Although still two months away, there is so much chatter regarding the upcoming clash for number one. ‘Willow-heads’ everywhere have labelled the England versus South Africa series as compulsive viewing and will be clicking remotes all over the cricketing globe.
England at home are confident, assured and expectant and that instinctively provides them with a slim psychological advantage, but scales in sport are easily tipped. Such is their media scrutiny for example, that should they suffer an early slip or two, England’s performance will be dissected in minuscule detail and, subsequently, anxiety could escalate.
South Africa, on the other hand, will not be subjected to such expectation and introspection, and calm leadership skills could prove decisive.
Come mid July, Steyn and Morkel’s weaponry will pose a serious threat as the speedster shootout with Anderson and Broad in particular unfolds. I have no doubt it will be advantage South Africa in that department with the Steyn-Morkel disparity proving telling, but other crucial factors will come into play.
One important aspect must be remembered. Mid year the weather will be warm, the pitches dry and the swing generally less. The resultant crusty surfaces will in turn bring the effervescent Swann into the spotlight and his clever twirlers coupled with disguised variations will be a handful.
South Africa will have a fair whack of left-handers in their probable line-up and Swann will already be salivating at that prospect. Ashwell Prince will bear testament to Swann’s ability after he dismissed him three times in five deliveries the last time these teams locked horns.
Remarkably, overall Swann has taken 185 test wickets with 50% of his victims being left-handers. If you filter that even further, of the 77 test wickets he has taken in England, nearly 60% are lefties. He will have the added advantage of the famed Lord’s slope to work with during the final encounter mid August.
Swann is a rare breed of match-winning off-spinner who does not possess a ‘doosra’ but has a particularly potent ‘slider’ that is proving extremely challenging for most to decipher. In fact, the only possible clue seems to be in trajectory upon release and spotting that early enough is demanding. His energy in delivery combined with the formidable overspin revolutions he imparts on the ball, therefore facilitating drift, is where Swann is different from the rest.
He is an attacking, animated, finger- spinner who has mastered the art of continually chipping away at the opposition with both his skills and his mentality.
Another dynamic has recently appeared on his radar that has made him a far more effective bowler. DRS in its current state has definitely provided assistance, and with it a new lease of life for Swann. In a short space of time he has mastered the art of creating self-doubt at the business end, knowing that any defence interception with the pad will empower DRS.
South Africa will need to do their homework regarding Swann to ensure they are not ducks out of water as that is where England will have a distinct advantage.