Swann: 'I've read i'm the key to the Ashes. That's tripe'

England's Graeme Swann is the world's best spinner, but, he tells Stephen Brenkley in Perth, beating Australia will be a team effort

In the great Ashes countdown one man is now mentioned above all if England really are to win. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for Graeme Swann. It is not yet two years since he first played a Test match but he has become the world's No 1 spin bowler, not only in the official rankings but where it truly counts, in the batsmen's minds. He is also a Jack the Lad (less so, he insists, since getting married earlier this year) and king of Twitter. Indeed he tweets as much as he spins.

Swann likes to act the goat, an amusing man and cheeky chappy, but it would be a grave mistake to underestimate him. He is the class joker and a class act, as he reminded us again in England's opening match of this seminal tour.

There was little in the pitch for him at the Waca in Perth, a hard surface, which might as well have been glass, and no turn. But Swann, through intriguing variation and patience, took five wickets in the match against Western Australia including four in the second innings.

It merely raised his stock some more. Despite the poor history of off-spin bowlers in Australia, not least of the English variety, the Aussies suspect now that he is coming to get them. He appears to be at ease with his elevated status and the weight of expectation.

"I think there probably is a heightened sense of expectation but I am quite happy with that because I like to be a central figure in anything I do, and it shows the fact I have bowled well for a couple of years," he said yesterday as England prepared to leave for Adelaide.

"I don't want to be a bit-part player and I am happy to be where I am. As with any Ashes there is a certain amount of hype and media build-up and because I have taken wickets the last two years I read that I am the key to the Ashes, we cannot win unless I get 40 wickets. I think it's tripe personally.

"The most important thing is that we get big runs because we're going to play on five fantastic wickets, or four anyway, and one we don't know about. If we don't get big runs we could have Shane Warne, Malcolm Marshall and Glenn McGrath bowling for us and we won't win. It's a tired old cliché but if we don't perform well as a team then we haven't got a prayer."

He is right, of course. If England do not score sufficient runs – and that means regular totals above 400 – Swann will not have anything to aim at. It was the same when Warne was strutting his stuff for Australia for 15 years. Generally he was able to do so because there was a mountain of runs in the other column which imposed additional stress on batsmen who could not simply survive.

It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that, as Warne and Abdul Qadir together revived the art of leg-spin bowling, Swann has resuscitated finger-spin bowling. True, there have been quasi-purveyors like Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh but the truth is they fall into a category of their own (ie a bleedin' mystery).

The breed of the conventional off-spinner was all but extinct at international level and England had, as a general rule, frequently preferred left-arm finger spinners down the years. Before Swann annexed the spinner's place in the side, Monty Panesar had played 39 Tests, and before him it was Ashley Giles for 54.

There has not been a regular off-breaker like Swann since John Emburey. Only five in English cricket history have taken more wickets than Swann's 113 and only the great Jim Laker, who is the leader of that particular pack with 197, and took a wicket every 62 balls, comes anywhere near Swann's wonderful career strike rate of a wicket every 54 balls.

Swann has undoubtedly been helped by the essential change in the interpretation of the lbw law. For a century and more, umpires were notoriously difficult to satisfy. Batsmen could play on the front, sweep, get away with murder and be quite safe.

Not now. There has been both a change in the umpiring mindset, the advent of sophisticated slow motion replay and the umpire review system, at last adopted more or less uniformly. What came first, the chicken or the egg, hardly matters.

"The review system has changed things," said Swann. "I think it has been the biggest single factor in spin's rise over the last couple of years because it used to be so easy for left-handers to stick their leg down the middle, get rapped on the pad and get away with it. Indeed, it seems it still is that easy if you don't have the review system working; so I am very happy that it is around in the Ashes – they have a few left-handers – if it brings a few genuine dismissals that were turned down years ago."

The upshot is that of Swann's 113 Test victims 38, or 34 per cent, have come from lbw decisions. Compare that to Laker's 32 or 17 per cent. But do not suppose these are cheap wickets. Swann works out batsmen and circumstances quickly. He knows when to attack and defend and his lines are constant.

In Australia he will need all his nous because many an English finger spinner, arriving on a paean of praise, has been buried here. Only Geoff Miller, the present chairman of selectors who performed admirably against a weakened Australia in 1978-79 and Fred Titmus, who bowled well in 1965-66, have taken more than 20 wickets in a series.

"I think it is going to be very similar bowling here to South Africa last year," said Swann. "It is obviously going to be very different from England because the pitches and conditions are so different and the ball is so different. I am more than happy to bowl in a defensive role. I'm going to have to in the first innings because on a good wicket unless you have got 11 clowns against you you're not able to get everyone round the bat and attack as you might like.

"You have to find your optimum pace on any pitch and that's the trick when you get to any ground to discover that as quickly as possible."

Good judges, of whom Warne can be considered one, have all been queueing up to note how effective Swann is. Warne indeed likened him to David Hasselhof, once the beefcake star of the TV series Baywatch, in which he showed his pecs and Pamela Anderson flaunted other parts of her body. The comparison appears to have bemused even Swann.

"You certainly haven't seen me with my top off," he said with that lovely sardonic air he has. "Maybe it's that when I put my orange bathers on and walk along the beach I am surrounded by a plethora of hot women, but those days are behind me now because I am happily married."

He seems relaxed about the serious prospect that Australia will target him as the sole slow bowler on what will mostly be lovely batting pitches. There is a quiet belief (at odds with his outgoing personality) that he will cope.

"We've got pretty dense files on how they all bat and how they all bowl and backroom staff to do all that for us," he said. "I have certainly got a plan A, B and C for all of their players. You know exactly where certain players are going to try to hit you and when they'll try to hit you."

Fame has come easily to him because he spent 10 years developing as a cricketer after his first tour as a 20-year-old, when he left the then coach Duncan Fletcher distinctly unimpressed. Fletcher likes to be a loyal friend but he is an equally fervent enemy.

Swann ain't about to muck it up. But he has a sense of perspective about it too. No sooner had he said yesterday that he liked being recognised at airports when two years ago it was the other players. Yet two hours later he tweeted: "Walking through Perth airport, everyone staring at me. Only when i got to the lounge did I realise why. Flies wide open, the goods on show." And then added: "Good job I had some reg grundies on."

But Swann the cricketer is different from Swann the knockabout. "There is only a danger if you're daft enough to play up to it. I know exactly how I am going to behave on a cricket field because there is a method I discovered about five years ago for getting through a day's fielding. It's made cricket a hell of a lot more enjoyable so I won't be changing it."

Swann has matured, not changed, and there is a difference. England should not change him for the world.

How Swann compares

Test matches, since 1 January 2009:

Most wickets
G P Swann (England) 105
M G Johnson (Australia) 92
J M Anderson (England) 80
S C J Broad (England) 71
D W Steyn (South Africa) 61

Spinners: most wickets
G P Swann 105
Harbhajan Singh (India) 55
N M Hauritz (Australia) 50
Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh) 45
DL Vettori (New Zealand) 45

Best average
G P Swann 25.57
Shakib Al Hasan 33
Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka) 36.34
Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan) 37.13
NM Hauritz 37.34

Best strike rate
G P Swann 52.5
Danish Kaneria (Pakistan) 65.9
Shakib al Hasan 67.7
Nathan Hauritz 69.6
Rangana Herath 70.8

Five-wickets in an innings
G P Swann 9
Rangana Herath 4
SJ Benn (West Indies) 3
Danish Kaneria 3
Shakib al Hasan 3

Best economy rate
D L Vettori 2.62
S J Benn 2.8
Harbhajan Singh 2.8
Saeed Ajmal 2.81
PP Ojha (India) 2.83
PL Harris (South Africa) 2.85
Shakib Al Hasan 2.92
G P Swann 2.92

Average wickets per Test
G P Swann 4.77
Shakib al Hasan 4.50
Rangana Herath 4.38
Danish Kaneria 4.10
Harbhajan Singh 3.93

Countdown to the Ashes

16 The highest number of wickets taken by an Australian in an Ashes Test match. Seam bowler Robert "Bob" Massie took 16 for 137 on his debut at Lord's in 1972 as Australia won by eight wickets; the tour itself ended with two wins apiece.

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements