Swann ready to dive into role as England's leader

England's joker in the camp is taking his captaincy seriously as he prepares to tackle the West Indians

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The Independent Online

Few would have foreseen Graeme Swann as a captain of England. But as he revealed yesterday: "My mother's prophesy comes true at last. She always said I would captain England. I'm not sure what sport she was talking about, to be honest."

Beyond mums, however, it would have been hard to find much consensus, except perhaps among those who subscribe to the theory that a roomful of monkeys sitting in front of typewriters will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. But there he was yesterday, Graeme Swann, who is about to be captain of the England Twenty20 team in two matches against West Indies.

He has been engaged for the position in a temporary capacity, replacing the nominated captain and vice-captain, Stuart Broad and Eoin Morgan, who are both injured. Swann thus becomes the fifth man to lead an England team in a month.

On first glance, he is a surprising choice, for Swann appears to live his entire life as if it is an audition for the role of the Artful Dodger. He is funny, engaging, mischievous, a scallywag.

But think about it for a bit, and it makes perfect sense. Swann is a serious cricketer, the top-ranked spin bowler in the world in all forms of the game. If he is the daftest boy in the room, he is also often the smartest.

"For all the persona that I give of messing around all the time it's not actually like that in the changing room," he said. "Most of the joking around I do tends to be in Jimmy Anderson, Swann, Tim Bresnan corner, poking fun mainly at Bres. I have curbed that this week because I can't be seen to be taking the mickey out of my players."

Swann was first drafted into an international squad in 1999 when he was sent to South Africa as a 20-year-old. It is fair to say that he did not impress the new coach, Duncan Fletcher. After that tour, he spent seven years back in county cricket learning his trade.

"No-one would have believed this four or five years ago, least of all myself," said Swann. "It is surreal in a way for me to sit down to talk about leading these guys but I have always harboured ambitions of captaining at least at first-class level and it's nice that I've got a chance if only for a couple of games to try and show the inner workings of my mind, which I think are brilliant." Serious business, but he could not resist a joke.

Swann has changed partly because he had to, partly because he has learned the game a little more. Not given to reflecting too much on what has gone, he said: "Graeme Swann the captain would never pick Graeme Swann the kid. The one regret I have about being 19, 20 is that there wasn't Twenty20 around in those days.

"I'm sure I would have been pretty good at it when I was 19, 20 because I could bat in those days. That is the only thing I regret I have about the young lunatic Graeme Swann. He is still in there somewhere but I manage to hide him most of the time."

Swann has his hands full with a vastly inexperienced team playing another vastly inexperienced team in West Indies in the two matches at The Oval tonight and on Sunday. But he thought that the team could throw up four or five megastars, such was the talent. "This top six could easily be the top six in the World Cup next year."

These matches were belatedly tagged on to the end of the season to ensure that the England and Wales Cricket Board met their obligations under the broadcasting rights package they sold to BSkyB.

That originally included a quadrangular T20 tournament each summer, which was to involve England, two other countries and the Stanford Superstars, a team raised by the multi-millionaire American Sir Allen Stanford who had fallen in love with cricket after moving much of his business operation to Antigua.

Before the first such tournament could be held, but after England played Stanford's team in the first $20m winner-takes-all match in Antigua, Stanford was arraigned on fraud charges, amounting to a total of $7bn in the USA. He is at present in a prison hospital in North Carolina awaiting trial while recovering from a dependency on drugs prescribed after he was beaten up by a fellow inmate. If he recovers, his trial will start in January.

Though these matches are late and inconvenient – many of the players will be off to India next week for another one-day series – it could still be argued that England need them. They defend their world championship next September in Sri Lanka and have only another five matches before then.

Making a valid point in only his second official day in the job, Swann said: "I don't think it would be frowned upon in my corner of the changing room if there was a three-game one-day series and a three-game Twenty20 series with every touring team who comes over. I think that makes more sense than five one-dayers, but they are my own views and shouldn't be seen as the views of my employers." But they should have been listening, as it is hoped his players will tonight.

Oval details

England (probable): G P Swann (capt), C Kieswetter (wkt), A Hales, B A Stokes, J Bairstow, R S Bopara, S R Patel, T T Bresnan, J M Anderson, J W Dernbach, D R Briggs.

West Indies (probable): D J G Sammy (capt), D O Christian (wkt), M C Bascombe, J Charles, D P Hyatt, M N Samuels, D S Smith, C D Barnwell, A D Russell, F H Edwards, D Bishoo.

TV Sky Sports 2, 6-10pm.

Weather Dry and overcast. Max temp 16C

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