Swann can sink Aussies, says Shane Warne
At last, the boot is on the other foot. England have spent 20 years wishing they could pinch an Australian superstar, plonk a blue cap on his head and start winning Ashes series on a regular basis, but now the cricketer most coveted Down Under is a Pom.
The man in question is Graeme Swann — and what sweet music to English ears to hear Shane Warne, no less, admitting that he would put the off-spinner's name at the top of his transfer list.
Warne is far too loyal an Australian to discount the threat that his country's own slow bowler, Nathan Hauritz, might pose this winter.
But asked which member of the England team he would like to see wearing a Baggy Green for the next few months, there was not a moment's hesitation.
“Graeme Swann,” said the man who tormented England from the moment he bamboozled Mike Gatting in 1993 right through to his dismissal of Andrew Flintoff in 2007.
“Swann is probably the best spinner in the world at the moment, and probably the most improved cricketer.
“In Australia, if you haven't got a spinner who is going to take wickets then you are going to struggle. That is why Graeme Swann is so important. If he falls over, breaks his leg and doesn't play any part in the Ashes then England are in serious trouble. They need to wrap him up in cotton wool.
“If England have got a chance to win the series, which I think they have, they need Swann at his best. He's got to take 25 wickets, plus. If he doesn't then England are really going to struggle.”
Friend and foe alike are ramping up the pressure on Swann — and the first Test is still three weeks away. But, far from expecting the spinner to wilt under the weight of expectation, Warne believes his cheeky chappie personality will shine through.
“I think Graeme Swann is going to walk around a bit like David Hasselhoff — I think he is absolutely going to thrive on it and love being the man with the ball,” added Warne.
“Kevin Pietersen is definitely the man with the bat who can change the course of a game in two hours. If he fires and shows his flair then all the others bat very well with him and his confidence will rub off on them. But, with the ball, Swann is just the key.”
Despite highlighting the threat which Swann should pose and accepting that England could win a series in Australia for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, Warne still believes his countrymen will just about come out on top because of home advantage.
And, of course, he has a word of warning for anyone who thinks the Poms are a sure thing. “If England think it's going to be quite an easy victory because Australia haven't been performing well, that is the wrong attitude,” said Warne. “And it could end up in tears.”
Warne will be commentating as part of Sky Sports' coverage of the Ashes tour this winter, starting at 11pm on Wednesday, November 24.
Meanwhile, experienced batsman Mike Hussey has dismissed suggestions of a rift in the Australia camp after claims several players were unhappy with captain-in-waiting Michael Clarke.
A report in a Sydney newspaper implied Hussey and Clarke had a falling-out in India over public comments Clarke made surrounding Hussey's late arrival prior to the first Test.
But a perplexed Hussey denied there was any division within the team, insisting they are “really tight”.
“There's no problems whatsoever,” the 35-year-old said of his relationship with Clarke. “I have a very good relationship actually with Michael Clarke. We talk about cricket every time we're in the dressing room.”