Graeme Swann didn’t enjoy the finest of starts in international cricket in 1999/2000. Although he played a solitary ODI during that period, his off-field conduct rubbed most people up the wrong way. He was, to be blunt, a bit of a prat according to tales from that period. Time has matured him, however, and whilst he may well still posses the traits of a clown that were so evident 10 years ago, he has learnt to channel his own unique joie de vivre into a positive force.
That he was named the ECB’s Cricketer of the Year this week will have surprised many given the unorthodox character that Swann clearly is. His attitude from earlier on in life lingers but is now augmented with the lessons of time; he now knows when to stop. He has also developed a useful knowledge of when to seize his moment.
He first displayed this ability on Test debut in Chennai. Having contributed one run to England’s first innings total of 316, Swann showed the world what he could do in the 14th over of India’s response. First Gautam Gambhir was flummoxed by one that went straight on with the arm and then ‘The Wall’, Rahul Dravid, was trapped lbw too. One over in, Swann had two Test wickets.
It was an extraordinary (re)introduction to International cricket. Whilst England lost that match thanks to the twin abilities of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar to seize their own moments, the discovery of Graeme Swann as a Test cricketer in those first six deliveries has, perhaps, been of greater importance.
His ability to come at batsmen hard from the first ball of a spell is almost unparalleled, especially amongst modern English spin bowlers. He bounces in with a certainty about him and posses a self confidence that is more akin to a boxer. He combines this with intelligence in his deliveries too, always knowing when to vary his pace, lines and lengths and when to give the ball some air.
It is in his batting, however, that we see the devil of old in Swann. Batting frees him from the deep thinking of spin bowling and allows him to act on his natural instinct. He can play his strokes with the best of them and is no stranger to a reverse sweep or two. Or a switch hit. Or a dance down the wicket to an opposing spinner.
The British media nominating him for this recent accolade is apt. He was pivotal in England regaining the Ashes last year with his all-round performances and consistently jovial demeanor that must have served the dressing room well in the midst of the unquestionable strain of five Test matches versus Australia. He was also a constant thorn in South Africa’s side during the winter and was a key member of the side that won England’s first piece of ICC silverware in 35 long years of trying.
He has learnt when to play the fool and when to play the cricketer. Having been named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year in April his importance to English cricket is being recognised. He reached number two in the ICC Test bowling rankings in March and will surely fancy a shot at making himself Number One. Given the rapid ascent that his career has taken since moving to Nottinghamshire, it would be no surprise if he does.
By Miles Reucroft