December 26, 2013

Graeme Swann: sorely missed

Sure, he took wickets, but his key contribution to the England side was in a different area

"A rabbi, a horse, an investment banker and Raquel Welch walk into a bar..." © AFP

Whenever any senior player retires, he leaves a uniquely shaped hole. No replacement will do the exact same things, and so sometimes a team will need other players to step up, put their hands up and come to unanticipated parties. England coach Andy Flower called a press conference to outline how the England camp is going to cope with one particular aspect of Graeme Swann's absence.

Flower: Graeme Swann has left a gaping hole in the team and it is proving harder to fill than anticipated. It was the first team meeting after he left when the desperate situation became starkly apparent. Two players, attempting to converse, got caught in a platitude cycle and were unable to escape.

Reporter: What do you mean by that?

Flower: Without a third party to interject and take the discourse in a new direction, they simply got stuck. One player was saying that there was a lot of talent in the squad. The other was saying that they simply had to work hard and hopefully they would turn things around. No one was giving any specifics and no one had anything further to say. Ordinarily Swann would step in at this point and... well, he'd actually say something.

Reporter: What would he say?

Flower: It doesn't really matter. It might have been a bad joke or he might have simply asked what they needed to work hard at. Either way, the conversation would have progressed. We've got a situation now where that simply isn't happening.

Reporter: So what's happening instead?

Flower: It's just a bunch of blokes sitting around, saying they're going to try and find a way to turn things around without making any actual suggestions. There's a lot of talk about "soul-searching" and "taking a long, hard look at themselves", but very little searching of souls, and if they're looking long and hard at anything, it's in the mirror so that they can practise their "I'm really serious about this serious thing" faces.

Reporter: And you don't think this is achieving much?

Flower: They discovered "admitting that we've been outplayed" last week and that's pretty much all they've done since then. They turn to whoever's sitting next to them and say: "Sometimes you just have to admit that you've been outplayed." After that, some of them say that Australia have been the better side, while others put it down to suffering a long spell of poor form, but either way it doesn't amount to anything.

Reporter: There's no plan of action?

Flower: They say: "Something has to change. We have to find a way of fighting back."

Reporter: And what will that entail?

Flower: No, this is the point. There are no suggestions. They never explore what the "something that has to change" might be, and they never come up with any plan of action when it comes to fighting back. It's just a series of acknowledgements that this has to happen.

Reporter: Are you not doing the same thing? Saying that things have to change without taking action?

Flower: No, not at all. There is a plan.

Reporter: And what is this plan?

Flower: Conversation lessons.

Reporter: Conversation lessons?

Flower: Yes, conversation lessons. We're arranging a series of sessions with an expert in this area, in which the players will learn how to listen to what someone else has to say before responding in a meaningful fashion via their own, original, self-created utterances. We're hoping that if even a couple of players can master this skill, this might be sufficient for the team to once again be able to exchange information and come up with plans as to how we might improve.

Reporter: And then you'll work to the plans you come up with?

Flower: I cannot confirm that at this moment.

Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket