When hearing that they have been picked to make their Test debut most cricketers applaud the role of their parents and coaches, and talk about all the hard work they have put in to reach this momentous point in their career. Graeme Swann, bar any last-minute drama, will become the 641st Test cricketer to represent England this morning when Kevin Pietersen's side finally lines up against India here but the confident off-spinner puts his rise to the top down to something rather different, namely having two alarm clocks on his bedside table.
Swann, 29, has the air of a man who has been around for a while. The tag of senior pro, a figure in county cricket that has seen and done the lot, sits quite well on his shoulders. And Swann would probably have attained every cricketer's dream – a Test cap – much earlier but for a few indiscretions on his first tour with England in 1999-2000. Swann was 21 at the time and like many young cricketers who do not feature in the Test side, he enjoyed himself in South Africa. His joie de vivre did not go unnoticed by the England management and their patience all but broke when he missed the team bus one morning. Since that fateful day he has taken extra precaution so that it does not happen again.
"I now have two alarm clocks, which you need when you have the nasty combination I have on tour – finding it hard to fall asleep and then wake up in the morning," said Swann with a mischievous smile. "My timekeeping was an issue (behind me continually being overlooked) and it didn't help that I missed the team bus one morning when we had a bloke [Duncan Fletcher, the previous England coach] in charge who was pretty strict on discipline. With that I made a rod for my own back and I can have no complaints."
During Fletcher's reign – 1999-2007 – England used six different spinners and Swann was not one of them. In an attempt to change his image he moved from Northamptonshire to Nottinghamshire and learnt his trade. He learnt how to behave too. And it was only when Peter Moores replaced Fletcher that Swann returned to the England fold. "Yes, I wrote my England career off a few years ago,"said Swann. "So it's great to have this opportunity now. I am delighted to be in the team. My negativity came from the fact that everyone who seemed to have the potential to bowl spin in the world was playing ahead of me, and when that happens you tend to think that your number was up.
"I didn't think I'd play for England in any form, so it was great when I got called up for the one-dayers 15 months ago. It was frustrating when I got called up for the Test tour of Sri Lanka and didn't play, but I knew that if I had a half-decent summer with Notts then I would have the chance to get out here where I would more than likely get a game." Swann, like each of England's bowlers faces a huge challenge over the next fortnight. Spin is bound to play an important role in the series but England's slow bowlers have had a mixed time in India. Before the 1980s England's spinners had a pretty good record here but since then they have found it tough going against an endless line of wonderful batsmen.
"Playing here doesn't daunt me," said Swann. "If anything it would be more daunting back at home because the wickets don't traditionally suit finger spinners. Spinners tend to have more of a say in the game over here. I'm just looking forward to playing; I think I'd be a lot more nervous if I was making my debut back home on a flat belter at The Oval. I don't expect the ground to be as packed as the one-dayers but it would be nice if 50,000 people turned up to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat and they left to go home after a couple of balls because he didn't get any runs."
Swann, wisely, did not suggest that he would get the "Little Master" before being asked whether he was really as confident as he appears. He replied: "Every man who appears confident on the outside is shitting like a big dog on the inside." With that he returned to his team-mates. The England and Wales Cricket Board yesterday confirmed that the second Test between India and England will take place in Mohali. A final decision had been delayed until up to date security reports had been made. Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team said: "We are satisfied with the security plans that have been put in place and are looking forward to the second match being played there."