Alex Britten: Life After Swann?

Comment and Analysis | 19th February 2013

England would have been forgiven for forgetting about their previous urge to produce a world class spinner given that for the past 5 years, Graeme Swann has been the go-to man. He has turned in some match-winning performances over the years in claiming his 212 Test wickets but at the age of 33 England have to be realistic in expecting no more than two or three more years from him. They will of course only have themselves to blame, for failing to pick him until he was 29. So to whom will England turn once Swann retires?

This conundrum has rattled around every Test nation at one time or another and is currently a problem for the Australians.

Looking at spinners who have been given a debut since the retirement of the great Shane Warne in 2007, there have been two 1 Test wonders (Beau Casson and Bryce McGain), three bowlers who have played two Tests (Jason Krezja, Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer) and one who has played five (Steve Smith). In fact of the seven who have been selected since 2007, only one has gone on to have a career of any substance - the off spinner Nathan Lyon, who has a healthy return of 61 wickets from his 19 Tests.

In Australia at least, there is the problem of filling the boots of a legend of the game. More than that, there are the selectors and coaches of teams around the country discarding any young spinner who does not show immediate promise because of the issue.

They are impatient, a vice that cannot exist when dealing with young spin bowlers, a vice which is making the hunt for a new Shane Warne a cyclical, fruitless adventure.

Australia may be struggling at the moment, but in South Africa it has become a perennial issue. This has not stopped them from becoming the best team in the world though - currently the no. 1 ranked team in Tests they have still not unearthed a spinner to take more than 150 Test wickets; the most being 134 by Paul Adams. The reason for this is a slight mystery, yet the lack of turning pitches in South Africa is the most simple, and likely reason. Of course, this has yet to be proved a problem because they have the best pace attack around at the moment - and have two spinners capable of doing the job in Imran Tahir and all rounder Robin Peterson.

Graeme Swann is more than capable of doing a job. The Nottinghamshire man has elevated himself from 'vaunted cult figure' to 'national hero' in a matter of years whilst remaining as affable and endearing as ever. His success helped England plaster over the cracks of a Test team that was for a time without a spinner, yet if they are to push on from his success and build on the work he has started, England has to start looking for a replacement in the Test arena now. The benefits to England of having a new world class spinner turning out for them are clear to see but before he were to play for England he would be putting in performances for Nottinghamshire every week - which is something that is needed at Trent Bridge.

Last season, with Swann absent for all but three Championship games, Samit Patel and the left arm spinner Graeme White shared the responsibilities. Patel batted at four and, as he does for England, did a relatively tidy job with his left arm darts and has taken 326 wickets in all competitions for Notts. White has taken 29 First Class wickets for Nottinghamshire with a best of 4-72 against Durham at Trent Bridge, plus 26 CB40 and 20 T20 wickets. 

With Swann's international career coming to an end in the next few years, it should become Nottinghamshire and coach Mick Newell's primary objective to unearth a spinner and, under Swann's tutelage, bring him through to play regular 1st XI cricket.

And the good news is there is at least one youngster who could go on to big things - England U19 all-rounder Sam Wood. Wood is a left hand batsman and right arm off spinner, who has already scored tons in U19 Tests and ODIs. He has also taken 32 wickets in 29 Youth ODIs, at an average of just 22. With Swann to guide him, Wood could become a threat this season in First Class cricket for Notts.

Unlike Wood, Swann is not Nottinghamshire born and bred - so it is not unlikely that Newell will look further afield for a new spinner. One bowler who I feel needs a change of scenery is Adil Rashid, the talented leg spinner. If he were to join Nottinghamshire he would bring his exceptional skill set and would also team up once again with former teammate and Yorkshire exile Ajmal Shazhad. The pair would make quite a team.

It would be understandable for Mick Newell to want to keep any finds relatively unknown before they are poached by England and never seen again. Yet the good an excellent spin bowler would do for Nottinghamshire on the County circuit is a huge incentive to find a Swann replacement. Sam Wood could have the talent - it is all about coaxing it out of him.

Alex Britten's Blog 'Thoughts Of A Cricket Adict' can be read here

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