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The Breaks are Off

A lad's brags and gags

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

Sahil Dutta

January 15, 2012

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

The cover image of Graeme Swann's autobiography <i>The Breaks are Off</i>

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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Posted by   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.

Posted by stari09 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.

Posted by zain.ul.abideen 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!

Posted by   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 ....

Posted by Ropsh 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.

Posted by HughL 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

Posted by steve19191 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.

Posted by OhhhMattyMatty on (January 15, 2012, 14:49 GMT)

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

Posted by TheBengalTiger 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by butterhandsfingers on (January 15, 2012, 12:09 GMT)

not as good as "Monty's Turn"

Posted by spence1324 on (January 15, 2012, 10:20 GMT)

Do not think a indian should have reviewed it simple reason they would not get the 'english' sense of humor!

Posted by   on (January 15, 2012, 9:49 GMT)

@Jonesy2 - He's been the no1 ranked spinner & indeed no2 bowler overall for long periods the last few years as well as consistently taking wickets the world over. Hardly a journeyman, you'd have to be a mug not to recognise he is a good bowler.

Posted by pigeotto99 on (January 15, 2012, 9:20 GMT)

@jonesy2 have you just learnt the word journyman because you pop up on every topic to do with england and troll with it...

Posted by Rahul_78 on (January 15, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

The legendary Murli and Kumble still have none and Swann has come up with this one is a joke in itself. I always thought behind the quick wit and lad persona theres always a big ego hiding somewhere. Otherwise he certainly would have waited a bit to have his say..what was the rush?

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 15, 2012, 8:15 GMT)

An autobiography from a man of almost 33 years, who has taken the princely sum of 153 Test wickets! The last time cricket saw such hubris was when Graeme Hick wrote "My Early Life", just before he was exposed to the world as a flat-track bully par excellence. Swann's position as "world number one spinner" after a little more than a year as a Test cricketer looks as sound and objective as India's position as number 1 Test nation was.

Posted by ReverseSwing20 on (January 15, 2012, 8:05 GMT)

Maybe he published it earlier to cash in at at time England is No1 test team, and may be Swann, being an insider, knows it may not be for long , ESP this year with tough series coming ( notably Pakistan & SA).may be he knows by the time he retires, the brief shimmer may well be long lost :)

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (January 15, 2012, 5:32 GMT)

Nice review Sahil, and I agree it should have been released after he'd retired, but such is the craze now that we get players releasing books years before they retire, as far as i can remember Flintoff has down a couple, Cook's got one, KP as a couple, SRT has a bio (though 20 years at the top is probably right)...Your last couple of paragraphs on the 'simmering dislike' that Swann has for KP is not that suprising (and probably returned by KP), as they both have similar personalities that will clash, and with Ego's bigger than Wales there will be friction. The important think is that they dont let it interfere with thier job.

Posted by jonesy2 on (January 15, 2012, 5:26 GMT)

the fact that a journeyman english off spinner has an autobiography out is hilarious

Posted by landl47 on (January 15, 2012, 4:50 GMT)

I wish players would refrain from autobiographies until their careers are over. The full story isn't available till then, and although Swann seems to be less restrained than most, inevitably some concession has to be made to the interests of the side which the player represents. While Sahil, I'm sure correctly, deplores the lack of depth in Swann's book, the fact is that hardly any sports autobiographies are worth reading. Exceptions are by Richie Benaud and the late Ian Peebles; unfortunately, the cricketer whose autobiography I would love to read, Mike Brearley, hasn't written one.

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Sahil Dutta Assistant editor Sahil Dutta grew up supporting England during the 90s. Despite this, he still enjoys the game. His unrequited passions for Graeme Hick and, in latter years, Vikram Solanki gave him a stoicism that guided him through an Economics degree and a stint working at the European Parliament. He maintains the purest love for Tests and the whims of legspin bowling and still harbours hope that he could be the answer to England's long search for a mystery spinner. As it is, his most exciting cricketing experience was planning a trip to Australia for the 2006-07 Ashes with two utterly indifferent friends. Unfortunately his lung collapsed shortly before his planned departure and the pair were left to wander around from Test to Test, unprepared and clueless. Any comparisons with England are far too obvious to make. That cancelled holiday inspired an Ashes blog which led, via some tea-making at the Wisden Cricketer, to the ESPNcricinfo towers.

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