ENGLAND spinner Graeme Swann has been backed to bounce back from his pummeling in Perth and deliver a match-winning display in Melbourne by his coach Andy Flower.
Swann, ranked the No2 bowler in world cricket, came into this Ashes series rated as the man most likely to ensure England return home with the urn still in their possession.
But the Nottinghamshire twirler, an impressive second innings haul in Adelaide aside, has yet to prove as potent a wicket-taking weapon as predicted.
He’s struggled in particular against Australia’s prolific left-hander Michael Hussey, leading former Aussie fast bowler Geoff Lawson to claim that Swann is intimidated by the highest run scorer in the series – a suggestion flatly denied by Flower.
“Without a doubt, he [Swann] can come back,” said Flower. “He got him in the first innings of this Test, and I’d be surprised if Swann got intimidated by Michael Hussey.
“We’d have expected a guy of his quality to affect the momentum a little more.
“But once we got on that pitch, we all noticed it was tricky facing the quicks and the bounce was aiding them – and there wasn’t much turn there for him – so it was a difficult task. I don’t blame him for that at all – it was a tough ask. Melbourne is a different set of conditions.”
As part of a four man attack, Swann’s importance in this England side cannot be overstated. The 31-year-old is expected to do much of the donkey work, tieing up an end, in order to keep the three pacemen fresh.
As the tour has gone on, however, the system that has served England so well in recent times appears to be accomplishing the exact opposite of what it is designed to do.
Stuart Broad suffered his tour ending injury as early as the fourth day of the second Test, while 21-year-old Steven Finn, despite retaining his position as the leading wicket taker in the series, looks in need of a rest.
Despite calls for a review of the composition of his bowling unit, Flower maintains it is only personnel, rather than quantity, that is likely to change in Melbourne come Boxing Day.
Flower (left) said: “The workload on the bowlers is heavy – but in the absence of a quality all-rounder, we are sticking with a four-bowler attack.
“I think we expect a lot of these young men, to come in and shoulder quite a lot of responsibility.
“A five-Test series is hard on everyone, both physically and emotionally, and for the fast bowlers more so.”
ASHES OR CRASHES: WHO’S FOR THE CHOP?
It really was all going a bit too well. As all long-suffering England fans know, an Ashes tour isn’t complete without calls for a mass upheaval in personnel and a change tactics. Here City A.M. identifies the men most under pressure and those in line for promotion.
IAN BELL: Ran out of partners in both the Adelaide and Perth Tests. Surely due a promotion in the batting order. Verdict: Ashes
PAUL COLLINGWOOD: Averaging just 16.50 but is still worth a place on the basis of his fielding alone. Verdict: Ashes
STEVEN FINN: The 21-year-old paceman has coped better than expected, but he appears to be feeling the pace. Verdict: Crashes
TIM BRESNAN: A real work horse who is capable of bowling long spells in tough conditions. Can bat too. Verdict: Ashes
AJMAL SHAHZAD: The Yorkshire bowler is highly-rated, but throwing him in at the deep end would be a big gamble. Verdict: Crashes
Eoin Morgan: Pushing for Collingwood’s spot but has yet to prove he can handle Test match cricket. Verdict: Crashes
THE ALL-ROUNDER | ALL THE GOSSIP FROM DOWN UNDER
CLARK THANKS ANDERSON
Sledging is suddenly a hot topic again. It had been conspicuous by its absence in this series, most likely due its one-sided nature until Australia regained their swagger and a foothold by dint of a crushing win in Perth. And the catalyst for the Aussie recovery? According to their former pace ace Stuart Clark, it’s all down to James Anderson’s big mouth. Clark said: “Thanks, Jimmy Anderson. You might just have given Australia the spark they needed to win back the Ashes. Perhaps it took Anderson and his confrontational approach towards the Australians – in particular Mitchell Johnson – to fire up our players.” Note to Jimmy, maybe keep it buttoned in Melbourne.
Kevin Pietersen may have patented the switch hit, but if rumours in the British press are to be believed, those dastardly Aussies are busy coining the pitch switch. On seeing England crumble like a stick of rhubarb on the WACA’s speedy deck, MCG curator Cameron Hodgkins had reportedly been instructed to prepare a clone in Melbourne. “Tricky Ricky in pitch switch! Aussie skipper Ponting plots bouncer barrage in Melbourne,” ran the Daily Mail’s headline. Not the case, retorted Cricket Australia’s public affairs manager Peter Young, yesterday. He complimented the Mail on its headline, but said pitch preparation was left up to each venue, which all worked to the best of their ability according to local weather and other conditions. “The MCC would be deeply offended if anyone was presumptuous enough to give them advice on how to prepare a cricket pitch,” Young said.
PONTING WILL MAKE MCG
Australia batting coach Justin Langer believes it would take more than a fractured finger to prevent Ricky Ponting from taking to the field in the fourth Test. Aussie batting coach Langer said: “At one-all, Boxing Day Test, a chance to win the Ashes, he will definitely be there. It is just a matter of time before he makes runs. He’s definitely due a big one.”
The Boxing Day Test could be Australia’s last chance to regain the Ashes if Sydney’s long-range weather forecasts prove correct. According to weatherzone.com.au, there is a greater than 75 per cent chance of rain in Sydney on days three to five of the fifth Test and a “low”' risk, 25 to 50 per cent likelihood, of rain on the opening two days.