Profiles ProfilesRSS FeedFeeds

Graeme Swann

Fletcher's sprat, Moores's whopper

Graeme Swann's long road to redemption

Andrew Miller

October 9, 2007

Comments: 3 | Text size: A | A



Graeme Swann: a seven-year hiatus between England games, but still determined to enjoy himself © Getty Images
Enlarge

Duncan Fletcher's memoirs are fast approaching their publication date, and it's safe to assume they are going to cause quite a stir when they hit the bookshelves. Rumour has it he's taken aim at more than just a few of the characters he encountered during a tempestuous seven-year tenure, but for England's cricketers - currently in the throes of their first overseas campaign of the Peter Moores era - such considerations are a lifetime away. Hell, times have changed so much since Fletcher's departure that they are even bossing a one-day series away from home.

One of the tourists in Sri Lanka, however, might just be anticipating an uncharitable footnote or two in Fletcher's tome. Graeme Swann was there at Fletcher's coronation in South Africa eight long winters ago, and he was banished unceremoniously the moment the team arrived back in Blighty at the end of a tough three-month tour. Now he is back to assess the dawn of Moores, and if the evidence of his first three games is anything to go by, he's going to prove tougher to shift this time around.

"I probably did put the odd foot wrong," Swann admitted this week as he reminisced about his first coming as an England cricketer. "I can't remember any specific incidents apart from missing the coach a couple of times. It's taught me that when I go on tour I have to take two alarm clocks. It was a missed opportunity in a way, but then again it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. I was 19 or 20, very naive about cricket and life in general, and it taught me a hell of a lot."

On the face of it little has changed. The cocky, chippy character who so antagonised his hard-bitten coach is still very much in evidence. This time, however, he is the toast of the team rather than the pariah, after starring roles in each of the first three ODIs - two of which led to victories.

If Swann had had his way, he'd have been the hero many moons before. Until last week, England had played 175 ODIs since his solitary appearance at Bloemfontein, as a late replacement for Ashley Giles, way back in January 2000. He bowled five wicketless overs, conceded 24 runs, blamed Nasser Hussain's field settings for his lack of success, and swiftly made way in the next game for Gloucestershire's Mark Alleyne. "I was absolutely deflated," he told the Northamptonshire Echo upon his return home from the tour. "The match [in Cape Town] was set up for a little Swanny cameo and I felt sure if I'd played, we have won."

Three Swanny cameos have since confirmed there may well have been substance behind that bombast, although Fletcher - a stickler for discipline and as judgmental as they come - refused ever to countenance forgiveness. Instead Giles, his most loyal disciple, cemented the central role in his squad, while the bit-part spinners came and went like commuters on the Tube.

In ODIs alone, eight other spinners were handed debuts after Swann had been ignored: Paul Grayson, Jeremy Snape, Ian Blackwell, Gareth Batty, Jamie Dalrymple, Alex Loudon, Michael Yardy and Monty Panesar. Three further names featured in Tests alone: Chris Schofield, Richard Dawson and Shaun Udal. Swann's Northants team-mate Jason Brown appeared and disappeared in Sri Lanka in 2001, while Robert Croft, Ian Salisbury and, of course, Phil Tufnell, were all handed shortlived recalls.

There is little doubt that it was Fletcher and Fletcher alone who took issue with Swann's immature antics. Hussain, in his autobiography, recalled the young egomaniac in his midst: 'He had a bit of swagger, he gave you a bit of chat. I didn't mind him at all.'

It's an inauspicious list, a catalogue of English slow-bowling shortcomings, but it is that very last name that is the most significant. Tufnell was Swann's senior colleague and role model on that 1999-2000 tour. With Dean Headley also game for a giggle, the Fun Boy Three was formed - a loud brash clique that was determined to live their sporting lives to the full. They picked the wrong coach to play such games with, however. After South Africa, the trio featured in just one match between them in the whole of Fletcher's reign. Tufnell was recalled to face the Aussies at The Oval in 2001, and was spanked for 174 runs in 39 overs.

There is little doubt that it was Fletcher and Fletcher alone who took issue with Swann's immature antics. Hussain, in his autobiography, recalled the young egomaniac in his midst: "He had a bit of swagger, he gave you a bit of chat. I didn't mind him at all." But even Headley felt obliged to step in on one notable occasion, when Swann's penchant for speaking his mind to his captain reduced the dressing room to silence.

He may have learnt his lesson in the interim, but Swann has weighed up the odds and decided there's no point in biting his tongue second time around. He's 28 now, the right age to be coming into his own as a spinner, and ready to be accepted for the character he undoubtedly is. "He's funny, he's a lad," says Moores. "You need all sorts of different people because it makes touring parties fun. In our set-up the lads enjoy him."

Regardless of the hi-jinks, Swann is an intelligent character - he writes a monthly column for All Out Cricket magazine, he's a regular on the sofa of Sky's Cricket AM, and a career in punditry is his for the taking when he retires, all the more so now that he's got the international recognition that seemed destined to elude him. Although he has never bettered the haul of 57 wickets he took for Northants in the summer of 1999, Swann was wise enough to recognise he was treading water at the county, and in 2004 he joined Stephen Fleming and the thoroughbreds of Nottinghamshire. It hasn't been a dull switch. The Championship followed immediately, relegation thereafter, and a handsome return to Division One in 2007.

With such a plethora of sharp-ended competition, Swann's competitive juices were flowing long before his England recall, but none of his spinning predecessors - not even the people's champion Panesar - has arrived with the sort of assurance that he showed in Dambulla over the last few days. It doubtless helped that his most recent A tour, in 2005, was also to Sri Lanka, where he sealed a thumping 197-run win by taking 5 for 79 in the first unofficial Test. His first delivery of this series pitched and ripped past Kumar Sangakkara's edge, and with seven wickets in three games he has all but assured himself of a Test debut when the teams reconvene in December.

And if it did so happen that he was slotted into that pivotal No. 8 position, what then would his old coach think? One man's supreme confidence is another's misplaced arrogance, and there's no question that Fletcher believed young Swann to be too much mouth and not enough legwork. But in his eternal quest for multi-dimensional cricketers, especially those of the spinning variety, it seems he threw back a whopper that he had mistaken for a sprat.

Mind you, Swann's not the only reject making a handy case for himself at present. Owais Shah and Ryan Sidebottom were also banished from the England set-up for unfathomably long periods of Fletcher's reign, and they too have emerged as key matchwinners in this series. "I think I deserve to be here," Swann told Sky Sports earlier this week. It's a message that's being picked up by every member of England's squad at present. Maybe it's not such a crime to be fun.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

RSS Feeds: Andrew Miller

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by diteras on (October 12, 2007, 9:37 GMT)

They clearly picked him too young. Fletcher, as I recall had a fairly experimental squad to take to SA. Adams and Hamilton also bombed bigtime - while Vaughan stepped up and Silverwood was the eternal 12th man - apart from the test where he took fivefer and then was inexplicably banished. Remember the circumstances - this was Fletcher's first tour with the Hussien after a woefull summer. Fletcher had a lot on his plate, failure and poor disciplin were all around him. Panesar is a bowler who might win the odd test for England if he is allowed the leeway. The question is, will be be seduced by the number eight batsman that Swann could be, over the undoubted international class of Panesar? I believe if you pick a spinner he should be a front line bowler and the batting, if it is brittle, should never be covered by weakening the bowling. Pick Swann if he can bowl a side out in the five day game, not because he can ( possibly) chip in a good thirty odd at eight.

Posted by Flatjack on (October 11, 2007, 9:40 GMT)

some parallels to Chris Schofield's story. You can't expect all young lads thrust into the limelight at an early age to cope. Good to see them both coming back, we need combative talented cricketers. It's a shame Fletcher wasn't able to harness Swann's spirit and shape him a bit more, obviously Stephen Fleming deserves some praise in all of this.

Posted by Hurts_Like_Stink on (October 9, 2007, 13:34 GMT)

Interesting to see how Swann is prepared to shoulder some responsibility for his career trajectory at the top level, rather than blaming Fletcher. The idea of Fletcher releasing a memoir fills me with anticipation, he was a hugely successful coach who currently seems to be remembered for his failings rather than successes in most sections of the media, doubtless due to his lack of interest at wooing or appeasing an increasingly critical media. I think Fletch picked his fair share of lads, such as Gough, Croft and Freddie as long as they did the business in the field. Also, at the time he took over the criteria were different - England had underperformed for a long time and the philosophy of selecting players on strength of character was a good one. fletcher had a very good hit rate.

Still, its great to see him and Sidebottom proving that the long way round is sometimes the best way round.

Do you think Greame Swann will continue to keep out Monty Panesar from the ODI team?
Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Andrew MillerClose
Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
Related Links
Players/Officials: Graeme Swann
Series/Tournaments: England tour of Sri Lanka
Teams: England | Sri Lanka

    Still plenty of ifs for Butt

Rob Steen: Salman Butt insists players should refrain from "wrongdoing" but that shouldn't gain him back the trust of those he duped

Outside the Grace Gate

Shot Selection: You think MCC members have it easy when it comes to watching a Test at Lord's? Think again

Drowned out by the hype machine

Sharda Ugra: A lot has gone wrong with the Indian T20 league but as its seventh season begins, everything will be brushed everything aside like nothing is amiss

    Notes from a Dutch adventure

Netherlands coach Anton Roux looks back on their incredible wins in the World T20, late-night bonding, and pizza intake

A measure for batting and bowling effectiveness in T20

Kartikeya Date: Strike rates and economy rates do not quite tell the whole story. Here's a new standard

News | Features Last 7 days

UAE all set to host lavish welcoming party

The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006

Attention on Yuvraj, Gambhir in IPL 2014

ESPNcricinfo picks five players for whom this IPL is of bigger significance

Stars greeted by Colombo revelry

Thousands flocked the streets and the airport to get a glimpse of their heroes in what was probably the grandest public occasion since the end of the war eased bomb-blast fears

India: cricket's Brazil

It's difficult to beat a huge talent base exposed to good facilities, and possessed of a long history of competing as a nation

Fifty for the pantheon

What if you had to narrow all of cricket greatness down to 50 names?

News | Features Last 7 days