On the field it was not an exciting first day of the New Zealand v England series, unless one feels that seven hours of rain are particularly interesting. But there was a surprising moment at the toss when England made a late change to the XI after Graeme Swann was ruled out of both the match and the series due to the elbow problem that he has had for the past several years.
Swann is going to America to have surgery on the elbow and he is expected to be back by ‘early summer’ and England are said to be targeting a return in time for the Champions Trophy. But given the utter pointlessness of that competition, it is surely a better idea to have him play in the County Championship and prove his fitness ahead of the back-to-back Ashes. Whilst England could certainly still win the Ashes without Swann, we know just how much of an asset he can be even at home and especially the way Australia have been playing spin in India there is no reason at all to risk Swann in the Champions Trophy. There is literally nothing to gain and plenty to lose.
This brings the question of England’s reserve spinners to the fore, both for the next couple of series and as a reminder that Swann may not have a lot of cricket left in him. For the short term there is Monty Panesar who performed decently in the subcontinent in the last two winters and has replaced Swann in the XI for the Dunedin Test. There is also James Tredwell who has been playing when Swann has been rested from the pyjama squads. Tredwell has been called into the Test squad as (extra) backup, but I would be very surprised if he got a match. There is little to no chance of England playing two spinners and I doubt that Panesar will bowl so poorly as to be dropped, unless England decide to play four seamers. (Which, given Onions’ form in the warmup also seems vert unlikely.)
I expect Panesar to still be in the XI for the return series in May, but it may be wise for England to give a game to one of the younger candidates instead. None of Simon Kerrigan, Scott Borthwick or Ben Stokes impressed on the recent Lions tour of Australia (though to be fair, no one did), but they will have each had a handful of County Championship matches to try to make a case ahead of the first Test as well. If England want to give someone a taste of international experience then one of the early season Tests when everyone is thinking about the Ashes is a decent time for it. I would probably still have Panesar as Swann’s backup in the Ashes (unless he bowls very poorly in New Zealand) simply due to his experience, but it won’t be long until neither he nor Swann are available and England should take this as a reminder to start choosing a replacement and getting him ready now.