Swann spoke on Monday, in his newspaper column, of fears that his elbow might compromise his availability at some point in this high-profile year of double Ashes.
But his absence from the starting eleven for the first Test of three against the Kiwis was nonetheless a surprise, let alone the subsequent news that the injury would require surgery. England instead named Monty Panesar as their spin option, in an otherwise predictable line-up, with Stuart Broad named as the third seamer.
England captain Alastair Cook revealed after the toss that Swann has been sent for scans on the joint in his bowling arm, which has caused him pain for several years.
He told Sky Sports: "He has gone for scans.
"We don't think it is serious ... but we didn't feel he could get through five days."
James Tredwell will come into the Test squad in Swann's absence.
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