The first time ever that Graeme Swann was called upon to the English Test squad in 1999, as a strapping 20-year old where albeit he ended up not playing, England lost to New Zealand and by the end of the match, became the worst ranked side in Test cricket. It is quite something then that the five years that Swann actually played for England in, from 2008 till the Perth test last week, marked a glorious era of English cricket.
Three Ashes wins, a victorious T20 World Cup campaign, a historic series victory on Indian soil and above all, a Test No. 1 ranking are a few of those achievements and with 255 wickets in his 60 Test matches, incidentally more than any other bowler during that period, Graeme Swann was England’s engine.
An emphatic evidence of England’s Test dominance during the time comes from the fact the top three wicket-takers were Englishmen, with Jimmy Anderson (232) and Stuart Broad (207) following their lead spinner.
Swann started his career with a bang, getting rid of Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his debut over, but throughout his career, he was more a fighter and less a dasher.
Reviving and giving a new name to the fading art of finger spin, Swann was game enough to pitch the ball up and wide of the off-stump, inviting the batsman to play his shots and in the process, make mistakes. He was no ‘mystery spinner’ and his point was simple, to keep bowling in the right areas and wait for the batsmen to err.
In a free-wheeling chat with senior English journo Alison Mitchell just before the twin Ashes series kicked off, Swann gave an insight into his cricketing mind. His reasoning was that while 1 in 10 dismissals come about because of the odd, unplayable delivery, the other 9 are owing to the batsmen’s error.
It is therefore, that he thought it was a game of chess, and it was up to the bowler to make the mistakes happen. The mistakes have happened, and in plenty as the records suggest, as Swann sits as the all-time 6th highest wicket-taker for England and only the second spinner, behind Derek Underwood.
Not until too long back though, Swann was considered a certainty to go past Underwood’s tally of 297. That he falls short of it by 42 wickets is a shock, and though Australia’s stunning showing had blunted Swann with surprising effect, few people could have seen the retirement coming as soon as it did.
There is also a disapproving sentiment about the timing of Swann’s retirement, coming at a time when England needed its senior players to rally around and avoid a potential whitewash.
It also remains debatable whether England could have done with a couple of more years from Graeme Swann but having said that, it should not take anything away from a career that deserves doffing a hat or two.
In Graeme Swann’s retirement, the cricketing world has not just lost a sound cricketing brain and a street-smart spinner, but also a man with an ability to connect with the masses through a unique sense of humour.
His use of social media, especially his twitter account, was unprecedented and he showcased it beautifully, at times highlighting the camaraderie within the English team while at other times, showing the rare ability to laugh at one’s own failings.
In a world living under the shadow of a punishing media glare, Swann was as human a cricketer you would see and it is for this human-ness of his that he will be missed the most!
There is no doubt that Swann will remain in collective public memory for a long time to come, most probably in a broadcasting career that beckons, but it would have been nice to see him on the field for two more years. It is sad to see the fulcrum of a very successful, if not great, English side walking away, and one hopes that this is not the beginning of the end.