Swann: England primed to overcome their final frontier

AFTER a year which has seen England cement their position at the head of the Test cricket, as well as record series victories over the two nations that contested the 50-over World Cup final in April, spinner Graeme Swann believes winning in the subcontinent this winter would complete the cycle of Andrew Strauss’s side.

England travel to Abu Dhabi to play Pakistan in a three-Test series which starts in January, before jetting off to Sri Lanka where they are scheduled to play two five-day matches in Galle and Colombo.

Despite their numerous accomplishments, having drawn two and lost five of their last seven series against the subcontinent’s three major nations India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Swann admits England have one final frontier to conquer.

“I think you always look at different areas where you want to win stuff and those tend to be where you’ve struggled in the past,” Swann told City A.M. “Australia away was always the priority because of the history and we’ve ticked that box now.

“Looking ahead, winning and winning well in the subcontinent is probably the last big accomplishment for us as a Test unit. It’s a bit of a hole in our CV as a side. We’ve got a team who can adapt to different conditions and it’s up to us to show the sort of qualities you need to win in these places.

“It’s a big couple of tours for me because the wickets are likely to take spin and I’m looking forward to being the focal point of the attack again. Although we beat India in the summer I didn’t really feel like I contributed.

“At Trent Bridge they may as well have had a competition for someone in the crowd to take my place. It was a great win but in reality I contributed about as much as the bloke who cut the outfield.”

While some of his Test colleagues were given a much-needed break during last month’s one-day series in India, Swann was afforded no such luxury.

The Nottinghamshire twirler cut a frustrated figure as England slumped to 5-0 whitewash and though he refused to offer burnout as an excuse for his substandard performances, Swann admitted he was craving an opportunity to enjoy time away from the sport he loves.

“It’s been a bit of a godsend having this time off,” he said. “I’ve put all my cricket gear out of eyesight and I won’t be thinking about the game for a month. Midway through the India series I got that horrible feeling where you’re sick to death with your own game.

“You get that feeling sometimes where you’re praying for the game to finish. Even when you’re winning you feel like you could do with a weekend off. It’s great to recharge the batteries.

“I’ve got an eight-month old baby so it’s just great to have an opportunity to get to know him. I got back from India and he looked like a different child. Being away and missing out on your child growing up is as tough as it gets.”

At 32 years of age Swann’s international career still has some distance to run, but having carried England’s spin burden single-handedly since his breakthrough year in 2008, his longevity may have been compromised.

Monty Panesar and Adil Rashid have failed to provide the expected competition, but Swann believes 21-year-old Scott Borthwick, who featured on the recent tour of India, has all the tools to provide England with a much needed second spinning option.

“He reminds me of my self at that age,” said Swann. “He’s enthusiastic and has a great attitude. As a spinner it’s important not to get too downbeat if you get smacked for six and he’s got that mindset.

“It’s obviously exciting to have a leg-spinner coming through as we don’t produce many of those and I really believe he could be the real deal.”

The Breaks Are Off by Graeme Swann, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now in hardback.