South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Durban, 5th day December 30, 2009

Joker Swann proves his serious talent


For a long time it appeared that the five overs Graeme Swann bowled in a one-day international against South Africa, at Bloemfontein, on the 1999-2000 tour might be the sum total of his England career. Another player picked too young, discarded back to county cricket and never picked again. But a second chance eventually came, firstly in ODIs in 2007 and then, finally, late last year in Test cricket. He hasn't looked back.

When he trapped Dale Steyn lbw to seal a crushing innings-and-98-run victory over South Africa, at Durban, it was his 54th wicket for the year, putting him second behind Australia's Mitchell Johnson. That scalp also completed career-best match figures of 9 for 164 and sealed consecutive Man-of-the-Match awards.

To think Swann was left out of England's side at the start of the West Indies tour in February. He didn't play in Jamaica and was again omitted for the abandoned Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Perhaps he'd impressed Andrew Strauss with his sandcastles in the underprepared outfield, because two days later at the ARG he was back in the fold, took 5 for 57, and hasn't stopped taking wickets since.

"Two man-of-the-match awards in two games, I'll take that to finish off the year quite nicely," he said. "Straussy left me out in Jamaica, so I thought 'right, I've got to show him what a mistake he's made here'.

"It's been magnificent for me. It started in the West Indies where, although we didn't end up winning the series, personally for me it was a breakthrough series. Then there was the Ashes which is seven weeks that I'll never forget. I'm certainly going to look back on 2009 with a fair bit of fondness."

Swann is one of the chirpiest cricketers around even after a tough day the field - which is why he is often wheeled out to discuss England's less-flattering efforts - so it was no surprise that he wore a permanent smile as he sat beside Strauss. When Strauss was asked about Swann's efforts this year he said it was difficult to discuss them with his team-mate sat beside him. Swann just put his hand on Strauss's shoulder as if to say 'it's okay skip, I can take.'

"He's had a massive impact on our side in the last 12 months," Strauss said. "He's always been a very attacking spinner, never one that settles at going for two an over; he's always given it a rip and bowled an attacking line. In Test cricket, with the extra pressure that batsmen are under, that can be invaluable. On the field, he's been exceptional and he has off the field as well."

Swann was just 21 when he was first thrown into international cricket by Duncan Fletcher and has long-since become the only member of the team still playing for England. Only two others from the XI - Vikram Solanki and Chris Read - still play first-class cricket and are unlikely to get another chance.

"I don't think he's changed a huge amount in that time," Strauss said. "That was very early in his career, and he was picked probably before he knew his game 100%. Now, he knows how to bowl people out and he's a very clever spin bowler and his batting has been a massive plus for us as well.

"As an opposition captain, there's nothing worse than a guy who really has no fear of getting out and plays outrageous shots. It's hard to stop that. He's more mature, but he still hasn't lost that sense of enthusiasm and fun which is important."

Swann's form has been the key reason why England's four-man attack policy has worked because he has been able to wheel away at one end, while also playing an attacking role. His latest success, which follows 5 for 110 in the first innings at Centurion, came on a day where Test cricket showed offspin is still very much alive.

Over in Melbourne, a few hours before Swann finished off South Africa, Nathan Hauritz claimed his maiden first-class five-for as he took 5 for 101 to help Australia to victory against Pakistan. Despite the development of the doosra and carom-ball, Swann was confident the conventional style of his art still had a future.

"Deep down, yes I did," he said. "But I'm quite shy and retiring, never one to voice my opinions. The game goes in circles. In three or four years' time, we'll be completely out of vogue again so I'll just enjoy the fairground ride while I can. It will come back round, sooner or later, that a brilliant mystery spinner will arrive and I'll be defunct."

Swann doesn't have to worry about becoming defunct any time soon. Shane Warne often says spinners only start coming into their prime at 30, and Swann is now that age, so there should be many years ahead. It was a long wait, but well worth it.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • TARUN on January 4, 2010, 11:41 GMT

    At 30, Swann has played 15 Test matches(64 wkts) against 4 nations,in 3 countries outside England. At 29, Harbhajan has played 80 Test matches(343 wkts) against 9 nations, in 9 countries outside India. Should we credit the English selectors for realizing the potential so late or was there no other option ? Its possible that they didnt want him to make a start in his 30s ? Monty came & went quickly but surprisingly and unusually for England, he was young. There were some zombies who had started comparing Monty to Bishan Bedi !? The fact is that England are pleasantly surprised at finding a spinning match winner & the media wants to hype it for the Ashes down under.And with the Aussies missing such a spinner in their ranks, its really exciting for the Englishmen. Instead of comparing Swann with anyone, lets hope that he remains fit till he retires. Let him play 50 test matches & then compare him with others who have seen the ups & downs of form & life. On S Broad, pls ask Yuvraj !

  • Andrew on January 2, 2010, 8:16 GMT

    At last a player with a personality and the hint of a beer belly, not seen since the demise of freddie...Hope he doesn't get too bored surrounded by the nerdish dullards who make up the rest of the english team...he can always go out to the winelands with beefy if he is need of some banter. Why is the modern professional cricketer devoid of any humour?

  • Jojy on January 1, 2010, 9:35 GMT

    He is 30, has the right temperament and the chance to shine on the International stage.

    Message to ECB: Don't overhype and ensure that he doesn't go down like Monty did.

  • Brett on January 1, 2010, 6:05 GMT

    I say well done too Swan but now the English press r building him up to be a champian when has not proved himself against the Indians & has not bowled in Australia yet.

  • luke on January 1, 2010, 3:02 GMT

    i dont understand why everyone is going on how good swann's year has been in all the series he has played this year he has only averaged under 24 once and that was when the west indies were in england when they didn't want to be. when england won the ashes he still only averaged 40 compare that to mitchell johnson who if i recall struggled to hit the pich in the same ashes series but still took more wickets and averged less than swann. also i dont think swann is one of those players who can have a bad game but still ake 5 wickets.

  • Muhammad on December 31, 2009, 22:42 GMT

    I think its a myth that S.A dont play spin well-in fact they have a fantastic record on the subcontinent having beaten India,Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the last decade.

    Both S.A and Australia have battled against Swann but the second season is often the toughest for a cricketer.Also im not sure how he will succeed on slow,low turners but he seems to have a fine temperament. Its also possible that S.A might have underestimated Swann especially at Kingsmead .

    True the subcontinent players could be better at playing him-one things for sure:they wont be underestimating him!

  • rafael on December 31, 2009, 20:06 GMT

    You guys have to give jack his jacket, well done Swann. We know ind, pak, and sri, have good players of spin, but remember the south africans are no pushovers, u still have to bowl well to get those wickets. So full credit to Swann.

  • James on December 31, 2009, 19:42 GMT

    I'd like to remind some posters that Swann's first (ever) Test series was against the Indian team in India in late 2008. His results were 8 wickets in two tests at close to 40 runs per wicket. Not flattering, but, the following is his list of wickets in that series: Dravid (3); Gambhir (19); Sehwag (83); Laxman (26); Gambhir (179); Dravid (136); Tendulkar (11); Gambhir (97); Tendulkar (5). Quite an impressive list or names, with some low scores. Moreover, his first two wickets in international Test cricket were taken in his first over which says quite a lot about him as a person. Now do not assume that I am buying into and propogating all of the hyperbole. Swann is not the totally finished article and he will never be a Warne. But no one will ever be that good again. All he can hope to be is a Swann and the question that we have to ask ourselves is: is that good enough? As all we have to go on is the last 12 months, the answer must surely be a resounding yes.

  • Steve on December 31, 2009, 12:41 GMT

    I don't really understand why people are talking about Harbhajan like he is the last word in off spinning. He's never done anything in England, very little in South Africa or New Zealand, and not an enormous amount in Australia either. In two out of four of those places, Swann has already done a significant amount - and he hasn't played in the other two yet. Taking into consideration batting, fielding, consistency and attitude too, I know who I would rather have in my team.

  • chris on December 31, 2009, 9:55 GMT

    As a South African fan I am wishing he wasnt so bloody on form. Hes a very likeable character and he really gives a lot of balance to this side with his attacking batting. Hes been outstanding and good for him, although I think its a fair point that he be exposed to Tendulkar, Sehwag and co before we see how good he really is.

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