Graeme Swann is the last man England need to lose before the Ashes

Bring on the Aussies! Whoops, perhaps we are not allowed to say that just yet.

But there was much to smile about at Headingley. England just managed to dodge the rain for long enough to take those four Kiwi wickets and a beaming Graeme Swann walked off with the man-of-the-match award.

Spinners are not supposed to prevail at Headingley. Swann was omitted – for the only time since he established himself as a Test player – when England played South Africa in Leeds last year. Yet here he was taking 10 wickets in the match, the first English spinner to do that since Derek Underwood in 1972. But this time around there was no fusarium to assist the finger spinner.

Swann, all smiles, declined the opportunity to highlight the stupidity of that decision last year. "To be honest, I had bowled like a drain at The Oval [in the previous match]. I think I agreed with the selectors."

After a strained and occasionally ill-tempered 24 hours, which is often the consequence when rain interrupts proceedings at a Test ground, Swann was certainly not in the mood to start an argument with anybody.

Rather, he was relieved. He may now have taken the small matter of 222 Test wickets but the elbow problems have been a worry. Even the ebullient Swann is anxious to prove that everything still works as well, if not better, as before the operation.

He wants to be in a good frame of mind for the Tests to come – "Are we allowed to mention the A word now?" he asked the BBC after the game. The media in general have no qualms about him doing so. Soon the England hierarchy will have to follow suit.

They are in reasonably good shape at the end of this mini-series against the New Zealanders. They have options in most departments. But if anyone is to be surrounded by cotton wool before the red balls are taken out of their boxes again it is Swann. Of course, he will play in the Champions Trophy. He remains an integral part of England's best one-day team. But he is even more important to the Test side. If any of the fast bowlers or the batsmen were to be injured before the Ashes, there are adequate replacements around.

But Swann is the last man that England would like to be indisposed before the next Test of the summer, at Trent Bridge. His potential replacements may not be adequate.

Monty Panesar comes to mind. But he is far less effective against left-handers and we know that the Australians are bound to have four of them in their first six. Moreover he has never possessed anything of Swann's innate canniness.

In fact against Australia in the nightmarish scenario of Swann being unavailable, England might well turn to another off-spinner given all those left-handers. They might try James Tredwell, a doughty cricketer who currently has his hands full in his first season as Kent's captain. One little concern is that Tredwell has bowled 93 first-class overs this season and has yet to take a wicket. As Swann confirmed no matter who you are or how experienced you are, wickets bring peace of mind.

Swann was frustrated for a while. The rough, created by New Zealand's left-arm pace bowlers, was still there. He kept aiming for that. He beat the inside edge several times yet the ball somehow eluded the stumps; occasionally he over-pitched partly because the ball was damp and difficult to grip. Maybe he was straining to end it all quickly.

But Swann does not mind giving away a few runs. Unlike most of his predecessors he is prepared to gamble by bowling a little wider of off-stump. He opens up that off-side luring batsmen to score runs. He often tempts them to their doom. For him the risk is worthwhile. He has 222 wickets to his name to prove it. And he even takes wickets at Headingley.

Powered by article was written by Vic Marks at Headingley, for The Guardian on Tuesday 28th May 2013 19.13 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © britanglishman