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Up the Swanny

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Tom Fordyce | 17:06 UK time, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

If it's an unlikely success story, it's an undeniable one.

Thirteen months ago Graeme Swann was a county spinner whose best chance of fame seemed to lie with his band Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations. As 2010 ticks round, he's the number three ranked Test bowler in the world, the fastest English spinner to 50 wickets in history (take that, Laker, Titmus and Underwood) and close to indispensible to England skipper Andrew Strauss.

By any standards it's been a spectacular year. Those stats above are only the start of it - there were the two wickets in his first ever over in Test cricket, four five-wicket hauls, starring roles with the ball in England's two Ashes wins at Lord's and The Oval and nine wickets in the match as England beat South Africa by an innings for the first time in 45 years.

Graeme Swann

How has this apparent transformation taken place? The first factor, according to former England captain Michael Vaughan, was the long years Swann spent in the international wilderness after his initial call-up back in 1998.

"When we first had him in the set-up ten years ago he was maybe a little bit immature," says Vaughan. "He went back to his county, worked his socks off and won two championships.

"He's now come back into the team at the right time. He's becoming a really pivotal part of the side."

Swann himself admits he thought his chance had gone. "I'd completely written it off," he says. "Luckily I had the chance to go back into county cricket and improve my game, and it's paid dividends.

"You learn how to bowl spin. Some lucky people like Shane Warne and Murali might be able to do it aged 21, but us mere mortals really have to work at it.

"I'm in a much better position to play Test cricket than I was before. If I'd been given my chance then, maybe I would have played a handful of Tests and never been seen again."

Swann's many overs in country cricket have given him a veteran's control over flight and pace, something that Monty Panesar is yet to develop.

His dismissal of Hashim Amla in the second innings at Durban foxed the batsman in the air, drawing him forward into the drive and then turning through the gate - exactly the same ball that cleaned up Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston this summer.

The lbw against Graeme Smith and at Kingsmead came from a flatter, faster ball, while the one that took the key wicket of Jacques Kallis in the first innings was a perfectly-disguised arm-ball - three completely different deliveries, three vital scalps.

Swann has also come onto the scene in an era that suits an orthodox off-break bowler.

Umpires are now willing to give lbw decisions against batsmen that 10 years ago would have been turned down flat. Play a shot against a spinner in the 1990s or before and you were highly unlikely to be sent packing; in this decade, get hit in line and you'll be on your way.

This change is clearly reflected in Swann's figures. 42% of his dismissals have come leg before. Compare that to John Emburey, the last right-arm offie to have similar levels of success for England; of the Middlesex man's 147 Test wickets, only 11% were lbws.

Then there is Swann's effectiveness against left-handers. 61% of his Test victims have been lefties; experienced old hands like Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Smith alike have failed to deal with his threat.

Almost as important as Swann's effervescent bowling is his bubbly personality. "His character is so buoyant, he energises the team," says Vaughan.

Graeme Swann

"I call him Rock-Star Swann - he enjoys his batting, his bowling, his fielding, he enjoys being on tour."

For the media, bored rigid by talk of "the right areas" and "taking the positives", Swann's constant carefree quotability is a godsend. If his Tweeting sails a little close to the wind for conservative tastes, conservatives are unlikely to be perusing Twitter; if James Anderson is getting tired of the constant mickey-taking, he's doing a good job of disguising it.

One shouldn't make comparisons with Shane Warne. But, if one wanted to be cheeky, the Aussie legend bagged only 13 wickets in his first year in Test cricket. And he was slower to 50 Test wickets.

There's also something of Warne about Swann when he has bat in hand. Just as Warne liked to biff with relish down the order, so Swann's runs - both in an attacking sense, as at Centurion at the start or the current series against South Africa, and as part of a rearguard defence, as in Cardiff - have played a key part in balancing and boosting his side.

Before this blog turns into a Swann love-in, some words of caution. Panesar also enjoyed a wonderful first year in Test cricket. He bagged 42 wickets from one fewer match, bowled his country to victory against Pakistan at Old Trafford and had the same sort of rapport with England fans that Swann currently enjoys.

Despite all that, he's now disappearing rapidly from the Test arena, unable to develop his game beyond the early impressive prototype.

"They've all had a look at Swann now," says Vaughan. "I hope he can repeat this in his second year in Test cricket, but it won't be easy."

Swann, as you would expect, is sunnily sanguine. "If people do take more notice of me, then great. If I keep putting the ball in the right place, there's no reason why I shouldn't carry on having the success I'm enjoying.

"Obviously every year won't be as great as this one, and I'm prepared for that, but I'm not thinking about the car-crash ahead - I'm thinking about the beautiful ride I'm having at the moment.

"I certainly don't think I'm the finished product. I still bowl bad balls, so if I can eradicate those there should be better things to come."

"I'm having," he says with relish, "the time of my life."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Swann is a superb bowler and batter and deserves all the credit and allocation he gets. Fingers crossed he can continue this for years to come.

  • Comment number 2.

    Even for a non-english like me, he is certainly a good 'thinking' bowler. I like the personality as well. Long may he continue the success.

  • Comment number 3.


    Very handy cricketer, he seems to chip in with something every match. His 2nd innings at the Oval was some of the cleanest hitting I've seen.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think one of the stories of test cricket this year has been the rebirth of the conventional finger spinner. Guys like Harris, Hauritz, Swann, wouldn't have even got a sniff probably 5 years ago. Giles was in the England team as a holding 5th bowler, and even then only because he was a lefty rather than an off spinner. Its been great to see the old fashioned ideas of changing flight and amount of spin to 'trick' a batsman out.

  • Comment number 5.

    Incidentally, Swann has taken the final wicket in each of England's last 3 wins.

  • Comment number 6.

    All this talk about who will replace Flintoff for England as a genuine all rounder, I think Swann is the answer. Very good with bat and exceptional with the ball

  • Comment number 7.

    Interesting you compare Swann to Panesar. One of the biggest differences is Swann responds to being biffed around the park where as Panesar's head tended to drop. Swann loves the head-to-head of the game and this, I am sure, will serve him well and continue his excellent contribution to this side.

  • Comment number 8.

    The previous great bowler from Notts (no bias from me at all!) was his royal Ryan-ness. The lion maned crusader has been fettled by injury and misfortune following a stellar year in test cricket. I hope Swanny looks after himself and doesn't follow that path.

  • Comment number 9.

    I love him!

    His whole attitude is fantastic for England. As well as liking his name, I completely agree with sirmichaelvaughan's post above: Swann likes it when a batsman goes after him, he enjoys the challenge. That's amazing to see in an England spinner.

    And he bats at 10! Switch-hitting!

    I'm so glad he's getting the recignition and praise he deserves. Long may it continue.

  • Comment number 10.

    Earlier today I heard an interview on 5Live and the most memorable thing about it was his revelation that his pants were being pulled down by his team mates whilst in the middle of the interview - priceless !! Definitely in line with his personality.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great blog Tom, as usual.

    I'm a big fan of Swann as he is obviously a bowler who thinks. He does himself a disservice when he claims that all he does is "put the ball in the right areas", as Tom points out he does so with such subtle variations in pace, flight and spin that the batsman cannot settle in and get comfortable. Obviously he will have bad days, but it's obvious that he's got the character to bounce back from the bad days.

    He's also a top notch catcher and a decent lower order batsman, an average of 35 from a year of cricket for a lower order man is pretty decent, especially when that includes two tests against SA and five against the Aussies.

    If Broad can bowl like he did yesterday more consistently, and continue to chip in with the bat, these two could be a wonderful axis in our attack for the next five years, both bowling and batting - the England tail has long been dodgy, and they could shore it up. If we can keep making 4 bowlers work, I'd like to see them kept at 8 and 9 with Prior at 7, that would be a formidable tail.

    It's also refreshing to see an international sportsman having such a great time playing his sport, too often we see them taking themselves and their job far too seriously, rather than appreciating that part of the appeal of sport is the enjoyment.

    Good on ya Swanny!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Being a Test spinner seems to be high risk. Monty was just one of a long list who have blazed into the scene and faded almost as fast: Hirwani, Sivaramakrishnan, Nick Cook, Krejza, possibly also Mishra are a few that come to mind. Murali only narrowly avoided the same fate. Many would say that John Emburey was a classic case.

    For every Shane Warne or Abdul Qadir or Muralitharan, you have several who make a huge impact for a few Tests and never again manage it. Let's hope that Swann has the cricketing brain to avoid that fate.

  • Comment number 13.

    If Swann had such a good year why was he not considered for sports personality of the year?

  • Comment number 14.



    Anyone who had seen Swann bowling in domestic cricket in 2006 right up to his Test debut would be able to tell you that his control kept improving, his changes of pace kept improving, and that he actually gave the ball a real rip. Throw in decent fielding and his batting ability, and it was a no-brainer to me that he should get a chance. He's more proof that success at international cricket depends so much on your mental strength and attitude. He has it when bowling and has demonstrated it even more with the bat. At the start of the Ashes, he got a right going over and it could have been easy for sides to label him as being weak against the short ball. Since then, his batting has demonstrated and he's scored runs against genuine pace bowlers.

    Tom rightly says how umpiring changes have helped offspinners with regard to the LBW rule. There's also the issue of the England side being right for Swann. Can you imagine Ray Illingworth dealing with the tweeting Swann?

    Lots of people will be writing Monty off. It's absurd to do so. Swann came into the game young, spent time out in county cricket, and returned a vastly better cricketer. He took himself away from Northants, parked himself at a new club, and worked his socks off. Monty has the chance to do exactly the same. He's shown with his decision to play South African first class cricket that he is prepared to work and changing counties will be a huge challenge. Swann came back and so can Monty.

  • Comment number 15.

    A good one from Tom on Swann. His years in the wilderness/county have served to steel him up only better. His cheery disposition along with his capacity not to sulk or lose heart when 'biffed' all over the park is a big +ve. The main difference in comparison to Monty is his nippy fielding and batting. These help him to keep perspective. Monty is not to be written off as a match winner yet but he will never gain on these two aspects. And with experience at the very top, Swann's repertoire is only getting richer. I can even see a future England captain in him.

    A new development is the arrival on the scene of the UDRS and consequent change in umpiring attitude towards spinners. Now impact in line and a reasonable Hawkeye support has brought in quantum upswing in wicket-taking ability for spinners.

    In so far as his batting slot goes, I do not think pushing him close to Prior or upper is a bad idea. He will only prosper with more responsibility and trust reposed on him. He only wants more of it.

    I do not see much reason for England as a Test side to relapse or look back now.

  • Comment number 16.

    Stargazer, you make a very subtle and a valid point indeed. Test spinner is a high risk job and seeing the galaxy of stars that fell by the wayside you named, pitfalls abound.

  • Comment number 17.

    Let's not forget England have another exciting spinner in Adil Rashid. Between him and Swann I reckon Panesar is going to have an uphill struggle to get back to Test cricket. It'll be interesting to see if there is a battle for the spinner's position, but for now Swann is firmly in.

  • Comment number 18.

    Being a Notts fan, I have had the pleasure of watching Swanny a few times and he has improved a lot, but its his attitude which has impressed me. He has still maintained his character, but gained more pitch-side focus.

    I think 2010 will be a harder year for him, especially in Australia but I am sure he will enjoy the challenge.

    With the rise of Swanny and Broad, it negates the thought of needing one brilliant all-rounder, when we have two good bowling all-rounders, as one of them normally gets runs. This now allows Straussy the luxury position of looking at the pitch and weather and deciding on an extra batter or bowler.

    I think for England, its moving in a postivie direction - we are not the best and we need another 2-3 years of this level to be thought in that way, and I hope we don't over hype them (take note SPOTY Team of the year Jurors - though I love cricket that decision still annoys me).

    Anyway Swanny, have a pint on me!

  • Comment number 19.

    Has their ever been an England spinner with a higher batting average than his bowling one?

  • Comment number 20.

    A touch pedantic, but how about David Gower.......

  • Comment number 21.

    Great article. It has indeed been a fairytale start (or should that be restart?) for Swann's international career. He is bound to go through bad patches, but judging from his interviews he seems to have the personality and mental toughness to bounce back.

    Its great to see a sportsman who actually relishes the challenge of playing against the best teams in the world, rather than viewing them as pressure situations. Wonderful to see that he is just enjoying his time with the England team and taking each game as it comes, rather than worrying about what lies ahead.

    What is really heartening for me is that this guy also has genuine ability with the bat and in the field, as well as his bag of tricks with the ball. He also performs consistently well. How many other England players can you say that about? Not many!

    As someone mentioned earlier, if Broad can develop his batting and improve his consistency, we could have 2 genuine all-rounders in the team.

    We might just be witnessing the start of a golden era for English cricket.

  • Comment number 22.

    One more thing.

    As AndyPlowright said, there is still time for Monty to make a comeback. A few years playing in South Africa could well do for him what several years of county cricket did for Swanny.

    Don't write off the Montster just yet!

  • Comment number 23.

    > Has their ever been an England spinner with a higher
    > batting average than his bowling one?
    Looking at Cricinfo's StatsGuru, and interpreting this as "spinners who've taken at least 20 wickets" to cut out the batsmen who bowl a bit I've come up with Wilfred Rhodes, Billy Bates and Roy Kilner as candidates for this. But certainly it's not common :)

  • Comment number 24.

    saintlymark74 - a very good point. Hauritz is a good comparison.

    sirmichaelvaughan - agreed. It's rather Warnie, isn't it?

    0darroch - agree completely about the enjoyment thing. Isn't sport supoosed to be fun?

    Stargazer - excellent comment as always. I think Swann will relish the challenge.

    Leidens_SS, dyrewolfe - that all-round element to Swann and Broad's games adds real balance to the side, doesn't it? Can you remember an England side that bats deeper than this one?

  • Comment number 25.

    As Greg Matthews astutely observed, off-spinners don't register on the 'sexy' scale - otherwise, people would be seeing that Swanny is ALREADY a bigger asset to England than Andrew Flintoff (lower/middle order batting a lot more dependable; ALREADY more five-fers - AND the same indommitable spirit that lifts team-mates).

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm unfamiliar with the sexy scale in cricket - somewhat surprisingly! How does that go, then? :-)

  • Comment number 27.

    Swann has obviously lots of good aspects to his game and character - not least coming from a fine sporting family including one of the best amateur cricketers for a father and a fine batsman in Alec as an elder brother - Northants people in case anyone forgets where Graeme started out, although his improvement at Notts is undeniable.

  • Comment number 28.

    I forgot one of the biggest meteoric spin careers of all. Who remembers Peter Taylor? :-) [Bonus point for anyone who can recall his highly peculiar selection for his Test debut]

    Looking for reasons why Graeme Swann might avoid the Monty route, the fact that after his first, disastrous tour, he was sent back to county cricket to mature for so long has probably helped a lot. Monty, like many of the others listed above, probably got a bit too much success too fast and too early.

  • Comment number 29.

    Cricket-Angel Swann: Not sure how the 'sexy' scale in cricket goes, but I believe that what GM meant was that finger-spinners are not seen as the glamour merchants of the game: tends to be fast-bowlers, big-hitting batsmen and the likes of Shane Warne and Abdul Qadir who get all the adulation, sponsorship deals, etc. Hence spinners who do just as good a job as fast-bowlers, but don't catch the eye as much, tend to be underrated.

  • Comment number 30.

    I see what you mean, gravybeard. We do tend to idolise our spinners in England - because they are few and far between, but not just for being spinners. They have to have that something extra to get the attention you mean. Both Monty and Swann have that extra spark, so hopefully both will do well.

  • Comment number 31.

    stargazer - wasn't Peter Taylor supposed to have been picked by Australia by mistake, instead of Mark 'Tubby' Taylor? Always denied, that tale, helped by the wickets Taylor took to beat England in Sydney. Ah, the Ashes of 86-7 - fond childhood memories...

  • Comment number 32.

    > Has their ever been an England spinner with a higher
    > batting average than his bowling one?
    Looking at Cricinfo's StatsGuru, and interpreting this as "spinners who've taken at least 20 wickets" to cut out the batsmen who bowl a bit I've come up with Wilfred Rhodes, Billy Bates and Roy Kilner as candidates for this. But certainly it's not common :)
    Thanks for that. Without looking them up myself and in the knowledge I've never seen any of them play, I am assuming they are all pre-war cricketers.

    This reinforces my point that Swann is on the cusp of being recognised as an outstanding all-rounder. In my cricketing lifetime, I can only think of the likes of D'Oliveira, Greig and Botham as having higher batting averages than their bowling ones - surely the best statistical indication of a genuine all-rounder.

  • Comment number 33.

    Spot on, Tom! One detail is that the side selected had only one specialist opener in it and an emergency opener had to be named in the final XI, thus giving credence to the suggestion that the selectors wanted Taylor, M. instead of Taylor, P.

    As you say, it was always denied that he was picked by accident, but he had, I believe, played just 4 State games with just about negligible impact before his shock Test debut, while Mark Taylor was clamouring for selection to solve the opener crisis in that series.

    He took 12 wickets (for 238) in his first two Tests (both v England at Sydney) and then only 15 more wickets in the remaining 11 Tests of his career.

    Just thought of another: Bob Holland. Picked for the 1985 Ashes on the back of 14 wickets in 3 Tests v the 1984/85 West Indies, he didn't survive the series and played just 4 more Tests after. It was suggested that Quantas had lost the bag with his googly en route to Heathrow.

  • Comment number 34.

    Brilliant reading, Tom. Insofar as I don't use twitter, I'm curious about the following (which anyone is welcome to answer): This summer, I had thought that Broad was our antidote to Flintoff. But clearly Swanny is much more of a 'personality' than Broad is. Or am I missing something? Does Broad have similar bantering tendencies or does he tend to keep to himself? He seems quite jubilant on the pitch both in Test cricket and at the county level. Perhaps I'm just too curious about the personal lives of our heroes for 2009 but it is beguiling that for all the coverage that the likes of Flintoff and Swanny have received--or, perhaps more appositely, invited upon themselves--we know little of the mechanics behind Broad. Please correct my ignorance on this point. Tom? Ste Thomas? Anyone?

  • Comment number 35.

    A little OT, but Broad seems a prickly character (not unlike his father) in that he seeems to annoy opponents in a way that Flintoff didn't.

    Stargazer, I also remember that test when Peter Taylor was selected. Am I right in remembering that Boon opened for the Aussies in that game? And continued to do so for a while after! Sydney had already developed a reputation as a spinners wicket, so my guess is that they did play the right Taylor, even though Peter Taylor was a pretty inexperienced guy. If memory serves there was a bit of a reputation that England didn't play spin all that well at the time as well. (Only Mike Gatting, by reputation, was an exception to that rule!)

    I wonder to what extent the current resurgence in finger spinning has to do with the modern players over reliance on the sweep shot, and the lofted drive against spin. Modern players don't seem great at moving the field around.

  • Comment number 36.

    ThatWasDeliberate - I'd say there's more Fun Of Fred about Swann, and more Fire Of Fred about Broad...

    saintlymark74 - it's interesting that South Africa are having such trouble against Swann when their batting coach is Duncan Fletcher. Vaughan and other England batsmen of the Fletcher era rave about how much he taught them about playing spin.

    Fletcher's also a great believer in the sweep shot against finger spinners - thinks it's a relatively risk-free shot if played properly. His current charges have barely used it against Swann, however. And the England player who uses it most now is KP - and it got him out against Nathan Hauritz in Cardiff and Paul Harris in Durban...

  • Comment number 37.

    Thank you, Tom, for the nice line. I have posted it among my favourite quotes on face book! Happy New Year to one and all.

  • Comment number 38.

    It may be Tom, that the sweep shot is slightly less effective now that umpires, aided by technology are rather more keen to give batsmen out lbw than they were 10 years ago - or even five years ago. I rather doubt KP would have been given out for that shot not so very long ago. That being the case, the finger-spinner can't just be treated so dismissively any more.

  • Comment number 39.

    Saintly Mark

    I concur on "prickly". But Broad is so un-prickly on the pitch. Rather exuberant, I dare say. I wonder whether he views himself in terms of his father's prickliness or Flintoff's and Swanny's lack thereof.

  • Comment number 40.

    Ste Thomas

    We had a good bandy going about yesterday about the possibility of a 5th bowler. Has the current praise for Swann deterred you? Sitting as I am in my early retirement I am eager for more banter. Please indulge.

  • Comment number 41.

    Swanny is a fantastic bowler, he has had a great year and it's good that he is being recongized for all of his success. He has bowled wonderfully during this tour of SA, yet another five-wicket haul, and he's not bad with the bat either, not bad at all!
    He was also a key part of the Ashes team I feel, contributing a lot in the final test match, even though all of the thunder went to Broad and his five wicket haul - may I add Broad is also a great cricketer, and has had a sparkling year. But the man of the moment certainly has to be Graeme Swann.

    Good on you Swanny, keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 42.

    Camilla

    You're right, the man of the moment is indeed Swann. I retired three years ago and spend my days now watching cricket. Swann has been instrumental to my happiness. I just wonder, though, whether Onions is fit for our lineup. If not, who would be an apt replacement?

  • Comment number 43.

    Saintly:

    No. Greg Ritchie was the emergency opener, partnering Graeme Marsh. He made 6 and 13. It was David Boon who was dropped after making just 144 runs (including a century) in his 8 innings in the series.

  • Comment number 44.

    Happy New Year 2010 to the BBC bloggers and 606ers for adding to the fun of following England.

    May 2010 bring further progress for the England team and success for all its members.

  • Comment number 45.

    Tom, your right but most of Duncan's improvement of England's playing of spin was against 'mystery' spinners. And he did bring some improvements. I think that the sweep is a better shot against the mystery spinner, when you are (dare I say it) guessing a little about which way the ball is going. The best players of spin in the world tend to play conventional finger spinners using there feet (Michael Clarke was effective doing this in the summer). My memories of Gatting involve hgim using his feet against spinners rather than playing the sweep. (unless its the world cup final and England are cruising to a win, and even then its only a reverse sweep). As a general rule, its seems to me, finger spinners play with a horizontal bat, 'mystery' spinners you can get away with a sweep every now and again. I think as well, the finger spinner can probably react better to seeing a player set himself for the pre meditated sweep, at least.

    (Not that I am an expert batsman, as anyone who has seen me play will testify!)

    Happy new year all!

  • Comment number 46.

    Right you are stargazer. Whats interesting about Australians is that they never seem too precious about promoting a non opener to start an innings. And they often do quite well. (Langer, Watson as two examples from recent memory).

    (In the above comment, I did mean generally play finger spinners with a vertical rather than horizontal bat!)

  • Comment number 47.

    Alan Knott was a great sweeper. He argued that if you got close to the ground and kept the bat horizontal you would rarely miss.

    I remember the World Cup Semi-Final in Calcutta when England beat India, with some estimates suggesting that 80% of England's runs came behind square on the leg side, mainly from sweeps. That was on a turning pitch against a very good Indian spin attack and the ball was turning a lot.

  • Comment number 48.

    Saintly, England have done it too. They have had a history of both temporary fixes (opening batsmen that I recall include Fred Titmus, Paul Downton, Derek Randall, Mike Gatting and, in ODIs, Ian Botham) and promoting players from 3 or 4 to make them openers (Chris Tavare, Michael Vaughan and even John Jameson - with one Geoff Boycott dropping to 4!!!). Some of these experiments worked, but many were utter disasters. I can even remember Pat Pocock opening for England in India (albeit as nightwatchman in a tour match).

    Incidentally, the Alan Knott tip is a good one. I recall one game that I played in at my lowly level. I came in at 9 and was soon left batting with our number 11, the ultimate batting rabbit - he only made 6 runs all season - with 8 to get and knowling that we needed the runs quickly because I couldn't risk my partner facing. The spinner put one on the spot, I got down low with the bat sweeping along the ground, thinking of Alan Knott's advice and there was the boundary that won the match in extremis. I'm not sure if it was me, the bowler, or our captain who was most surprised!

  • Comment number 49.

    Swann has been brilliant and long may it continue.

    Also I dont think he was ever gonna find fame with his 'band'

    All they do is play covers!

  • Comment number 50.

    That never stopped Westlife.

    Unfortunately.

 

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