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March 16, 2010
As a man who once feared his international career would be limited to five wicketless overs in a forgotten ODI in Bloemfontein, Graeme Swann is in a hurry to make up for lost time. So much so, that even when the conditions have seemingly been designed to slow him down, he still continues to take strides into the history books. On Tuesday in Chittagong, he completed the first ten-wicket haul of his career (having earlier in the game bagged a wicket in the first over of a spell for the 18th occasion in 17 Tests) to emulate the late, great Jim Laker, the last England offspinner to achieve such a feat, in 1956.
Laker, as it happens, grabbed the small matter of 19 for 90 on that famous occasion at Old Trafford to secure match figures that may never be equalled. But he would at least have sympathised with the hard toil that Swann had to put in to get his rewards, having whirled his way through 51.2 overs in Australia's second innings of that match, compared to Swann's 49 on days four and five in Chittagong.
"I certainly didn't realise I was the first since Jim Laker, so to be in that esteemed company is a really nice feeling," Swann said. "But I wasn't thinking about that when I was bowling. All I was thinking about was how on earth are we going to break this partnership that has lasted for four-and-a-half hours, so to get through that and end up with ten was the icing on the cake."
The partnership in question, between Junaid Siddique and Mushfiqur Rahim, spanned 69.4 overs and more than two sessions, and had worn England's patience to the bone by the time the breakthrough did finally come. Two overs after lunch, Junaid propped forward to be caught at slip by Paul Collingwood, and Swann's loud and clear reaction was one that he instantly regretted. Laker, who used to celebrate his wickets with a cursory handshake and a flick of his jumper over the shoulder, most certainly would not have approved
"It all happened in the heat of the moment and it certainly wasn't anything malicious," said Swann. "I apologise unreservedly if I did swear - and I know I did - because it's certainly not something I condone. I feel a bit ashamed, because it wasn't meant as a personal slight at him, it was just a release of pent-up emotion.
"He batted phenomenally, and it's a testament to him that he did get everyone frustrated," added Swann. "To bat for four-and-a-half hours - and we think we're a pretty decent attack, albeit on a pretty flat wicket - he proved a real thorn in our side. That was born out of emotion, which is exactly what Cooky [Alastair Cook] told us not to do, so I'm in his bad books."
On the subject of the outburst, Cook diplomatically claimed not to have heard anything, but added that he had no objection with England playing the game hard but fair. "Emotion does sometimes take over but we still executed our skills well," he said. "In hot conditions, it was easy for things to bubble over a lot more than they did, but I was happy with the aggression we showed. Not giving an inch, that's what international cricket is about."
If Swann really is in his captain's bad books, then he is unlikely to remain there very long, because Cook knows that his spinner is England's most potent matchwinner of recent times. He has now claimed 79 wickets in 17 Tests, including six five-fors - the last of which came during their memorable innings victory over South Africa at Durban. In addition to those, he played key roles in both of England's victories over Australia at Lord's and The Oval in the summer, and Cook believes that he's heading for a special slot in England's annals.
"Swanny has so much control of his game," said Cook. "He's very easy to captain, he knows the fields he wants, and you trust him to make the breakthrough. To get ten on that wicket was an amazing effort, and he bowled a lot of overs so that shows his determination. Everything is going right for him, and the skill he's shown over the past 12 months proves it's not a fluke. If he keeps his feet on the ground, there's no reason why he can't [be one of the greats]. If he can keep producing performances, I'm sure he'll continue doing it."
Efforts such as the one he produced in this match will aid his overall development as a player, because as Swann himself said, he was forced to alter his natural gameplan to conquer conditions that didn't aid his variations. There was even an unveiling of a ball that went the other way, which he coyly admitted was something he'd been working on - "I've not come up with a name for it yet, as spinners are supposed to do," he said. "Perhaps I'll call it the Chittagong.
"It was a flat pitch, but there wasn't any pace either, so my normal trick of trying to slide one off the pitch for an lbw against the left-hander was straight out of the window," he said. "It didn't turn anything like as much as we hoped it would as the game wore on, which is probably the reason why Bangladesh bowled first to start with, even though that worked in our favour."
Overall, however, Chittagong provided another five days of satisfaction to file away in Swann's cuttings book, even if today's effort did require a change of cap at lunch to ensure a swift end to proceedings. "It just keeps getting better, and I'm more than happy with how things are going," he said. "But I'm very superstitious. If I've not taken a wicket for a while, then you'll probably find me changing my hat or switching the bails around."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.Feeds: Andrew Miller
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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