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This could be India's best tour to England in a long time: Swann
From the Web Desk, 17/05/2018, New Delhi

Riding on his and Monty Panesar's spinning fingers, England had created history in India in the winter of 2012 when they stunned India 2-1 to record their maiden Test series triumph in this country in 28 years.

A key architect of that victory was Graeme Swann, who took 20 wickets in four Tests to leave India in a spin along with fellow spinner Monty Panesar. The retired off-spinner, though, reveals that it was an interesting ritual on that tour, which, according to him, did the trick for him and his team.

"I'm very superstitious. When we won the Test series, here in India, myself Jimmy Anderson and Alastair Cook used to go to Cook's room every night. The first night I had lamb roganjosh and chicken tikka, Cook had butter chicken and Jim had a Hawaiian pizza because he doesn't eat Indian food at all. And we ate the same food every night for the whole trip because we were winning and we didn't want to jinx it. By the end of the trip, I couldn't even look at lamb roganjosh again for two months," says the 39-year-old, now back in India as a cricket expert.

India too haven't had a great time in England lately, having lost the Test series by 0-4 & 1-3 margin on their previous two tours, but Swann, who took 255 wickets in 60 Tests, believes them to do better this time. "I think this could be their best tour in a long time. I've never worked out recently how India have done so badly in England. When Pakistan came to England, India are obviously a better side than Pakistan but Pakistan won a couple of Test matches with Yasir Shah... But India's batting is a lot better. The last time around, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad just threw India away and Moeen Ali bowled really well. This time around, they've got Broad and Anderson who're still brilliant, still world class, but the back-up... Moeen Ali is not even in the team against Pakistan. So, there's a big gap in the spinners department. But I think the batting line-up is secured at the top of the order. So England are in a transition and are not as strong as they could be. It all depends how Virat Kohli copes with Jimmy Anderson because Virat had a terrible in England last time around. He's the best batsman in the world at the moment. And if he goes well, he could inspire Indians very well. India's pace attack is a lot better these days. I'm hoping it'll be a good series," he says.

Having endured a miserable time on the last tour to England, India skipper Kohli is banking on a county stint with Surrey to better his record there, but Swann thinks that the experience won't count for much because English seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who gave the classy batsman a torrid time on that occasion, are far superior to the kind of bowlers the Indian ace will face in county cricket.

"I think he will (have a good tour). Unless he plays against Jimmy or Broady in county games, I don't think (it'll help) because they're so much better than the county bowlers. But I think it's good. I think it's good that English cricket allowed foreign players to come over and train before (a tour). One of the worst things about cricket is when teams go overseas against such poor oppositions before a Test series. Just to aid the home team win the Test series. I think if we're serious about keeping Test cricket and making it the most beautiful game in the world, when foreign teams tour, they should get the best possible opposition before a Test series. They should play champion county teams. I think it's good Virat's been given a chance to go play for Surrey. He'll enjoy Surrey trust me. The wickets at the Oval are unbelievable to bat on," feels Swann.

Like cricket fans from both the countries, Swann is eagerly awaiting the mini-battle between Kohli and his English counterpart Joe Root to lay claim to the mantle of the best batsman in the world, though he thinks that with the series being held in England provides an edge to Root. "In England, I'd back Root over Kohli right now. It makes me a bit nervous as an England fan that Virat is coming early to play for Surrey. For me, Root is the best batsman we've ever produced in England.

"I'm most disappointed that he's the captain because I think he's one of those players, if they'd left him not as the captain, and just said: 'Joe you should bat wherever you want to bat, average 60 in Test cricket, win Test and we'll find someone else as a skipper. I think they've given him responsibility. He's a good skipper, everyone loves him, don't get me wrong. I loved Joe when he first played in India all those years ago. He was young with a babyish face, he was always laughing and cracking jokes. I think he was at his best then. Now he's takes the game very seriously, something which Virat too does. It would be a head-on battle. At the minute, I'd back Joe to win that battle, but I'm a bit nervous about Virat. To be honest, I'd pay money to watch Virat bat...he's a beautiful batsman to watch," he says.

During Swann's playing days, Kohli was still establishing his reputation has a batsman to watch out for. The spinner admits that things are different a few years down the line. "I enjoyed bowling to him a little bit. I didn't enjoy bowling to him in One-day cricket..I'll give you that. He's so good in One-day cricket. At that time, he was still finding his feet in Test cricket. He's a more complete player now. I would say that there are one or two players when you play against them…you kind of don't mind them seeing them bat for a while and score a few runs because they're that good-looking at the crease. Brian Lara was one. Virat's one. Ricky Ponting was one for me as well. It's always nice to see the back of them. Thankfully, when you aren't playing anymore, you want to see them bat for a bit longer," he compliments.

Compared to his awesome record at home, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin hasn't enjoyed great success in England, but Swann backed the tweaker to come good this time around. "Actually, England is, I always thought the best place to bowl off-spin. I don't know what India thinks would be. The thing with India is, it's so hot, and you have to bowl long spells and you get sweaty and tired, but in England the temperature never fights you. You're always fresh throughout the day. And the wickets do spin, not necessarily on Day One and Two but as the game goes on and it gets dry and dusty, they spin later on. Especially at Edgbaston, Lords, Trent Bridge… And I think, he should relish his chances in England. I had my best returns in England. A lot of the time because people don't expect you to do much but we've seen over the years that spin bowling and England go hand-in-hand. I think the one place where finger spin doesn't really work is Australia because the wicket is so good and their players are very good when the ball's not spinning. They're very bad when the ball spins so when Australia come to India, Ashwin absolutely bowls through the Aussies. No problem. So, I think he'll enjoy England. You got to go in a very positive mindset. In India you've got more than one spinner, so… I think it's going to be a great series despite England not having a confident spinner at the moment. I think it's a massive fillip for India," he said.

There's a case to try out wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who've done well in limited overs cricket abroad, in the Tests in England as well, but Swann feels that this move comes with a precautionary note. "Wrist spinners can do well in England. Yasir Shah did well for Pakistan last year. So, the English players don't tend to bowl wrist spin or pick it very well. They could do well. The trick is that in England you've to get people on the front foot, because the wicket is slightly slow, so as soon as you're slightly short, you get murdered around the ground. Why Yasir did really well for Pakistan is that he bowled quick leg spin..didn't allow batsmen to go on the backfoot. So, if they heed the advice of Shah, they could have a very good time," he analyses. 

Like Kohli, England's limited overs game has evolved too. So much so that Swann expects them to beat India in the T20I and ODI series that precedes the Tests. "England in England are pretty good in One-day cricket. They don't travel very well but they won in New Zealand and Australia. I think that England a few years ago would've lost that's series against India. But now, they might even win that series going into the Tests.

You get an idea about how much the priorities have changed for an English cricketer when it comes to a choice between Test and ODI cricket, when you speak to Swann. "For me, if I was going on away on a tour, I was going to play the Tests series first, because I care more about Test cricket than One-day cricket. I wanted to win the Test series. One-day cricket was fun, but it didn't mean as much to me," he says.

He backs the English selectors for picking rookie off-spinner Don Bess for the Test series against Pakistan. "I've not seen much of him. He's only played 16 First-Class games. His record is great. I quite the way England have picked him. Because there's a game of the year…the champion county plays the MCC in the season' opener. And he got a hundred and then he got wickets as well. he's obviously got something to buy in. and they've picked him I think more on potential...he's played only 16 games. We haven't got a spinner at the minute. So, why not pick someone who in the future could develop?" He asserts.

He then re-iterates his point that there's indeed a big lacunae in the England team. "Like I said earlier, I think it's a definitely a grey area for England which they haven't nailed on...when you look down the England team, you've got Alaistar Cook at the top of the order, who you'd think has still got runs in him. Root, obviously, and Jonny Bairstow. But then there's a big gap, there're a lot of places that aren't nailed down. Ben Stokes is obviously one…but until you get down to Anderson and Broad at the top of the order, they're a lot of gaps in that team which aren't nailed down at the moment. The guys in the England team… over the last couple of seasons at home, have only been able to confirm that one opening spot, or one No 3 spot. At the moment, there are no doubts about four-five spots. It makes for an exciting series," he sums up.

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