Of all the things written about Graeme Swann, what stands out is this bit from the book Twirlymen, journalist Amol Rajan's wonderful book on the history of spin bowling.
This pertains to a couple of incidents in 2000, when Swann, 21, was trying to establish a place in the England squad amidst talks of his perceived attitude problems.
Rajan writes: "At Bloemfontein one morning during that tour, the selectors, coach and a few medical staff were in discussion, and happened to all be facing one way during practice. Swann was walking behind them when he decided to do a very funny thing. He stuck his right hand into his trousers, took his penis out, waved it at the selectors in mock invitation, twirled it round a few times, slipped it back in, and walked off, a giant smile moving across his face."
"On that same tour, as Darren Gough was discussing the finer points of Kierkegaard with an attractive lady in a nightclub, Swann invited himself into the conversation — he's always been a keen amateur philosopher — and discovered he hadn't been formally summoned to do so. For this he received a faceful of Gough's right hand, fist clenched.
"He also slept through two alarm calls, missing the team coach. [Duncan] Fletcher had his unflattering doubts about the young spinner's temperament confirmed. 'There was a lot of Jack Daniel's drunk on that trip,' Swann has opined more recently. He wasn't talking about Fletcher."
Swift Rise, Swift Fall
Early in his career, Swann was marked for great things. Helped by the big-turning wickets at home in Northamptonshire, he broke into the England side at a young age. Fletcher, known for his disciplinarian approach, didn't think much of Swann's wayward ways. Plainly speaking, Swann had no chance while Fletcher was around.
As a result, Ashley Giles — a spinner of modest means — was favoured heavily in the Nasser-Fletcher reign era. It didn't help that Swann had hit "rock bottom", thanks in some part to the Northants coach Kepler Wessels, who too is in the Fletcher mould. [An aside: notice how Chennai Super Kings chose to find a new coach though they had reached the 2008 IPL final with Wessels?]
In 2009, when his world was a better place, he'd spoken about his state of mind during his dark days:
"[We] played on bunsens [turning pitches] at Northampton all the following year. My cricket went into decline. I hated it. There then began not that long after what was a detestable state of affairs at Northampton. It was horrendous. I was probably clinically depressed."
"I remember turning up in the car park one day, putting my head on the steering wheel and thinking, 'How can I go through this again?'. I would have been more than happy to give the game up. If somebody had said come and work on a cruise ship for six months I'd have probably bitten their hand off."
Things changed for the better when Swann moved to Nottinghamshire, where his captain Chris Read and director Mick Newell instructed him to be patient, stick to bowling straighter and develop subtle variations like the arm ball, slider, under-spinner and the quicker-ball (which made Suresh Raina's life hell recently).
Finally, the Fletcher era ended in 2007. In the same year, Swann made his England comeback. Next year, on Test debut in Chennai, he dismissed Gambhir Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his first over. English cricket would never be the same again.
When he leads England against the West Indies this week, it will be a small victory for the jokers of the pack, the rebels, and for everyone who's ever risen after hitting rock-bottom.
More about Graeme Swann on Y! Cricket