Graeme Swann’s absence from the first Test was something of a shock, but it would not be a great surprise if this spelled the beginning of the end of his Test career.
Instinctively, if the spinner is a doubt for the Ashes, it feels like a major hit to England's hopes. Having seen Australia buckle in successive Tests in India this past fortnight, it was clear that England enjoyed a significant advantage in the spin department. Swann, England’s most prolific off-spinner, a fixture of the team for approaching half a decade, still rated one of the world’s top 10 Test bowlers, was surely a problem.
But despite the fact that 20 wickets at 24.75 in India point to Swann still being somewhere near the peak of his powers, were he to miss all ten Ashes Tests in the next year it would not be the hammer blow of days gone by.
For today, there is Monty Panesar – or Panesar 2.0 - a much-enhanced version of the bowler England fans warmed to instantly, with that same bounce and verve of his youth.
Panesar was every bit Swann’s match in India, trusted by his captain Alastair Cook, bowling with control, turn and guile.
When he fell out of the England reckoning in 2009, it was with infamous criticism from Shane Warne ringing in his ears:
“The sign of a good player in Test cricket is one who improves. You say Monty has played 30-odd Tests. But I think he is one of those guys who has played one Test 30 times. And there is a big difference."
Panesar the bowler has improved – he has developed precisely the nous that made Swann stand out in comparison to him all those years ago. In 2008, it was Monty who appeared to have all the spinning records at his mercy, not Swann.
So will England miss Swann the bowler? Fine talent, yes, but on the field, perhaps not like you would first think.
Swann, many will contend, is a better all-round prospect, balancing the England line-up with his batting.
Arguing that Swann is not the better batsman of the two would be about as worthwhile as arguing that the earth is flat, but his contributions with the willow can be overstated. Until his last Test against India at Nagpur, he had not managed a half-century since 2009.
But England field a line-up based on seven batsmen, with Matt Prior, a man with 3319 Test runs at 43.19, batting at seven. They should not be reliant on their tail for runs.
Perhaps the one place where Swann’s absence would be most keenly felt is in the field. England’s slip cordon has not quite been the same since the retirement of Andrew Strauss, and the reshuffled line-up was not fully tested in India, where the flat pitches largely rendered the slips irrelevant. Swann has been a key part of the cordon for some time. Monty, still a man to be hidden in the outfield somewhere, is a clear downgrade.
Nonetheless, the ECB say that Swann’s shoulder surgery will rule him out of action until ‘early summer’ – meaning he is a doubt for the New Zealand series in May, and will then face a race against time to be ready for the Ashes.
So with that in mind, a very plausible scenario begins to emerge. Panesar could get five Tests in a row as the sole spinner – and he is likely, on the grounds of what we have seen in the UAE, Sri Lanka and India, to acquit himself very well.
If he does, and is in form come the summer, it will be a brave call to remove Monty from the eleven and replace him with a player who will be 34 later this month, with limited cricket behind him and a known elbow issue, no matter how good his record.
It might not be the end of the road for Swann – he has shown himself to be a superb competitor in the Test arena, hungry, talented and a positive presence in the team. Having arrived at the highest level relatively late in his career, he is unlikely to view this as the end of the road.
But it does not feel like a coincidence that he was talking about his elbow troubles in his newspaper column only yesterday.
“I’ll be honest, the elbow is always a concern,” Swann told The Sun. “It’s been hanging over me for several years and, despite having an operation in 2009, the problem hasn’t entirely gone away.
“It would be a massive pain in the backside if my wonky elbow forced me to miss any of the Tests against Australia. I’m absolutely determined to be available for what might be my final two Ashes series — and that means managing the elbow as well as possible.
“I really don’t want to have another operation. For two weeks after my op, I was in bed with a machine keeping my arm in continual motion for 23 hours a day. It was a testing time — and poor old Tim Bresnan has been going through the same thing after his operation in America.”
And yet here we are. There will be an operation. There may well be 23 hours a day of keeping his arm in continual motion. It’s believed he’s heading to the same hospital as Bresnan himself visited.
England will want to give him a way back into the side. But the spinner's berth is a tricky one, with usually only place available. And the situation has now arisen where Monty could in effect have the final say on Swann's future.