Courtesy of All Out Cricket, Notts spinner Graeme Swann gives an insight into England's Carribean Tour.
As we bid farewell to St Kitts and head for Jamaica everyone feels fresh and ready for the upcoming series. We’ve had two warm-up games, a couple of rounds of golf on a fantastic course, some organised and some off-the-cuff team dinners and generally a bloody good acclimatisation period. Personally I have managed to avoid the early tour sunburn that is synonymous with those who carry the ginger gene, which is magnificent news. I am usually in agony after a couple of days with a spot of skin that’s avoided the sun cream, or a set of ears that have decided to bubble and fry in the hot rays. However my mother’s redheadedness has for once not got me into early tour trouble and I should now be free to not worry about the sun like all the normal kids.
Our first Jamaican morning turns into a bit of a shambles as we reach the ground. The nets that have been watered overnight to stop them cracking need 20 minutes of sunshine to be playable, however the stand is blocking any sunlight reaching the practice area, and will for at least a couple of hours. The spinners are deemed safe enough however so I get to bowl against the boys with the ball turning round corners and bouncing alarmingly. I strangely enjoy bowling a bit more today than in the warm-up game last week when the wicket had the characteristics of rolled snot and I felt about as dangerous as an arthritic old labrador dozing in front of the Aga.
The team for the first Test is announced today and I’m gutted not to be included. I knew that it wouldn’t be a two spinner Test, but hoped my performances in India and in practice might have been enough. It’s never a great feeling to be left out but I soon realise that people have it worse all over the world than I do. My kittens for example, Max and Paddy, are due in to be neutered in the morning so you could say that three thousand miles away from a scalpel in the Caribbean makes me the lucky one.
The start of the first Test of a series is always an exciting affair. Players buzz around with a nervous excitement, coaches set up all manner of drills and practices, and countless TV crews jockey for position on the outfield. Our morning game of three-touch football is a fairly light affair seeing as no one wants to roll an ankle today, which allows my deft game to flourish. My two strikes see me walk away with the match ball for the umpteenth time on this tour, reaffirming my belief that I could do a more than useful job for most Premier League sides. Harmy points out two reasons why this will never happen. “First up, most scouts go the Bernabau and San Siro rather than watch our warm-ups, and secondly, Swanny, you’re not very good…!”
After an attritional day one, the game picks up a bit of tempo today as the outfield seems to have been trimmed overnight and the wicket seems a little easier to bat on. A definite first for me came this morning however as I witnessed the pitch being cut with a strimmer, a practice I’ve never heard of. Indeed I thought strimmers were just for hanging on the garage wall. Something to make it look like you know what you’re doing in the garden, when in actual fact it only gets used when your Dad comes round once a year and is looking for an excuse to avoid peeling the spuds.
Day three of the Test, and for me a lunchtime challenge to bowl at Jimmy Anderson in the nets. If I get him out he buys dinner tonight and vice versa. This is a challenge I’m determined to win seeing as Jimmy has tarred me with the same brush as my brother, and has claimed I am tight. Happily a turning track plays into my hands and an early nick to the keeper sees me win the wager. After this, Jimmy bats like Brian Lara, but the bet was for only one dismissal so I leave the nets as happy as a virgin at a Star Trek convention.
On waking at 11.30am to enjoy my day off from twelfth man duties, I decided to phone my parents to catch up on the football results. After Mum informed me that Newcastle United had thankfully picked up three points at West Brom, she then asked what I thought about the cricket. On explaining I wasn’t at the ground she told me that the boys were 20-7. I tutted and told her to put Dad on, convinced she had got the score wrong, but was dumbfounded when Dad confirmed the news. Glad to be away from the carnage at Sabina Park, I sat back thinking about the series and the fact that we now have to win two Tests to claim victory – no mean feat against anyone.
What should’ve been day five of the Test match instead turns out to be a magnificent day for me and three of my comrades. The Jamaican tourist board came up trumps with a helicopter ride to White Witch golf course, one of the best I’ve ever played, for myself, Colly, Straussy and Ottis Gibson, with a complimentary meal and chopper ride back home. My golf game didn’t live up to its hype today and so I finished on the losing side, but the outcome didn’t really matter too much to me. The same cannot be said for the victorious Gibson though, who was about as humble in victory as the American Ryder cup team and who laughed and smiled like an escaped convict for the rest of the evening. A rematch will have to be rearranged…
Travel days are always fairly frustrating affairs and today is no exception. We sat on the runway at Jamaica for a good hour waiting for a take-off slot. Only Ryan Sidebottom’s super sweet voice kept things bearable as he sang along to various R’n’B songs on his ipod that he continues to maintain are better than the amazing selection of guitar-based classics on my own. Of course he is mistaken.
With the better halves due out tomorrow it is worrying to see our hotel is a little rough around the edges. My room is fine but my bathroom is what you’d expect to find in a student hovel, with mysterious stains on the wall and a shower with about as much power as a woman’s golf swing. I have opted to lather myself with shampoo and swim a length in the hotel pool, much to the bemusement of the early morning Germans on their sun beds, and am hopeful that this tactic will pass muster with the missus. Otherwise she will just have to contend with me throwing a bottle of water on her first thing every morning, either way it should be a bit of fun, for me if not for her…
Issue 54 of All Out Cricket is now on sale.