Swann optimistic of early-summer return
Graeme Swann is hoping a second operation on his elbow will save his career, and give him a shot at more Ashes glory.
Swann this morning heard the words he has dreaded for so long - that he must have surgery again to clear away floating bone fragments and ease the pain in his bowling arm.
The first consequence is that he will play no part in the three-match Test series against New Zealand, which was scheduled to begin today but got off to a false and damp start without a ball bowled at Dunedin’s University Oval.
In a 50-Test career to date, the off-spinner has yet to play against the Black Caps but is upbeat enough to suggest he might yet be able to do so in the return series in England early this summer after surgery in the United States of America next week.
But the bigger picture is an unprecedented sequence of home and away Ashes series between July and next January, and he believes surgery makes him a more feasible contender for them.
Swann, who will be 34 this month, first had a similar operation four years ago and returned to competitive action swiftly on that occasion.
"I was trying to go through my whole career without needing surgery again, but the specialist came back and said something needed to be done," he said, having been sent for scans after suffering discomfort in England's tour match defeat in Queenstown.
"So be it. It's a huge year for English cricket and a huge year for me, so if this means taking a more active part in it then it's something I have to do."
Swann is encouraged by the effectiveness of his last operation, and accepts he has no choice but to go under the knife again if he wants to play on.
"I know if I don't have the surgery it's more or less curtains,” he added. "I'm assured the surgery is relatively simple. So touch wood, it will be - and I'll wake up on the other end, and everything will be great.
"I'm buoyed by the success last time I had it done, and my elbow was in a lot worse shape then than it is now. I'm very confident I'll bounce back in a short space of time."
Swann has admitted several times over the past year that, more than anything, he was wishing away the day when he would have to have more surgery.
Yet only last week, he was preparing for this Test series with hopes still high that he might just avoid his worst fear. All that changed while he was bowling 42 overs against a New Zealand XI.
"It all came about quite suddenly,” he said. "I've struggled on and off for the last four years, but it never really manifested itself into a dire predicament for me.
"But in Queenstown, just before the game, I started to feel an unusual pain that I hadn't felt since before the last operation - and it got worse during that game.
"I raised my fears with the doctor and (team director) Andy (Flower), and the scans showed there had been deterioration.
"It doesn't seem anywhere near as dire as last time around, when it was like a bomb had gone off in there. But I knew something wasn't right; I couldn't put an extra snap on the ball when I was bowling. I like to turn the ball a lot and I was only 70-80% fit."
He must therefore fly to the USA for an appointment with Shawn O'Driscoll, the same surgeon who has just performed an elbow operation on Swann's England team-mate Tim Bresnan.
"I've got every faith in the surgeon, because he's the world leader," he added. "The fact you are having surgery means you have a pretty serious injury.
"Two days ago I was preparing for a Test, and now I'm flying to Rochester to get sorted out.
"I've looked forward to this tour for a long time, because I love New Zealand - but it's not to be. I'm going to be very optimistic and say I will play against them at home maybe."
Swann will doubtless swap a gap in his CV against New Zealand for the chance to help England retain the Ashes twice over.
Those prospects will be much clearer by the time he returns home, via Minnesota.
"I'll be relieved once it's done ... but I'm a bit apprehensive now, because I don't like general anaesthetics,” he said.
"The whole point of the operation is that it will extend my career. If it gives me a chance to keep playing for England for longer than I would have, then it's great news."