An audience with Graeme Swann is invariably amusing, diverting and genial. He can usually manage to stay serious for about 10 seconds and there is never a longueur in the conversation because he fills it.
Until a month or so ago none of this would have mattered much except to his mates and his team-mates whom he sees it as his duty to amuse or irritate depending on whether they want him to stop talking or not. But suddenly Swann has been elevated to the rank of number one spin bowler in England.
This is not quite as significant as being captain of the team, or perhaps being the star batsman, or the tearaway fast bowler. But it is still big potatoes which have to fill some pretty big shoes. It may be bigger potatoes still given the desperate need England now have to take wickets in the series against West Indies.
He has shrugged off – so far – an elbow injury which impeded him in the Antigua Test last week but sometime soon surgery will be required to remove floating bone fragments.
Down the years some of the greats of the game have been the best spinner in England, men like Wilfred Rhodes, Hedley Verity, Jim Laker and Derek Underwood, president of the MCC. It is difficult at this point to see Swann either matching Underwood's record of 297 Test wickets or becoming president of the MCC. But you never know, and he could convince you otherwise. In any case, audiences with him have taken on a new bent.
Last week he ended Monty Panesar's run of 27 consecutive matches by being picked for the third Test of England's series against West Indies. He responded by taking eight wickets in the match.
In the first innings, Swann became the first English off-break bowler for 10 years to take five wickets in an innings. This says something about Swann, about the dearth (and some would remove the fourth letter from that word) of English spinners and the near extinction of finger-spin bowling.
"I have been bowling well for the last 18 months," he said. "I'm always going to be pigeonholed as a one-day spinner even though my record is probably better in first-class cricket over the years.
"I didn't go in there with, 'I'll show what I can do now'. I was delighted by the fact that I got five wickets in the first innings because it wasn't really doing anything. Every dog has his day."
His selection for the second of the two Test matches in Antigua, at the Recreation Ground, was somewhat surprising because he had not been picked for the first, at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, which was abandoned after 10 balls. It turned out to be a masterstroke, or would have been if Swann had somehow conjured up the final wicket which would have won England the match. He is unbothered by being the new number one spinner.
"Some people would put undue pressure on themselves but you don't need that thing of, 'God the whole country is expecting now'. I think my Mum has been telling me I'm the number one spinner for the last 10 years so that's enough pressure for me. As for finger spin, it goes out of fashion intermittently but then comes back in.
"Harbhajan Singh of India has shown over the last year or so that, bowling finger spin, you can take wickets. Every now and again people decide that finger spinners are useless because someone will smash them out of the park; that's par for the course. In probably two years' time finger spin will be out of vogue again and I will be consigned to the scrapheap. So be it."
But for the moment, England need more Swann, not less.Reuse content