The Breaks are Off January 15, 2012

A lad's brags and gags

Graeme Swann's autobiography has plenty of jolly japes but not too much else besides

Graeme Swann has all he needs to rip a good yarn: he's quick-witted, irreverent, and possesses a career story that continues to astonish. With both him and the England team entering a legacy-defining phase, there may well be more to say when he retires. It's a pity he didn't hold back his autobiography, The Breaks Are Off, until then.

The fact he didn't says plenty about his motivations for writing the book. On more than one occasion Swann berates cricket boards for masking money-making intentions behind grandiose claims - like when England returned to India after the Mumbai atrocity in 2008. Fair point though this is, it is difficult to see Swann's book as anything other than a cash-in itself.

Nonetheless, in an age where players regurgitate off-the-peg quotes to feed 24-hour news, Swann is a relief. He is honest and amusing, styling himself as a proper "lad", who is quick to take the piss, see the funny side and play the rogue. Anyone who has followed England over the last few years will know that already. The book's biggest flaw is that he tells you no more.

Reading it feels like being pinned at the bar while Swann regales you with tale after tale of drunken japes: "Remember that time we got hammered at the Under-19 World Cup and rugby-tackled Allan Border? Remember that time we got obliterated in Lincolnshire and got punched in the face? Remember that time Gough lamped me in South Africa?"

Swann emerges as a likeable, if sometimes annoying, bloke. Being jettisoned by England for seven years clearly hurt him, but at no point does he betray any bitterness. Still, if the cliché about cricket revealing inner character holds true, there must be more to Swann.

By the time he made his Test debut, traditional offspin felt drab, but - in what was meant to be the age of mystery spin - Swann made the orthodox cool again. No longer do you see a young finger-spinner like George Dockrell and wish he was something else. Bowling spin needs personality, and the way Swann plays suggests he has it by the shed-load. Peter Moores, the coach who brought him back into the England fold, has talked about Swann creating a "theatre of pressure" out in the middle, and how it is through Swann's strength of character that he is able to assert himself on the game.

It would be interesting to know where Swann got such confidence, or how he thinks about the game. A glimpse is offered when he recalls spotting a glitch while watching Marcus North compile a century in Cardiff in 2009. "Because he had a big, high backlift I suspected he would be susceptible to the ball that went straight on from around the wicket." Sure enough, in the next Test at Lord's, Swann was "proved right by a delivery that chipped the pad and cleaned him up". It's one of the few insights into the mechanics of his art Swann gives. He says he "always found bowling very instinctive" and doesn't decide what he's going to bowl "until he's at the crease". Maybe he thought delving into the mechanics would be a touch too serious for his public persona, but expanding on his thoughts about the game would have helped his book greatly.

What does emerge is the back-story to Swann's gnarled competitiveness. His father, Ray, was a stern secondary-school teacher, high-quality club player and filthy sledger, who demanded high standards from Graeme and his brother (former first-class cricketer) Alec. Despite their successes, he was disappointed more often than not. Swann's mother, Mavis, was also strong-willed, banning both sons from playing Northamptonshire age-group cricket after Alec was unfairly accused of abusing an umpire. It meant Graeme played adult club cricket between the ages of 12 and 16, which he sees as integral to his development.

Though there is no intense introspection, Swann is clear about the problems he has had with management. From youth cricket through to the recent pre-Ashes "bonding camp", which he described as "degrading", he has never much cared for authority or guidance. Until Andy Flower, the only coaches he respected were the ones who allowed him to act how he pleased.

Given the frenzy whipped up about the book's criticism of Kevin Pietersen, the actual passages in print are quite mild. Pietersen was "not a natural leader" and England "have the right man" in Andrew Strauss. If anything, it's the rest of the book that suggests Swann's simmering dislike for Pietersen - hardly surprising, considering both men have had issues with authority, crave attention and can claim to be the top dog in the team.

Following the popularity of Swann's Ashes video diaries and his widely followed tweeting, an autobiography was probably the obvious progression. After all, it's what celebrities do. While Swann's is probably more entertaining than most, it is not much more enlightening.

The Breaks Are Off: My Autobiography
Graeme Swann
Hodder & Stoughton

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  • Dummy4 on January 17, 2012, 10:29 GMT

    @OhhhMattyMatty - How exactly did you get the "brilliant book" bit without even reading it? Humor is humor, so stop putting English or Irish on it. And for people who insist Swann is a mediocre bowler, let's just stop our national bias for a bit. He's consistently been the best offspinner around for the last few years, with only Ajmal anywhere close - easily more potent and effective against allcomers than the Vettoris and Harbhajans who were once good but their recent form doesn't match up to their career records. Given that he had to fight his way back to the team, more on performances than anything else.. he deserves the accolades. And given his honest, sometimes deliberate abrasiveness, his book could have been held off for a few more years, to be richer with anecdotes.

  • P on January 16, 2012, 12:07 GMT

    I used to think Swann was alright, now I know that he dislikes KP I think he is a top lad.

  • Zain on January 16, 2012, 10:05 GMT

    The guy's taken 153 test wickets and 93 ODI wickets. So the autobio was definitely due. maybe he's planning to quit while he's ahead, cheers!

  • Dummy4 on January 16, 2012, 9:07 GMT

    Swann's style of bowling is a breath of fresh air in this era of doosra's and (maybe a little premature to say but) teesra's .... He's a likable guy and to those who are writing him off here ... dont buy the book and be done with it lol ....

  • Ro on January 15, 2012, 17:58 GMT

    That rating is one and a half balls too many for someone who is, let's face it, a mediocre bowler, and an even worse writer, at best.

  • Hugh on January 15, 2012, 16:52 GMT

    Not much point reading a book by any player currently in the team- they can never say what they want to say so why bother reading it? Could Marcus Treschothick have written such a searingly honest memoir if he was still in the England squad? I think a Swann book in 6=7 years time will be worth a read

  • steven on January 15, 2012, 15:07 GMT

    Oh poor old Jonsey2 still eating those sour grapes after Swann and the boys humiliated your boys in your backyrd..

    You need to let it go Jonsey2, it will be good for your blood pressure.

  • Oh on January 15, 2012, 14:49 GMT

    Brilliant book. Terrible review. English humour is lost on the rest of the world.

  • Mike on January 15, 2012, 13:17 GMT

    Ive never understood why English players bring out autobioigraphies so consistently. Strauss has a couple, Vaughan had a couple before he retired, and i could go on. People always berate Indians for craving money, in reality its the English that play only for it.

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    Swann is no "journeyman spinner" as stated by jonesy2. Read his Cricinfo profile and stats. His first year in Test cricket was fabulous against all opposition in different conditions. Swann has had to work harder since but always delivers when the conditions are right. Pakistan against England, Swann vs Ajmal, really looking forward to it. I suspect jonesy2 is from a certain large island way down in the southern hemisphere. I love the sour grapes nature of the people from there. Beating India on home soil doesn't suddenly make you world beaters. Now Lyon and doherty are journeyman spinners. Swann, Ajmal are different class.

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