Friday, December 14, 2018
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Clarke and Warner leave Swann at risk of sinking

Brisbane, Australia: The opening Test of any series is not just about establishing a bridgehead, it is about making statements of intent. Bowlers target key batsmen knowing that success can undermine confidence for the remainder of the series.

Likewise, batsmen will take the sort of risks against a bowler that they might not at a later stage, simply to stake out their territory. Get at a key bowler early on and it can affect the opposition strategy in future.

So the manner in which Michael Clarke and David Warner deconstructed the bowling of Graeme Swann could have repercussions beyond the outcome of this match; beyond even this series, for we may be witnessing the decline of the most successful off-spin bowler England have ever possessed.

Before this series began, England were already thinking ahead to the day when Swann has his final song and the permutations and changes in strategy that will be necessary to rebalance the side. But, under the Brisbane sun, Clarke and Warner, during their partnership of 158, may just have hastened the process into something rather more immediate.

In pure statistical terms, Swann did not have an outstanding tour of Australia last time. There was five for 91 in Adelaide to help win that match, helped by the crater dug by the clodhoppers of the left-arm paceman Doug Bollinger, but beyond that his role was more subtle, his contribution further along in the statistical column, for it was he who offered the respite for the seamers, his economy rate of fewer than three runs per over a vital element in England’s success.

If Swann is removed from the equation, it has serious consequences, for already England are labouring with an under-strength third seamer. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have to be protected at all costs, but until Tim Bresnan is fit, who will be doing that? In this second Australia innings, Swann was conceding runs at almost a run a ball and wicketless in the match until Clarke, almost swinging himself off his feet, was bowled in what, if we didn’t know better, could almost be viewed as an act of charity. How Swann comes back from that in the coming weeks will be one of the biggest challenges of his career.