Monday, December 23, 2013

In praise of Graeme Swann

I love spin bowling. When I was a teenager I used to catch the coach to Northampton to watch Bishen Bedi and pretend that I understood the way he thought batsmen out.

Because a large part of the spin bowler's art consists in getting into the batsman's mind. I remember Graeme Swann at Lord's last summer: in the Australian second innings he turned a ball square in his first over and terrified the batsmen so much that he took two wickets with dead straight deliveries shortly afterwards.

Which brings us to Swann's retirement.

To deal first with the timing of it, if Swann feels he is no longer fit enough to bowl effectively throughout a five-day test match then he is right to say so. In an earlier age he would have had to stay on for the good of the team, but in the age of jet travel and development squads there is no reason for him to do so. Any modern rugby fan will know that a play who insists on staying on when he is injured is a liability not a hero

So let us praise Graeme Swann not bury him.

In last night's Six of the Best I linked to a good tribute to him in Nouse, the York student paper. And there is a brilliant one the Guardian today by Vic Marks:
This is a far from the ideal way to go but his sudden exit should not disguise a brilliant and unexpected England career. Remember he toured South Africa in 1999 as a bumptious 20 year old; he succeeded only in getting up many noses and was then ostracised for almost a decade. By 2008 he knew his trade yet no one anticipated that he would make such an impact. Conventional finger spinners were as out of fashion as hula hoops. They provided insufficient mystery for modern batsmen with their mighty cudgels. 
Swann soon demonstrated that this theory required modification for several reasons: he spun the ball more than most finger-spinners; he was braver than most, too, since he would bowl a more attacking line to right-handers.
Not only was Swann the best England spinner since Derek Underwood, he was also a great slip catcher and a useful batsman who scored runs quickly if the opposition did not get him early on.

More than that, he was the heart of the team and did much to make what could be rather a dour outfit more likeable.

As Vic Marks says:
Off the field he was generally a delight. In the press room there was always a tinge of relief when it was announced that Swann was on his way. He shunned the usual banalities, could rarely resist that one-liner and generally provided good copy, though nothing quite so sensational as his revelation of retirement in this weekend's Sun on Sunday. 
England will be a duller, weaker side without him.
Soon, no doubt, we shall see Swann as a commentator on cricket and quite possibly a media personality more widely. But before we do, let us celebrate his achievement as a test cricketer:
Despite the suddenness of his retirement ... his legacy is secure. Only Derek Underwood among the spinners took more wickets for England. Along the way Swann surpassed Laker, Lock, Titmus, Emburey, Edmonds and Illingworth. He would have settled for that at the beginning of December 2008 when, in his 30th year, he had yet to play a Test.

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