Swann wickets paper over cracks

Not much spat, little tantalising the batsman, there were no grenades wrapped in candy floss. Little fizz, any turn was slow turn. Despite a five for in the first innings of an Ashes Test, it seems that Swann’s a bit under his own high standards. That seems strange to say of a bowler with 18 wickets in two and a bit Tests, at 24.77, but with general Australian ineptitude against spin and some fairly helpful surfaces, he could have more, or cheaper wickets.

On the other hand, Nathan Lyon bowled 26 probing overs, searching with subtlety, spin and bounce, yet came away with no wickets. He kept the batsmen honest mostly, bar a brief assault from Pietersen which kept him mostly out of the attack until Pietersen was out.

Lyon, whilst lacking the wickets that Swann picked up – for now at least – bowled with considerably more zip than his opposite number, and it showed in his economy rate. Lyon attacked the England batsmen and was unlucky not to get a single wicket, whilst Swann was forced too quickly on to the back foot and by bowling defensively left easy runs on the plate.

On the first day of this second Test Swann had some success, taking the wicket of Khawaja with a perfect off-break. Granted, the ball passed by the bat and shouldn’t have been given caught behind, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the ball.

After his fifth over, Swann’s figures read 5-1-12-2 as he trapped Chris Rogers leg-before, and although his figures slipped a bit through the rest of the day, he came back on the second morning with the wicket of Steven Smith, caught off a skier then a nicely turning ball to ensnare Warner.

At that point, his figures read 27.4-2-89-4, perfectly reasonable for a first innings effort, but after that point he bowled 15.2-0-70-1, leaking runs to anyone and everyone, to finish with 43-2-159-5, somewhat Krejza-like figures, lots of wickets, but lots of runs (although not as many wickets or as quite a bad economy rate as his ridiculous Test debut)

The fact that he only bowled two maidens in the whole innings perfectly illustrates how he had difficulty tying the Australian batsmen down. He also seemed to revert to the round-the-wicket angle to the right handers too often, as did Lyon.

That angle may be an attacking one on a raging bunsen, but on a first day pitch in England, few bowlers are going to turn it miles off the centre of the pitch, and for a defensive option it was surprisingly easy to hit. The cardinal sin of spin bowling is going for runs whilst bowling defensively.

Ashley Mallett, in a fine piece for ESPNCricinfo just before the Test wrote that “The good spinners take risks. They are prepared to give a bit to get a bit.” Swann seemed to give a bit, but with little threat of taking a bit at times. At other times he preferred to give nothing, and mostly got nothing, between his two double wicket bursts he bowled twenty overs with little threat of a breakthrough.

During the mammoth – by recent standards – partnership between Clarke and Smith, Swann looked fatigued, and struggled in the field, twice gingerly fielding balls in the mid-wicket region, not looking his characteristic bubbly self.

It seems churlish to complain about a five-for, but take out a couple of cheap wickets from awful slogs by Smith and Siddle, and the Khawaja travesty and Swann got hammered for 2-159.

This may be a simplistic analysis, but also the fact that when the two were bowling in tandem, even Root induced more false shots from the slogging tailenders seems to indicate he was making the batsmen work more than Swann.

Swann will get better of course, and if he continues taking wickets at the same rate he may end up in with a shot at man of the series. Like Shane Warne he has that little bit of nerve that means he occasionally gets wickets that he doesn’t deserve. If he starts working batsmen over again, and getting the ones he deserves too, there aren’t many more irresistible bowlers in the world.

Nathan Lyon however, looks like an unlucky man. If he was to bowl the perfect off-break, it seems more likely to give away four byes than rip out the off-stump. That’s the difference between the two men. Batsmen say they play the ball not the man, but that’s not the whole truth. Shane Warne made batsmen play his reputation, Swann does the same thing to a lesser extent. Nathan Lyon doesn’t have that reputation.

Originally published 04-Aug-2013

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