The two seasons Graeme Swann and Michael Hussey spent together as team-mates at Northamptonshire played an important part in their development into two of the world's finest international cricketers, according to the individual who enjoyed plenty of time in close contact with both at Wantage Road.
David Ripley, who kept wicket for Northants for 17 years and is now academy director for the county, believes it is something of a myth that Swann's move to Nottinghamshire in 2005 was the key to him becoming officially the finest spinner in the game. "There is an argument that in moving to Trent Bridge and spending more time bowling on Test wickets, which didn't offer his spin as much assistance as the tracks at Northants, he had to become more consistent, as well as develop more variations," said Ripley. "Perhaps that's true, but my feeling is his game was maturing anyway. The good thing is that as an individual – as a character, if you like – I don't think he's changed at all."
The off-spinner's 5 for 91 in Australia's second innings sealed England's victory in the Second Test in Adelaide. Ripley for one was not surprised. "Graeme was always very confident, very humorous, a great guy to have around the dressing room for breaking down barriers between generations, and I enjoyed his company a great deal – we all did," he said. "He's added a bit of maturity and perhaps a bit of steel to his game, but the fact he really enjoys what he is doing, and looks at everything positively all the time, that certainly hasn't changed.
"The only thing we used to try to get him to think about was that constantly striving for the perfect delivery could cost him a little bit. He always looked to spin it hard, so we encouraged that, and it helped that he often bowled with another spinner in Jason Brown who was more a pressure builder – you didn't get many bad balls from Jason, but he didn't spin it as heavily as Graeme. I suppose my only frustration with Graeme was sometimes you couldn't get him to see things even slightly differently, or at least accept he could have played a situation another way. He wasn't ever disrespectful, but he just wouldn't take on board points you thought were pretty valid from your experience. That was particularly the case with the bat, when it was his way or the highway to be honest!"
But Ripley points out that Swann and Brown both caught the England selectors' eyes as Northants players. "He's a local boy, and being a Northamptonshire lad I know he enjoyed his cricket here, but the circumstances became difficult. [Former South Africa captain] Kepler Wessels became coach, and that was never going to work with them being such different personalities. In fact Kepler thought spin was our strength and encouraged the preparation of turning wickets, so it might have been interesting if they'd got on and Swanny had stayed. But he always tells me one day he'll come back and be captain, so we live in hope!"
Hussey, who has already compiled 340 runs in three innings in the Ashes series at an average of 113.33, was a very different character, Ripley concedes, but far from the obsessed individual he is sometimes portrayed to be. "Huss was driven but also able to relax. Mike was very open, and he and Graeme got on very well – there was always good banter between them. He was a lot closer to the guys than Matthew Hayden, who preceded him as our overseas player. Huss was more middle of the road in his opinions and just settled himself in. He was really good for Northants cricket and we were pretty good for him in terms of what he delivered on the back of his time here.
"I was surprised that Huss was under any pressure for his Test place before the series started, because his record does seem to stack up. What has surprised me is his one-day success, because he never looked that expansive a player for us. But that's Huss for you. He looked at what he needed to do, added to his game, and made himself a more complete player."
Both men are among the cricketers pictured on the walls of the Northants academy. Ripley adds: "You see the youngsters glancing at them and maybe thinking about what's possible. What with Monty [Panesar] too, it's good to think we're playing a part."