Nothing lasts forever, no matter how great it is. Graeme Swann’s retirement came as a shock to many, but ever since his recovery from his elbow operation, he hasn’t performed at the match winning standard we were once all so familiar with. There has been contrasting reactions to the timing his retirement. Should he have stayed to try to help an England bid to hault further capitulation? Don’t forget that there was no guarantee that he would maintain his place in the side. I’m in agreement with Geoffrey Boycott, labelling Swann’s retirement as ‘honest’ and ‘brave’. I think it’s easy for the armchair viewer to speculate why a player retires. I’ve heard many calling the news as cowardly, with the view that Swann has lost his bottle against the aggressive Aussie team and media. I think Swann’s retirement is a result of physical reasons, as he mentioned in his press conference, but also a result of complete lack of confidence in the competitive and intense environment of the Ashes, where players are exposed at their most.
Despite the controversial fashion in which Swann has left the Test arena, there is no doubt whatsoever that his career has been an exceptional one. Having played 60 matches, claiming 255 wickets at a phenomenal average of 29.96, the stats speak for themselves. At the height of his career he was a delight to watch. The stylish saunter up past the umpire, the arm whipping round at pace creating the revolutions on the ball, making the ball drift in to the left-hander only to grip the pitch, spin and bounce to catch the outside edge of the bat and fly into the hands of first slip. He rejuvenated the art of simple off spin bowling during a period when spinners felt the need to develop complex variations to enhance their game. One aspect of Swann’s bowling was that he could bowl the ball at pace while still managing to get the ball to dip, drift and turn. He was a master of his trade on most surfaces. If the ball wasn’t spinning he could bowl tight lines, rarely dragging the ball down or offering up a floaty half volley, implementing pressure to allow other bowlers to capitalise on the batsmen’s mistakes. He was sharp, he was accurate and he was feared
Blessed with success from a young age, he played a part in the U19 World Cup winning side in 1998. In the same year he joined Nottinghamshire to make his first class debut. He showed his prowess with the bat, scoring a half century in the first innings against Leicestershire and further backed this up with his debut first class century in the second innings. In 2002 yet again he proved his worth with bat in hand, scoring his highest first class score of 183. It was not until the 2007 season when he would make a mark big enough to catch the eyes of the England selectors, taking 45 wickets and scoring 516 runs. He made his debut for England in December 2008 against India at Chenai due to a loss of form by England’s premier spinner at the time, Monty Panesar. He rose to the occasion, dismissing Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his first over to become only the second player to take two wickets in his first over. Even though his name had already been etched into the history books, he couldn’t maintain his place in the side and was forced to give way to Monty. However, he didn’t have to wait in the side lines for long, as February 2009 saw his recall against the Windies. He took successive five wicket hauls in two tests against the West Indies to cement his place in the side, overtaking Panesar for selection for the 2009 ashes series.
In all of England’s successful Ashes campaigns, Swann played an integral role. The first test of the 2009 series saw Australia as the dominant force leaving England to salvage a draw on day five. Swann’s bowling was ineffective however his attributes with the bat went a long way to saving the match, scoring a valuable 31. In the second test at Lords his services weren’t necessary as the seamers took the wickets. In the second innings however, he took four for 87, taking the last wicket to win the match and set up England for the series win. At Edgbaston Swann took one of his favourite wickets, that of Ricky Ponting, bowled through the gate. The match’s conclusion equated a draw. A poor performance by England saw the Aussies win at Headingly to equal the series at 1-1 making the ashes perfectly poised for the last test. Swann again stepped up to the plate, taking 4 wickets in the first innings to aid England in bowling the Aussies out for 160, the match was now England’s. In England’s second innings Swann hit a quick fire 63 to set up the final day. England needed ten wickets to win the Ashes. It was Swann once again to make the breakthrough with the first wickets and he also wrapped it up, taking the last wicket to regain the Ashes. This series was a defining moment in Swann’s career, turning him from a good spinner into a great spinner.
In the 2010/2011 Ashes series in Australia he stamped his authority in the second test, taking yet another five wicket haul at Adeade. A constant force throughout that series, if he wasn’t taking wickets he had the ability to hold up an end and create pressure, finishing with an economy rate of just 2.73.
Eighteen months later the battle over the Ashes arrived once again. This time however, England were clear favourites. Graeme Swann was the leading wicket taker in the series, totalling 26 scalps with two five wicket hauls, proving that his elbow injury in the previous year had not depleted his success. However this injury seemingly began to take its toll in the following Ashes series, contributing to his retirement.
In 2011 England reached the number one ranked test team in world cricket after defeating India at home 4-0. Swann contributed in this four match series with 13 wickets with one five wicket haul.
Rewinding to the 2010 Twenty20 world cup, Swann played a vital role in the tournament win for England under the leadership of Paul Collingwood. He showed he could add a different dimension to his game, taking ten wickets at an average of just over 14. In Twenty20’s overall he has claimed 98 wickets and scored 791 runs in only 80 matches and I hope there is far more to come. A prolific wicket taker in ODIs as well, he has claimed 104 wickets with an economy rate of just 4.54.
It’s not just his on field prowess that Swann will be remembered for but in a modern world where sportspeople’s personality is reined in, Swann has still managed to mark himself as a popular joker. His Ashes diary during the 2010/2011 Ashes series down under, his twitter account, radio shows and countless interviews show off his personality. There’s no other player in cricket that connects as much with his fans as Swann. He broke the mould of what a cricketer is, a true professional on the pitch who gave his all while still connecting with fans through expert use of humour.