Swann On Song
Featured News | 28th October 2008
The following article first appeared in the August edition of Covered, the Official Magazine of Notts CCC.
Graeme Swann has never quite mastered the art of textbook media responses. Whilst all around him drone on about ‘consistency,’ ‘finding the right areas’ and ‘working hard,’ he’s much more comfortable talking about subjects that are traditionally off-limits.
He moves effortlessly between discussions about Zimbabwe, Stanford’s millions and the £12 suit he’s just bought from TK Maxx for a team social.
Nottinghamshire’s reliable off-spinner, hard hitting batsman and entertainer-in-residence is back on the international scene and still finds time to sing in his rock band, coach cricket to children and blog for the BBC.
‘I’ve got a point of view on everything and I’m quite vociferous about getting it across,’ he says, in between regular requests to the photographer to snap his David Brent stance.
’I’ve always looked at the funny side of things and I’m definitely the loudest in the changing room. I can’t explain where it came from other than the strange mix of a Geordie and a Manc as parents. I like to entertain and tell jokes and thankfully it’s the sort of dressing room that welcomes that.
‘When you grow up you look at sportsmen in the paper and anyone that denies that they want be the one that everyone’s writing about shouldn’t be a sportsman. I love that part of it because it’s a chance to get your point of view and your character across to people who don’t know you from Adam.’
Swann moved to Trent Bridge from Northants in 2005 and took 30 wickets as Notts won the County Championship in his first season at the club. He made his debut for Northamptonshire in 1997 but after eight years, he grew disillusioned with what he termed ‘an acceptance of Division Two mediocrity’ and made himself available for a move.
‘I realised that I had to leave Northampton to further my career and the two protagonists to sign me were Lancashire and Notts,’ he says.
‘I was good mates with Paul Franks and Chris Read but when I met Mick Newell my decision became very easy. It was a positive meeting and he told me that he wanted to use me as the spinner and that he liked the way I was around the dressing room. It was good man management and with hindsight, I wish I had made the move five years earlier.
‘Everything that was said rang true for me. Mick has good personal relationships with players but he keeps the distance that is needed when he’s making decisions on peoples careers. I know that I can infuriate coaches because I’m always the first one to crack a joke and there’s always the occasion where you do it at the wrong time and you’re told to shut up. It’s the type of changing room where no one is afraid to put you in your place if you cock up and that’s a great thing.’
‘I did exactly what Mick had asked in that first season in 2005. I was the foil to the seam bowlers and we played some unbelievable cricket. We were bowling teams out by tea time and we’d turn up for games wondering only if we were going to win in two days or three. We were so far ahead that other teams were doing desperate things to get near us. We were deserving champions and it was unbelievably good to be a part of.
‘We didn’t try to do anything differently in 2006 but we didn’t finish any cricket at the start of the season and then we lost a few games and we were lagging behind. We needed to win three of the last four to stay up. Losing to Yorkshire was the worst game I’ve ever played in. We were bowled out by two young leg-spinners who were bowling three long-hops per over and we were shambolic. We lost to a team that we would have annihilated the year before and deep down I knew that we had put in a poor performance.
‘We hadn’t been complacent and no fingers were pointed but collectively we were an embarrassment and we felt that we had a duty to get back at the first time of asking. I’d left Northampton to get away from Division Two and we went from being on top of the world to being in a desperate situation that I hope we never have to face again.’
Swann cites his elder brother, Alec, who played alongside him at Northamptonshire, as the reason why he pursued a career in cricket. Both represented England under 19’s and Graeme went on to make his England debut in the ODI against South Africa in Bloemfontein in 2000 following injury to Ashley Giles.
But he didn’t find favour with Duncan Fletcher and plied his trade in county cricket until Peter Moores came calling.
‘I can't remember any specific things I did wrong, bar missing the coach a couple of times,’ he says.
‘The England setup is a very professional environment. You can’t go in and mess around all the time and that’s something I’ve taken on board and I’ve been careful to bite my tongue. But if you’ve won a game on tour then the stupid humour comes out and I come to the fore.
‘I always wanted to play for a living and my only other thought was to be an RAF pilot. I adored club cricket and spent all week looking forward to Saturday and if I didn’t score runs I’d spend the next few days mulling it over. If I’m surrounded by my mates then I happily go back to club cricket when I finish playing professionally.
‘My brother is two years older than me and he was always the person that I looked up to. If he’d have been into tennis or golf, I would have followed him but thankfully he chose cricket.
‘The best piece of advice I was given was never to feel comfortable or secure in an England shirt because so many players are biting at your heals. There’s something about England fixtures because of the public interest and media hype that you’re desperate to do well every time and there’s no way I’ll ever take it for granted.
’With everything that’s coming up and the money in the game, it would be churlish to think that you’re part of the fixtures and fittings. The day you stop pushing yourself for England is the day that your career is over.’
Swann’s lively presence and constant banter shouldn’t be confused with a relaxed attitude towards his profession. A consistent performer for Nottinghamshire, he refutes any suggestions that he takes his laid-back outlook on to the pitch.
‘I don’t take the game more seriously now, because I’ve always taken it seriously. People have put this tag on me that says I don’t take it seriously, which is unfortunate. There are two sides to me. Off the field I can be a bit lively. But I take my cricket very seriously.
‘I’m very critical of myself but not outwardly. I never go over videos because I know in my head what I’ve done well and where I’ve gone wrong. Part of being such an extrovert is that I prefer to deal with issues by myself and I’ll think about things twice as hard if I’ve done badly than if I’ve done well. Everyone reads the papers and I like to look what’s written about me whether I’ve played well or played poorly.’
Swann appears to have cemented his position as England’s one day spinner in a squad that also features Nottinghamshire bowlers Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom. The trio will fight for a place in the team to face a West Indies XI in Sir Allan Stanford’s Twenty20 for Twenty fixture which will net half a million pounds for players on the winning team.
But life in international cricket is not without it’s pitfalls and Swann admits that he had made a personal decision to withdraw from the squad had England gone ahead with their tour of Zimbabwe.
‘The Zimbabwe issue was massive and it was a situation that I was dreading because of what’s going on in that country,’ he says.
‘As a relatively new international, I didn’t want to get to the situation where I had to sacrifice my place because of the team that we were playing against but morally we would have had no choice. I couldn’t play cricket against a country that’s so thickly intertwined with a regime that’s murdering on a massive scale. I’d made my decision but I didn’t want to make a public announcement and give someone else a spot that I might not win back.’
Swann’s spell in the wilderness bears close resemblance to the international plight of Ryan Sidebottom but he fully expects Stuart Broad to maintain his place in the Test arena.
‘Broady is a wonderkid and anything that he tries seems to work. The talent and confidence that he’s got is ridiculous for a 21 year old. I’ve not seen a bowler as good as him at that age. Being hit for six sixes last year could have ruined him but it’s done the opposite and he’s blossomed because of it.
‘Sid has been a revelation to the rest of the country but not to us in the Notts changing room. We knew how good he is as a bowler and that he had the consistency to allow him to do it at the top level. Broady and Jimmy Anderson have taken a lot from Siddy because he doesn’t do anything special but bowls great areas, swings it and he’s got decent pace.
‘We may well have a chance to win £500,000 each in a single game of cricket but I’m not even thinking about what I’d do with it because I’m terrible with money anyway. It’s a nice situation when you’ve not got to worry about money but it’s vulgar to think about what you’d do with money that you haven’t got. If I win it, it’ll be great but I’ll decide what to do then because I honestly haven’t thought about it.
‘It’s a great time to be a cricketer.’