Swann's long journey ends in delight
A regime change ended the spinner's nine years in the wilderness and let him make his mark.
Saturday 13 December 2008
Graeme Swann is the sort of bloke most other blokes want to go out for a pint with, the sort of bloke who would take two wickets in his first over in Test cricket with a pile of pretty unmitigated filth.
Lads magazines could have been invented with him in mind: sharp, smart, confident, carrying a bit of cash in his pocket, likes a laugh, cannot take anything too seriously. If the twinkle in his eye was any larger it would be the Oxford Street Christmas lights.
It might have cost him 30 or so Test caps in the past nine years. Laddishness was not the first attribute that England's previous coach, Duncan Fletcher, looked for in a cricketer. Swann was first picked for an England squad at The Oval in 1999, left out on the morning of the match, and never had much of a sniff again. Until yesterday. In a cute piece of captain's psychology, Swann, on his debut, was given the 14th over of the innings, brought on before England's number one spinner, Monty Panesar. It worked. The second ball to the left-hander, Gautam Gambhir, held its own and was rewarded with an lbw verdict, the sixth to Rahul Dravid, spun sharply and had a similar outcome, though Daryl Harper kept him waiting this time. The modest quality of the surrounding balls hardly counted.
Swann had become only the second man in the whole history of Test cricket to take two wickets in his first over. The wonder was perhaps that he did not become the first to take three. It would have fitted his character perfectly. In a knockabout chat with the press afterwards Swann said: "My head was spinning, I couldn't actually believe I'd got two wickets. I was just over the moon, it was like I'd scored a goal at Wembley."
But two Indian wickets at Chennai is every bit as good, maybe better. Swann ran off but was soon engulfed by his team-mates, led by Andrew Flintoff who appeared about to squeeze the life out of him.
If this was not quite redemption for Swann, it was a stop on a long journey he had seemed destined never to make. After his 12th man duties at The Oval in 1999 he was picked for the tour of South Africa that winter where he seemed to spend most of his time being late for the team bus.
There was one occasion when he stood on the team balcony before play and flashed that bit of his anatomy that got actor John Barrowman into trouble the other day for revealing during a radio programme. Swann went back to county cricket. There he stayed, first with Northamptonshire, where he was born, then with Nottinghamshire.
It took a regime change – perhaps both in Swann as well as the England selectors – for him to be given another England chance, in the one-day squad for Sri Lanka last year. Almost eight years after he made a solitary appearance in South Africa, and only then because of injuries, he was back.
This time he did not blow it. He might not, quite, have made every bus precisely on time but he has proved himself to be a thinking cricketer, and as always a jolly presence in the dressing room. And when an Indian tour came, England, for once, needed a second spinner.
Of course, that impressively positive outlook, present in every conversation he holds, may conceal elements of doubt and uncertainty. Yesterday, in his first act as Test cricketer he received a horrid ball from Harbhajan Singh.
It spat from a length and aimed for Swann's gloves as if it was a snake with its tongue whipping out. He is a perfectly adept batsman but there was to be no avoiding the toxic barb. It hit his gloves and the ball cannoned to slip.
The nerves can hardly have been eased when he had to bowl. Swann has grown up enough to know that this might not be the start of an auspicious career, orthodox finger spinners being as much in demand as new cars in the USA. He will also be aware of what happened to the other man who took two wickets in his first over.
Richard Johnson had two Zimbabweans leg before at Chester-le-Street in 2003 and took 6 for 33 in the innings. He played only two more Tests and four years later called it a day at the age of 31. Swann has years more cricket left in him. He is an extremely capable all-round cricketer, a batsman who hits the ball and a spinner who spins it.
He will not play the 50 or so Tests that were predicted for him when he was a teenager swaggering on to the Northants scene but he will have a bit more fun yet. And his sunny disposition will make him welcome to have around. His is probably a pint.
Bowling them over: Debutant's first six
Ball one Short and wide, Gautam Gambhir rocks back and, with all the time in the world, cuts it to the boundary for four.
Ball two A fuller delivery that hits Gambhir's pad and flies to Ian Bell at short leg. Huge appeal turned down.
Ball three An arm ball that had Gambhir shouldering arms. Hits the pad and given out lbw.
Ball four Sachin Tendulkar pushes full ball through the covers for two.
Ball five Short ball turned off his hip for a single by Tendulkar.
Ball six Nicely flighted delivery that turns sharply into Rahul Dravid, missing the bat and earning a slightly dubious lbw decision.
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