Off-spinners’ graveyard claims Graeme Swann

Date: December 23, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Just a few months ago Graeme Swann was a key figure in England’s 3-0 Ashes win over Australia.

As the series’ leading wicket-taker – 26 at 29.0 – he was a major architect in Australia’s demise.

Along with his teammates he arrived on our shores seeking his country’s fourth consecutive Ashes series win.

Most saw England as a strong favourite to retain the urn however history will indicate a very stark and different outcome.

After three Tests, and inside 14 days of cricket, Australia had run amok to the point that the sport’s most famous trophy had changed hands on the back of three resounding victories to the tune of 381, 218 and 150 runs.

With the Ashes changing hands after the Perth Test much of the media focus moved to the future of several of the England squad.

Would some fall foul of the selectors following the sub-standard performance down under?

Geoff Boycott opined earlier today that Kevin Pietersen was a ‘mug’ and that his self-absorbed outlook was detrimental to the England cause.

And then – BANG – out of the blue came the announcement that Swann was ending his career, effective immediately!

One can imagine that even his teammates were taken aback when they were informed prior to him telling the cricket world through his regular column with England’s The Sun newspaper.

The starkness in performances by Swann in these two back-to-back Ashes series has been both strong and insightful.

In England he was favoured by pitches that were tailored for his bowling.

The hosts believed that the biggest gulf between the two sides with respect to the bowling line-ups was in the spin department.

Swann, who entered the series with 222 wickets, went head-to-head in the first two matches at Trent Bridge and Lord’s with teenage debutant Ashton Agar.

Then, for the last three matches, he was offset by Nathan Lyon – a man recalled to the Australian team for the second time in five Tests.

It proved to be a no contest with Swann’s guile and experience proving too much for Australia’s batsmen, most noticeably Chris Rogers and Usman Khawaja.

Allied to his efforts on dry and abrasive pitches was the fact that the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad were able to extract valuable reverse swing with the heavily scuffed Dukes ball.

But, come Australia, it has proven to be a very different scenario for Swann.

This is his second series on our shores.

Both have proved to be challenging and frustrating.

In 2010-11, he captured 15 wickets at 39.8.

Seven of those wickets came in the Test at Adelaide where he claimed his only five wicket haul on our shores – 5-91 in Australia’s first innings.

This time around he has found the going even tougher.

His match figures have not been pretty – 2-215 at Brisbane, 2-182 at Adelaide and 3-163 at Perth.

He felt the wrath of Shane Watson’s blade during the Perth Test when he went for 22 runs off one over.

His seven wickets have come at 80 runs apiece, this from a man who arrived in Australia with 248 wickets at 28.6.

This time around he has been clearly outshone by Lyon who has captured 10 wickets at 31.4.

With the Ashes having been surrendered 34-year-old Swann feels it is time to go.

In his eight Tests on Australian soil his 22 wickets came at 52.6 runs apiece.

His next worst country to tour, by way of averages, is South Africa where it is 31.4.

Swann however is by no means an orphan.

Australia has proven to be a graveyard for many of the world’s best off-spinners.

In five Tests in Australia world record holder Muttiah Muralitharan claimed 12 wickets at 75.4.

The tenth most productive Test wicket-taker of all-time, Harbhajan Singh, also had a bleak time in Australia with his four Tests yielding nine wickets at 73.2.

When you consider the performances of that trio of wicket-takers – they have 1468 between them – it is interesting to compare them with modern-day Australian off-spinners in their own backyard.

The incumbent Lyon has played 14 Tests at home for 46 wickets at 33.1, while Tim May’s 13 matches at home produced 30 wickets at 40.0.

For whatever reason, many visiting off-spinners have found the going tough in Australia, regardless of their pedigree.

Swann is the latest of them.

So much so, it has brought about his immediate retirement mid-series.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 22 December 2013