The Ashes 2013-14 December 22, 2013

Swann mistaken not to see it through

At their time of need, Graeme Swann has decided to desert his team-mates

First Jonathan Trott is forced out of the Ashes tour with a stress-related illness and now, with Christmas approaching, Graeme Swann wisecracks his way into the sunset. If anybody doubted that this England team has been well and truly broken by Australia, they must surely accept it now.

Swann has been a wonderful servant for England, not just one of the most successful England offspinners of all time but a perpetually uplifting presence, living proof that you can still play - and talk about - international cricket with a sense of fun.

He was almost 30 when he reached the England side and he was a rounded personality relishing the opportunity. We should all be immensely grateful for that.

But the nagging feeling remains that Swann is wrong: wrong to retire now with the Test series still incomplete, wrong not to see it through to the end - whether picked or not - to stand alongside his team-mates after a failed Ashes challenge and at least reach the finishing line together.

That the series is already lost is largely immaterial. It is a matter of appearances, of collective will in good times and bad. Countless boxers have reached the final rounds so far behind on points, so lacking in energy to have any hope of a knockout punch that their only pride rests in hearing the bell ring for the end of the final round, to have been there at the end.

But there is something awry in this England squad, an exhaustion that is defeating good men. England's immense management team might still be functioning, but many of the players they are supervising are spent: so spent that they can barely see beyond themselves. They are no longer thinking straight.

It will seem perfectly appropriate to Swann to stand down now. He will be able to enjoy a family Christmas and New Year not caring that the clock has crept past midnight, or if the extra glass of wine is unprofessional.

He says he is being unselfish by getting out before the end of the series, by admitting to himself that, after his elbow operations, he no longer has the resilience to bowl long second-innings spells, especially when England have batted so poorly that they have not allowed him the recovery time he needs. He, above all, will know that. His analysis of his own game, as it stands now, should be respected.

But ultimately selection is not his job. It does not matter how spent he felt when Australia kept hitting him back over his head. He is contracted to see it through. It is the role of Andy Flower, as team director, and Alastair Cook, as captain, to choose an XI for Melbourne and Sydney than can best serve the collective in times of need - and, in discussion with him, to decide if he is worth a place in the final XI. By retiring now, Swann has not allowed them that opportunity.

This is not to accuse Swann of betrayal, or of fleeing a sinking ship. That is not the intention. But, if he did feel that retirement was the only option, there was no need to tell Australia until the series was over.

It is not sanctimonious simply to observe that there is something deeply unsettling about this, a suggestion that an England team which has revelled in the good times - not just revelled in them, actively helped to create them - is looking less impressive now Australia have beaten them so soundly.

England's mental and physical exhaustion, the result of a financially-driven and unsustainable international programme, could not be clearer. That unsustainable programme comes hand in hand with intense micro-management which makes heavy demands of all players in an attempt to maximise success. That cohesion is breaking down.

Retirement in the middle of a series is traditionally reserved for beaten captains, who feel responsibility for general failure, and for those so badly injured the end of their career is inevitable. The rest have tended to stick it out.

By choosing to retire now, Swann, subconsciously at least, is asserting his rights as an individual, in the face of intolerable demands, to retire when he pleases.

Swann talks of his love for the England family as much as anybody. It is not an affectation, it comes from the heart. It has been part of England's success. But after their hounding from Australia, this England family is looking increasingly dysfunctional. It would have done no harm to wait a fortnight.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Simon on December 23, 2013, 14:21 GMT

    Swann's retirement is a matter for England and England's fans. Regarding those spinners who are 'better', when they have his wickets then they can be spoken in the same breath. As for Johnson's singling out by the barmy army, I found that distasteful then and I respect the way he responded. As for Swann, I'm a huge fan, but only he knows whether his body can take it. As for the timing of it, if Flower was going to drop him, regardless. We have been hammered by Aus, the series is dead. Trotts gone. Restructuring has been forced on us early by Aus, and there is NO benefit for England whatsover for Swann dragging it out. The sooner we face up to restructuring, the quicker the transition will be. Swann will be ridiculed by those of other countries who would rather forget how he defeated them. The man is a legend, plus he's got the conviction to know when to retire. It will take 2 years to rebuild but we'll be back. Long live the team who hammered Aus and India home and away.Long live Swan

  • Andrew on December 23, 2013, 12:29 GMT

    @neil99 on (December 23, 2013, 0:25 GMT) - Swann is not a spring chicken - he is 34, with chronic elbow problems - it is obvious to MOST people other than you or the ECB - that he was going to break one way or another! Ask most cricket fans which format they would prefer to be dominant in & it would be TEST cricket. If I was a Pom - I would rather he played 10 Tests ONLY for England this year. A bit like how Peter Siddle is currently a Test specialist! "Players in the 70s and 80s had to endour arduos tours with countless warm up games, plus a heavy domestic schedule" - predominatly playing FC cricket. Limited over cricket was barely played at an International level prior to the 80s. Look what fast bowlers need to do to be considered for limited over fixtures - they need to throw themselves around like a nimble batsmen - bowl one over spells (try keeping loose doing that 4 times over 90min), & basically jog back to the top of their mark - with no OFF SEASON to recuperate!

  • jim on December 23, 2013, 11:07 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson gets pilloried in the last Ashes series in Aus.By the Barmy Army,by the Aussie press et al.What does he do.Retire?Go home citing stress?Or keep working and blast us away next time.Maybe Warner had a point.We are not allowed to say this but there would appear to be a air of weakness in the England team.Im afraid Swanns retirement mid series will always leave a bad taste and is an undignified end to a great career.Sing when youre winning

  • Dummy4 on December 23, 2013, 10:32 GMT

    If he knows he cannot contribute 100% and going by his statements this was always in the back of his mind - perhaps it is the best thing for him not to play?

  • Heath on December 23, 2013, 5:55 GMT

    Maybe England is over-managed and the players can't think for themselves.

  • Paul on December 23, 2013, 4:47 GMT

    Well, he batted without courage in 3 consecutive second innings when England was already beaten in the tests, so why expect him to play when the series is already lost. Typically classy exit.

  • parjanya on December 23, 2013, 4:01 GMT

    By the yardstick of 'having nothing much to offer England' there's a likely list of players falling into that category. The foremost among them is Prior. The bowling of Anderson has been nothing to shout about and the reserves do not have the confidence of the team director,who himself is past his 'sell by' date.So looking forward to a big exodus in the near future. By the way,there should be a compilation( with case studies) of all Eng players who have quit midway through a series,since no other cricket playing nations have that honour.

  • Steve on December 23, 2013, 3:45 GMT

    This has been a mental disintegration masterclass by the Aussies. Not only are they three nil up, but their oposition squad is imploding!

    This will be written about and read 100s of years from now!! This great England squad who have been at the top of the test ratings for such a long time, won world cups and dominated all forms of the game for so long have got so far ahead of themselves they have cast off without making sure the bungs in the boat have been put in.

  • David on December 23, 2013, 2:32 GMT

    Funny how 4 months ago he was leading wicket taker in Ashes in UK, no problems then!

  • Gopala on December 23, 2013, 2:04 GMT

    Wow, what a good write. Yes at least Swan should have stayed till the end of the series. But let us all respect his decision, since he knows well than anyone where he stand on his game. But the truth will be never known and will not unless Swan wants to share with entire world why he took that decision so hastily. Let us not much poke into him and try to learn this instead let us all give a fair farewell to this tremendous cricketer. After Warne and Murali went into their retirements two top class spinners we can make are Swan and Saied Ajmal who though not achieved the greatness of former players promised a lot in their way up. Wish you good luck Swany and hope you will have good success in what ever you choose your next career.

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