April 30, 2014

The player England will miss the most

In the new era, England will find it hard to fill the huge hole left by Graeme Swann's retirement, on the field and off it

Along with his bowling, England will also miss Swann's human side as they try to bridge the increasing gap between the players and their supporters © PA Photos

England assembled at Loughborough last week for the famous fitness tests, an apt way to begin the Moores era. As Gideon Haigh noted wickedly, it is a group that "controls the controllables, achieves the achievables and eats the edibles". Awaiting them on the to-do list is not just the selection of a new team but the creation of a new way of playing, and beyond that, a new way of feeling. They have lost - well, given away - their batting match-winner, and yet the player whose absence demands the most reconstruction is not Kevin Pietersen, but Graeme Swann.

The spinner's retirement has so far been obscured by the debate around his exit, which was sad and undeserved. Some have grumbled about the method and moment of his leaving, but he was bowled into the ground by a team that had built their strategy in the field around him. He was the fulcrum of the side, the man who offered the endurance and control to play three seamers and seven batsmen alongside him. So impactful was Swann's late-blooming career that no one in Test cricket took more than his 255 wickets in the five years or so that he lasted; he re-popularised the big, drifting, ripping offspinner; he became the first great exponent of DRS. He was the scourge of left-hand batsmen and "not-outer" umpires alike.

He took two wickets in his first over on debut, in Chennai, beginning a trend for striking within his first six deliveries that persisted almost until the end. It was uncanny. He was a natural cricketer, his ebullient talent obvious in his batting: the purity of his striking belonged higher up the order, but he was anchored by a rather winning dislike of the short stuff. He never fancied that, and didn't bother to pretend to, either. He was a tremendous catcher at second slip, another tell of the genuinely gifted player.

Despite the best efforts of the spin department at Loughborough, who have made a deep study of the revolutions and drift that Swann imparted on the ball, there is no selectable specialist spinner demanding his place, let alone his role. That means a complete rethink of England's strategy in the field. Ben Stokes doesn't yet feel like the fully fledged allrounder who might suggest another way, and the idea of the admirable Moeen Ali somehow shouldering the role looks equally far-fetched. Moeen might at least allow for the selection of four seam bowlers, but England would be demanding both runs and wickets from a man yet to play a Test.

Beyond a broad strategic decision for which there may be no immediate answer, there is the other, more human side of Swann that has been lost. His jokes may have been terrible, his manner sometimes blithe, his rock 'n roll band not quite ready to trouble the charts, but he gave England an approachable public face during a time of austere relations with the media. Compare his natural way in front of a microphone with Alastair Cook's tortuous platitudes and obvious desire to be elsewhere. More than ever, England need to reduce the distance between players and supporters, to burst the remote "Team England" bubble and gain some support during a period of rebuilding. Pietersen's dismissal has offered a focus for a broader discontent compounded by the Ashes defeat and doubts over the new coach. How England could do with Swann's waggish grin and off-piste answers right now. He made an honest connection when he spoke, and he lightened the load: he always seemed to remember that he was playing a game, not running the country.

His age and experience played a role in that. England will have plenty of young blood, all of them media-trained into oblivion. Someone needs to let on that, you know, playing cricket is often fun too. Swanny had fun almost to the end and he will be missed.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

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  • Dummy4 on May 2, 2014, 8:52 GMT

    I wonder why he is not playing IPL? he can do well there too.... I am a big fan of Swanny....

  • Rafi on May 1, 2014, 9:37 GMT

    Swann was fantastic, no doubt about that. However, this article is extremely dismissive of Simon Kerrigan. His county record over the last two years means that he should be the man in possession (and I would think that Moores will pick him, he knows his game, knows his character and he will be able calm his nerves). I find it absurd that everyone is judging him on one bad spell on a flat pitch and he was never given another spell in that game. He can also fulfill a similar batting role to Swann, and is an excellent fielder.

  • Dummy4 on May 1, 2014, 8:34 GMT

    Excellent stuff, Mr Hotten.

  • Paul on April 30, 2014, 22:57 GMT

    Swann was England's second-best fielder in recent years (after Collingwood) and, in my view, England's second-best batsman against spinners (after Pietersen).

  • Faraz on April 30, 2014, 17:01 GMT

    I disagree slightly as the start of England rise came in Australia when Freddy and KP demolished the best Australian attack having both their trump cards in Mcgrath and Shane Warne... So to say England cricket will miss swann the most ..... They have missed Freddy and still after so long haven't found some one close to his pedigree.. same is with KP, his aggression will be a missing.. Swann a very fine baller will be missed definitely :)

  • dan on April 30, 2014, 16:10 GMT

    about missing players, it took australia 6-7 years to replace thier team

    5 players from australia's team 7 years ago would have played in any australian team.

    the players who retired where

    langer,hayden,ponting,hussey,martyn,katich,symonds, the waugh brother, lehmann, macgrath,lee,warne,gillespie,bichel,kaspawich,clark, gilchrist, macgill,hogg

    its taken years to replace them

    england have to find 4 world class players to replace trott,swann,pietersen and prior which will be hard to find, you wont find another kevin pietersen very easy.

    jimmy anderson has 2-3 years left in him.

    australia have a aging side with rodges harris,watson,johnson,haddin and clarke having 2-3 years left in them and australia will have to find 6 players to replace them.

    both england and australia have some thinking over the next 5 years to stay at the top of world cricket

  • dan on April 30, 2014, 15:29 GMT

    good spinners are hard to come by

    its taken australia 5 spin bowlers and 7-8 years to find nathan lyon, who is the best spinner so far.

    lyon takes wickets here and thier and is under rated, unlike warne he is not guaranteed to take a handful of wickets on day 4 and day 5 pitches

    during the warne era we also had stuart macgill, who australia would love to have now, and if playing for another country would have taken 300 wickets.

    i would love to see steven smith be given 5-10 over per test to improve his craft, listening to richie benaud it took him a couple of years to develop as a spinner, he was picked as a allrounder for a few years

    i think england like australia will find it hard to find another spinner

    england have the benefit of having shane warne, saqlain mustaq and mustaq ahmed coaching in england, who can teach young bowlers variations like doosra's,wrong un's, sliders's,carrom ball's and flipper's

    lyon and swann are the last of the tradional off spinner

  • Alan on April 30, 2014, 13:31 GMT

    Swann should have been brought in as coach...

  • Steven on April 30, 2014, 12:01 GMT

    @steve48: "...showed him in a selfish light. Love to know why he fell so out of love with us..."

    I think you just answered your own question, didn't you?

  • Vaughan on April 30, 2014, 11:40 GMT

    Great piece on Swann. The England selectors have their hands full now.. although the choice has to be between Panesar and Kerrigan. All this hype about Ali is completely bizarre! A number 3 batsman (FC average under 40) who can bowl a bit is not a test all-rounder.

    This reminds me about when South Africa selected a chap called Peter Strydom into the test team because he could bowl "a bit of spin". Terrible decision

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