Kevin Pietersen has cast doubt about his fitness for an Ashes summer after confirming he'll miss the New Zealand series. Ralph Ellis says it's not KP we need to be worried about, but the fitness of Graeme Swann...
Shawn O'Driscoll is a 57-year-old Canadian who goes white-water rafting and sailing in his spare time and has never, to my knowledge, played cricket in his life. But he is turning out to be the pivotal figure for England's chances of winning the Ashes this summer.
The announcement yesterday that Kevin Pietersen will miss the two Test series against New Zealand has thrown a lot of attention on who will fill his batting boots. Ian Bell will move to number four, that's simple enough. But then it's a question of whether Jonny Bairstow gets another chance at six, or if Andy Flower prefers to go back to Eoin Morgan for the man who provides some explosive hitting in the middle of the order.
That debate is fine but, to be honest, if the worst comes to the worst and KP doesn't get back for the summer, the emergence of Nick Compton and Joe Root in India in the winter underlined that England's batting line-up does have options.
Where there is a problem is in the bowling - or more specifically the spin bowling. And that's where Shawn O'Driscoll (not to be confused with Sean O'Driscoll who got relegated with Bristol City last night) comes in.
To give him his full title he is Doctor Shawn W O'Driscoll, who works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and is considered one of the world's top experts on elbow surgery. He is the guy who sorted out Graeme Swann's injury problems a couple of years ago, and the man that England's off spinner immediately went to again when he had to fly home from New Zealand at the start of last month.
In January, incidentally, he was also the surgeon who operated on Tim Bresnan, who made his return to county action with Yorkshire yesterday in a friendly against Lancashire. But it is the fitness of Swann which will prove crucial to the Ashes. He is England's one world class off spinner; the guy who can trundle away for hours keeping batsmen tied down at the other end, just as he did in Australia two years ago when his 219 overs cost just 2.72 runs each.
When he's at the peak of his powers, Swann also has that uncanny ability to break a stand the moment he comes on to bowl. He was the match winner in India earlier this winter, and if fit he will be the match winner again when the Aussies come to England in a couple of months time.
Alastair Cook's side are currently 1.491/2 to win the Ashes series against an Australian team in disarray, a price which presumes that Dr O'Driscoll has worked his magic and got Swann fully fit - and that KP and Bresnan, who topped the averages in Australia with 11 wickets that cost 19.54 each, will all be there too.
Meanwhile we'll see just how important the surgeon is to England when Swann is missing against New Zealand. Cook's side are 1.351/3 to win the series and in home conditions ought to deliver on that. But a price between 2.15n/a and 2.56/4 for a 2-0 series score looks too short. A combination of the key players who will be sitting out and the English weather which seems bound to take a few days out of the schedule makes that great value to lay.