Swann: ‘Cricket is begging for a match-winning leg-spinner’

Graeme Swann was what all teams hope their spinner will become: a thorough match-winner. He won three Ashes series and spearheaded England's historic series victory in India in 2012. In this interview Swann discusses England's one-day revival, the Indian Premier League (IPL), Joe Root, and his mid-series retirement.

"I’d have given anything to still be playing Test cricket now. I wouldn’t be in the one-dayers... Didn’t like it enough! But Test cricket, I would have played till I dropped dead," says Graeme Swann.   -  AP

 

Graeme Swann's Test career lasted only five years, but for the majority of that period he was arguably the finest spinner in the world. There was no mystery to Swann's off-breaks; instead he relied on traditional tools for his 255 Test wickets, getting the ball to dip, drift, and rip out of the rough. He was what all teams hope their spinner will become: a thorough match-winner. Swann won three Ashes series and spearheaded England's historic series victory in India in 2012.

These days, the 38-year-old is an insightful, entertaining voice on British radio, with his irreverent sense of humour still intact. In this interview Swann discusses England's one-day revival, the Indian Premier League (IPL), Joe Root, and his mid-series retirement.

The excerpts:-

England's ODI revival: The main reason is picking guys who are specialist one-day players. In the era that I played, if you played in the Test side, you played in the one-day team. We played a brand of old-fashioned cricket. When you are doing well in one form of the game, like we were in Test cricket for a long time, you rely on that and forget about the others, almost sub-consciously. Teams like Australia and South Africa would get 400s. We were thinking it would be great to get 300. I remember a World Cup game in Colombo (2011 quarterfinal) where we got 230 (229) and were convinced it was a good score. Sri Lanka knocked it off in 39 overs. We were a long way behind. The 2015 World Cup really exacerbated the whole thing. Things had to change. Eoin Morgan as a captain is great. Trevor Bayliss as well, picking the guys who play T20 cricket. The sky is the limit when they bat.

IPL helping England players: In the IPL, you are surrounded by the best one-day players in the world. Stokes sat down and had a half-hour conversation with M. S. Dhoni. It’s only going to make him a better cricketer. Stokes, now, truly believes he is world class. In the IPL he was getting man of the match every week, and the confidence from that rubs off onto the other players. Woakes got injured because of the IPL; it’s a shame for England but it will do their game a world of good.

I don’t actually agree with that because Joe is potentially our best ever batsman. I’d love to just leave him alone, not burden him with captaincy. Let him be our Sachin Tendulkar. The pressures of captaincy are all-encompassing. I don’t think it’s going to help his batting.

Putting country first: They allowed Stokes and Woakes to stay in India to play in the IPL (and miss the ODIs vs. Ireland). I don't agree with that. If there is an international game, you should always play for your country. To say it was just Ireland is degrading the opposition. It degrades an international cap. Undoubtedly, you are going to play better cricket (in the IPL). You are not going to gain anything by playing against Ireland but it’s humiliating for Ireland. It’s like saying we really don’t care about you and you are a B-grade nation.

Ravichandran Ashwin’s home season: It doesn't surprise me at all. Because I've always seen just how talented he was. Like I said earlier with Ben Stokes, when you start believing how good you are... India relied on him and said, 'You go win us these Test matches.' And he bowled so well. You start to believe it. If you get 10 wickets in a match, you believe the next game you're going to do the same. I think he focused a little bit on his poorer form away from home. If you get to play in India for 13 Test matches then you cash in, you get as many wickets as humanly possible because that's the place to bowl spin, let's face it. And he's a brilliant bowler because he just bowls no bad balls. His variations aren't out of this world, his carrom ball doesn't really spin. He's just metronomic, on the spot all the time. And in India, scoreboard pressure, men around the bat, very good captaincy -- they just know spin bowling, you guys know spin bowling -- and it's no surprise to me he gets so many wickets.

How much Ashwin has improved: He's become a lot more consistent. I don't think he's changed his game so much. He's not invented new weapons like Shane Warne pretended to all the time. But he doesn't bowl bad balls. And also the more wickets you get, the more your reputation grows, people start playing the reputation rather than the ball coming down at them. I think we saw with England in the winter, they truly believed going into the last day...'Oh my God, we've got Ashwin and (Ravindra) Jadeja [and we're going to fail].' Rather than playing the ball coming at them. Being bowled out in Chennai is one of the worst days' cricket in English history. None of them got bowled out. They gave 10 wickets away on a flat pitch. So reputation comes into it. And he'll believe his own reputation as well, that makes you a better bowler. Every game he's confident. It's all in the mind, Test cricket. I take my hat off to him. He's been brilliant. And his batting as well, now he's a genuine all-rounder. I've always seen just how talented he was.

How to succeed in India: You can’t believe they're going to bowl you out. You have to look at the wicket. There are still very good wickets in India and especially on the first three days, they are brilliant for batting. So we scored heavily; Kevin Pietersen was batting sublimely at the time. We posted big totals and then myself and Monty (Panesar) believed that we were going to bowl them out and win the game. And we saw India playing our reputation rather than the ball coming down. Test cricket is such a mental game.

[Ashwin] has become a lot more consistent. I don't think he's changed his game so much. He's not invented new weapons like Shane Warne pretended to all the time. But he doesn't bowl bad balls. And also the more wickets you get, the more your reputation grows, people start playing the reputation rather than the ball coming down at them.

Joe Root as England Test captain: I don’t actually agree with that because Joe is potentially our best ever batsman. I’d love to just leave him alone, not burden him with captaincy. Let him be our Sachin Tendulkar. The pressures of captaincy are all-encompassing. I don’t think it’s going to help his batting. I hope I’m wrong and hope that he goes on to greater things like Virat Kohli and Steve Smith especially. But I'd have let Stuart Broad do it for a while. Well, teams never let bowlers be captains. Even though bowlers are more intelligent than batsmen!

Good leg-spinners emerging: International cricket is begging for a match-winning leg-spinner again. We need a Shane Warne to come along. He is the best bowler ever to have played the game, without a doubt. Because leg-spin is impossible to bowl. You can’t learn it. You’re either born to do it, or not. What any team would do for Shane Warne! But there are some good off-spinners around the world. Ashwin’s flying the flag. Nathan Lyon’s a good bowler. Then there's Mehedi Hasan Miraz from Bangladesh. As long as there are spinners in the game, I'm happy.

Retirement: I couldn’t feel my fingers any more. I have a nerve problem in my elbow. I played three matches more than I should have done. I should have never gone to Australia (for the 2013 Ashes). I thought it would be alright and I realized too late that it wasn't. I’d have given anything to still be playing Test cricket now. I wouldn’t be in the one-dayers; I wasn’t quick enough in the outfield, wasn’t fit enough. Didn’t like it enough! But Test cricket, I would have played till I dropped dead. I love that game. I miss it massively.

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