England upbeat on Swann fitness
England are confident key spinner Graeme Swann will be fit for next week's first Investec Test against South Africa.
England are confident Swann will be fit following a cortisone injection and necessary rest for his sore bowling elbow.
Swann, renowned as one of the world's best orthodox finger spinners after his exploits in Ashes series and England's ICC World Twenty20 success two years ago, underlined his class when he exceeded expectations with 21 Test wickets in a hard-fought series draw in South Africa in 2009/10.
The 33-year-old has an apparently chronic problem in his right elbow, however, and has already undergone surgery on the joint in the past.
Coach Andy Flower expects both Swann and seamer Tim Bresnan - also rested from the final match of England's 4-0 NatWest Series victory over Australia yesterday, because of an elbow niggle - to be ready to face South Africa at The Oval on July 19.
He nonetheless acknowledges both conditions will continue to need careful management, and hinted further rest periods may be likely to try to prolong Swann's career in all three international formats.
"Swann has a cortisone injection in his elbow - and with the combination of rest and the injection, he should be fit for the Test," said Flower.
"They have had these ongoing elbow problems, both Swann and Bresnan.
"Our medical staff believe they will be fit and available for selection for the first Test.
"But it's a strenuous exercise, being a bowler playing international cricket.
"They play all three forms of the game. So that's why Swann missed a big part of the one-day series and why we rested Bresnan on occasion."
Bresnan underwent elbow surgery too late last year, and then had to pull out of the shock Test series defeat against Pakistan in the Middle East.
As for Swann, Flower agrees his presence is a pivotal aspect of England's performance. "Absolutely - but there will be opportunities for youngsters when we rest Swann.
"He can't go on forever. There'll be some opportunities for others in the international game."
Swann and Bresnan, like the remaining candidates to form England's bowling attack against South Africa, have been prescribed rest rather than action in county championship cricket this week.
Flower would have liked some of the batsmen to have an opportunity to reattune themselves to the red-ball format, but the proximity of the end of the one-day international series mostly scuppered that option. "It would have been nice to get a chance. But in most cases that's proved particularly awkward, and that is a pity," he said.
"However, the guys have been playing a lot of cricket this summer and are used to switching from one to the other, and most of them will have a little bit of time off. "Ultimately it's our decision whether they play or not.
"A lot of them are very experienced national cricketers, but sometimes what a player wants and what a player needs are different things."
Ravi Bopara, for example, will not have the chance to impress again for Essex in four-day cricket following a very successful 50-over series which must have helped restate his claims to replace Jonny Bairstow as England's Test number six.
Unsurprisingly, Flower is disinclined to give much away on that score - before the squad for the first Test is announced on Sunday.
"We have been talking about it - I wouldn't say constantly but regularly - and we have got a very clear idea of the way we're going," he said.
"I think Ravi's played about 76 or so one-day internationals (actually 78) and I think now, certainly in this series, a number of very confident innings.
"It is rewarding for coaches, without a doubt.
"You spend a lot of time with players like Ravi and Alastair Cook at Essex. I played with Ravi and have obviously spent a lot of time in that coach-player relationship.
"We want him to do well like him as a friend and rate him as a cricketer, so it's very rewarding in a number of ways."
However world-beating England fare in their clash with their nearest pursuers in the International Cricket Council Test rankings, Flower is understandably enthused by their ODI success against Australia and the implications for their chances in next summer's Champions Trophy in this country. "It bodes well," he said.
"In knockout situations, we are experienced now in those tournaments - and we're playing very well at the moment.
"With some of the guys now having that experience - and it's in our country - I feel that gives us a good chance."
Even so, Flower is not about to crow just yet about England's prospects of adding ODI top ranking - they are up to third - to their official supremacy in Tests and Twenty20s. "We have a long way to go before we're near to that stage.
"There are very clear measures of how well we are doing, but we also know we have work to do in many areas before we can play anything like that.
"Everyone is very clear that we are playing some very good cricket but there are huge opportunities to develop as players and as a group."