauss, Broad, even Flintoff: the usual suspects have been slapped on the back since England regained the Ashes. But what about Graeme Swann? I’m not thinking so much of his bowling, which could be summed up as two good matches (Lord’s and The Oval) and one great moment (bowling Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston). No, it was his batting that made the difference.

This may cause one or two of you palpitations, especially if you are from the “batsmen score runs, bowlers take wickets” school of intransigence. Yes, they do – in an ideal world. But in the real world of Test cricket (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) games are sometimes won by those who exceed their brief. Had South Africa’s No. 10 Dale Steyn (previous top score: 33) not made 76 in the most recent Boxing Day Test at Melbourne his team might not now be top of the world rankings. As for Owais Shah bowling the final over in the win against Ireland last week…

But back to Swann. It will amuse some that the bloke deemed too immature by Duncan Fletcher after he was picked for the tour to South Africa in 1999-2000 has now mounted one of Fletcher’s oldest hobby horses: namely, runs from the tail can be the difference between winning and losing a series. This still enrages certain England fans, who believe the 2006-07 Ashes were lost when Ashley Giles was preferred to Monty Panesar at Brisbane and Adelaide. But the events of the last few weeks may force them to reconsider.

Batting at No. 9, Swann did the following: at Cardiff, he added 68 for the ninth wicket with Jimmy Anderson, then held out for nearly 20 overs in the second innings to put on 62 with Paul Collingwood, despite being hit several times by Peter Siddle; at Edgbaston, his 20-ball 24 was part of a raucous stand of 39 in seven overs with Stuart Broad that ensured England’s first-innings lead would be three figures rather than two; at Headingley, his final-day 62 at least allowed England to take something from the mess; and at The Oval, his 63 in 55 balls, out of a stand of 90 with Jonathan Trott, ground Australian noses into the dust.

In other words, Swann contributed more or less meaningfully with the bat in four of the five Tests he played. And here’s the upshot. England’s last three wickets added 684 runs during the series at an average of 31 per partnership; Australia managed 300 at 16. That’s an advantage of 15 runs per wicket, 45 per innings and 90 per match. Whether you like it or not, these things matter.

Not only did Swann’s series tally of 249 runs at 35 place him above Flintoff, Matt Prior, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara, Mike Hussey and Phillip Hughes in the averages, he also scored at 83 runs per 100 balls – faster than anyone on either side bar Stuart Clark, who belted a few sixes at Headingley. He did, in other words, what any self-respecting No. 7 would be expected to do: he batted with a licence to thrill.

Four years ago, the role of Marcus Trescothick in regaining the Ashes was widely overlooked, mainly because Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were sexier figures. But Swann did a similar job from the other end of the order – scoring quick runs when it mattered most and winding the Aussies up. Oh, and that eight-for at The Oval came in handy too.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes |

One Response to “Lawrence Booth: Swann’s numbers add up”

  1.   The Leading Edge says:

    Lawrence, I agree with alot of what you say.

    The problem with Fletcher’s ‘ideas’ is that towards the end of his regime they were pushed to the point of absurdity. Giles, injured crock-past it-but a Fletcher player, in for Panesar, emerging spinner-form of his life, was rightly condemned as a dreadful decision in my opinion.

    Yet in this series Swann has done exactly what Fletcher would want from a spinner - Bowled pretty damn well in two out of five Tests, but contributed some good dashed runs down the order consistently. Probably a ‘good guy’ in the dressing room too.

    Inadvertently, the idea that Fletcher and Nass got shot of Swann because of his attitude is false.

    Nasser was talking about it on TV the other day: they actually admired his attitude. He was ditched because they thought his bowling needed a lot of work.

    Or so Nass says.

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