Swann content with team success
Sportsmen are often renowned for claiming that they would trade in personal success for collective team glory, and they invariably sound disingenuous while doing so. But in the case of Graeme Swann, that is more or less what has happened in the course of this series against India. At the start of the tour, Swann was riding high at No. 2 in the world rankings, and looking on course to topple Dale Steyn as the world's leading bowler. Three Tests later, he has been limited to four wickets at 80.25, but with England now rated as the best team in the world, his usual contributions have not been missed in the slightest.
In fact, on a series of wickets that have aided England's potent seam attack, Swann has been more than happy to let his team-mates take the lead in the demolition of India. Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Tim Bresnan have each collected a five-wicket haul in the course of the first three Tests, and have so far shared 51 of the 60 Indian wickets to have fallen. "I'm an inherently lazy person," said Swann, "so I quite enjoy having other people to do the hard yards."
"I wouldn't say I'm firing on all cylinders, but that's just a case of not getting as many overs under my belt as I would have wanted," he added. "When your seamers are doing so well from one end and it's swinging around, it doesn't take a genius to know who you're going to attack when the little fingerspinner comes on. I wouldn't say it's frustrating, but it would be nice to play a little bit more of a role in a couple of the games.
"I've bowled well in patches in this series," said Swann. "I was quite happy with how I bowled at Edgbaston, but I was disgusted with how I bowled at Trent Bridge - I might start asking for annual leave whenever we play there. Lord's and Trent Bridge were as unfriendly to spinners as any wickets I've played on, so I was more than happy that the other guys were taking the wickets, otherwise it might have glared up how badly I bowled at Trent Bridge had we not won that game."
Leaving aside Swann's habitual flippancy, this current England team displays none of the angst that coloured their insecure squads in the dark days of the 1990s, when one bad game could often cause your eviction from the set-up. Nor does it seem to foster the petty jealousies that, for example, compelled Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick to outperform one another during the team's upsurge under Nasser Hussain in the early 2000s. With a tally of 19 wins in their last 30 Tests, and 11 of those by an innings, the collective thrill of victory is enough to satisfy everyone.
"I think it's been proved over the last couple of years that everyone is genuinely happy for everyone else's success," said Swann. "It's not a cliquey, bitchy environment where if people don't do well there are certain corners giggling and happy with it. That's been a case in the past in sports teams I've played in, but it's not in this one and anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in the way of our celebrations on Saturday night would have seen we're a very happy bunch and enjoy each other's company and each other's successes."
The celebrations at Edgbaston included, at various moments, Swann dancing to the Human League while wearing a Star Wars Stormtrooper's helmet, while Bresnan tweeted a picture of himself wearing a Borat mask. While the euphoria was not on a par with the scenes that accompanied England's retention of the Ashes in Melbourne back in December, Swann insisted that this sort of work-hard, play-hard culture was essential for a contented team environment.
"That was nothing to do with us becoming No. 1," he said. "That was the heady three or four hours after winning a Test match. We always celebrate wins of magnitude, and I think that's what you should do as a team, because it's very good for team bonding. But we're not carrying on thinking the series is over. I don't think any of us wants to be in a room with Andy Flower if we do take our foot off the gas. I know I don't."
"It was a similar situation after that Melbourne Test," Swann added. "A lot of people said the hard work was done and people wouldn't blame us for taking our foot off the gas at Sydney, but we actually pulled out our best performance of the trip [victory by an innings and 83 runs]. We'll be looking to emulate that at The Oval, because if we even go halfway to matching that game at Sydney, we'll be doing well."
From a personal point of view, Swann has little doubt that he'll be back in the thick of things before long, not least when England set about defending their No. 1 status against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the new year. "I always look at the winter and think there's a lot more bowling for me to be done during those months," he said. "When we get to Abu Dhabi and Dubai [against Pakistan], having played on those wickets, I'm not sure our seamers will be lining up to bowl as they are at the minute.
"It's a nice place to be, No. 1 in the world, but it's not been the talk of the changing room," he added. "Abu Dhabi and Dubai and then Sri Lanka will be two huge series for us because they're not the kind of places where people go and steamroller teams and win handsomely. Then we have India the winter after as well, so that could be a real litmus test of where we are as a team, if we can carry on our performances of the past two years in those very hostile conditions."
Nevertheless, the distance that England have already travelled since 2009, when Flower and Andrew Strauss came together as captain and coach, is astonishing. Swann recalled the team meeting when the notion of England becoming the best Test side in the world was first aired, and admitted it had, at the time, seemed a long, long way off.
"It looked incredibly implausible," he said. "The run of form we had to have and the results we had to have and things go our way, I don't think anyone - even the most incredible sensationalist - would have believed what we were writing on the board. But it has panned out that way. So I'm a bit nervous about what [Flower] might come up with next time."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo