Graeme Swann omission raises big questions

England's surprising omission of Graeme Swann for the Headingley Test has thrown up several challenges for player and team, as they seek to overcome their crisis of form this year.

Updated: August 03, 2012 21:15 IST
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Leeds: England's surprising omission of Graeme Swann for the Headingley Test has thrown up several challenges for player and team, as they seek to overcome their crisis of form this year.

Both Andrew Strauss, the team captain, and Andy Flower, Team Director, had mentioned in the days running up to the must-win second Test that an all-seam attack was a realistic option. Most scribes asking the questions, however, felt such a move was unlikely and was merely the team covering themselves against all possibilities, against a backdrop of five defeats in nine Tests this year.

Even on a sunny morning, minus the dark clouds that can sometimes encourage captains to favour seamers in selection at mysterious Headingley, England still decided to end Swann's streak of playing 43 consecutive Tests - the first time he had been dropped in over three years. The last time England omitted their lead spinner, against South Africa in 2003, they suffered defeat by 191 runs.

This is a dangerous move and not just for the ongoing match. They have clearly lost faith in their trusted spinner. Could anyone ever have seen Australia or Sri Lanka omit Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralitharan, even when conditions were not overly spin conducive? I would think not. Not that Swann is a Warne or a Murali but his importance to England is almost as much. His influence on their surge to the top of the world rankings has been huge.

Ironically, Swann had his feet up on the players' balcony at Headingley while a photograph of him adorned the front cover of the match programme. Clearly nobody saw this coming.

Not only is this a concern to Swann for his career - as he contemplates another surgery on his troublesome right elbow - but after 52 wicket-less overs at The Oval in the thumping defeat in the first Test, it is also a problem for England.

Successful teams usually have a nucleus of experienced, talented players. And the fact that Swann's role is one that nobody else in the squad can perform unlike that of a batsman or a fast bowler, his absence leaves a gap. Not just his bowling, but his reliable catching at second slip. In the current match, stand-in second slip Alastair Cook dropped a simple chance off Alviro Petersen when he was on 29.

Great teams with desires on leading the world generally have a familiar slip cordon. West Indies in the 1980s had wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon, then Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, and Joel Garner at fourth slip or gully.

Australia in the 1990s had keeper Ian Healy, Mark Taylor, Shane Warne, Mark Waugh - Allan Border before his retirement and David Boon prior to his switch to short leg and Ricky Ponting later on. Teams cannot win if catches keep going down. England tried out Ian Bell at third slip against West Indies when James Anderson was rested. He dropped his first two chances.

Another challenge lying ahead for England is a four-Test tour of India at the end of the year and Swann was expected to be a crucial cog for England on that tour. Now what are we to think? Will his elbow hold up? If so, has his normally unshakeable confidence taken a knock that will affect him from here on?

India took a similar stance with Harbhajan Singh, their veteran offspinner, and he has not managed to come back since and his downslide coincided with India's fall from the top of rankings. It is a matter of debate as to whether the two are linked. Time will tell if England have to ask themselves the same question in the not too distant future.

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