London: Graeme Swann, a terrific off-spinner who helped England reach No.1 in the Test rankings, but chose to quit abruptly, spoke to The Telegraph (at Lord’s) on Saturday.
In 60 Tests, the 35-year-old Swann collected 255 scalps, an indication of the huge impact he made in his five years at the highest level.
Swann, by the way, has turned a commentator.
Q Was your decision to retire from international cricket in the middle of the last Ashes an impulsive one?
A No. I hadn’t been bowling well and had a recurrence of the elbow problem... I’d been thinking about it for a couple of months. I felt I wouldn’t be able to contribute to the team.
Should you not have withdrawn from the Ashes before the contest began?
Looking back, yes, I could have done that. But, at that stage, I’d thought it was only a matter of form. I didn’t realise that the elbow had deteriorated to such an extent... It was during the Ashes that I felt my time was up.
Have you bowled since?
Once. I sent down two overs... I couldn’t spin the ball.
Why didn’t you take the surgery route?
Because the last surgery didn’t quite go that well. I was reluctant... Look, it’s not easy to leave something which has been such a big part of your life. There’s no joy in walking away, but there are times when circumstances come into play.
Have you, at any time, had cause for regret?
I don’t believe in regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason. Having said that, when I see this atmosphere, at Lord’s, I do wish I was bowling and in the thick of action. But, regret? No.
You had an excellent career...
Yeah, I was fortunate. I don’t think any other bowler was as successful in Test cricket during my five years. I got my wickets bowling legal off-spin.
‘Legal off-spin’ is interesting...
(Smiles) Well, Sachithra Senanayake has just been banned... But why did he get to this level bowling the way he did? I won’t blame him, but the coaches and the system... His action should have been corrected years ago. The ICC says you can bend your arm so much, but not that much... You can throw, but not throw that much... Doesn’t make sense to me.
What made you an off-spinner?
At home, being younger, I had to be the bowler to elder brother Alec, who played for Northants and Lancashire... I could naturally spin the ball. I had that loop which turned out very handy.
Did you look up to any spinner?
John Emburey, who was a big name when I was growing up. In fact, he gave me my first contract (with Northants).
Your favourite spinners across generations...
Shane Warne: Leg-spin, you know, is the hardest art in the world. Playing the violin is easier! He had phenomenal control and I have nothing but admiration. My No.1.
Derek Underwood: I quite liked the way he ran in to bowl. Very effective left-arm spinner, with plenty of control. Had a classical action. I’ve met him socially, but we didn’t talk bowling.
Jim Laker: My maternal grandfather’s favourite off-spinner. I’ve watched a bit of his footage. He had that something to be successful and was quite a rage with the older generations.
What about the present lot?
I like Ravichandran Ashwin in the shorter formats... In Tests, nobody quite stands out. Of course, I used to like watching Muttiah Muralidharan... I didn’t necessarily agree with his action, but he could turn the ball a mile. A man with tremendous skill and great knowledge of the game.
Did Murali chuck?
There’ll always be questions. But I wouldn’t blame Murali... I’d blame the coaches and the system.
Does psychology come into play?
Yes... Knowing the batsman’s strengths and weaknesses and bowling according to your strengths is definitely a factor. You do play mental games, particularly when the batsman is under pressure for one reason or the other. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, always carried such a heavy burden.
Didn’t Sachin bat freely?
From my experience, just once — in the second innings of the Chennai Test, in 2008, which was my debut... Sachin was the master that day, reducing everybody to a puppet. On all other occasions, he’d feel the pressure... If he got runs, the stadiums filled up. If he didn’t, they just emptied. That’s an enormous weight to carry.
What kind of preparation did you put in, especially before a Test?
I went for quality over quantity, so there were days when I just bowled a few balls on the eve of a Test. I didn’t bowl and bowl only because a Test match was a day away... I had a routine, yeah. You need to feel that you can play your game.
Besides adding so much potency to England’s attack, your energy was infectious...
(Smiles) That’s because I wasn’t the type to play cold professional cricket... You need to enjoy and not play a match thinking it could be your last game. I had a life before playing Test cricket and I have a life now. I was happy then, I’m happy now... My approach when I played for England was the same as when I’d play a club game... It’s out of love and loyalty towards a club that you play for it. You’re not driven by other factors. I had the same philosophy when I played in the England colours... Sadly, the enjoyment is going out of cricket.
How best does one sum up Graeme Swann?
As somebody who believes life isn’t a dress-rehearsal... Somebody who believes that everything happens for a reason... That destiny could be doing its bit.
England seem to be missing more than just the bowler in you. Your thoughts?
Possibly... Problem is that very few cricketers walk around with a smile on their face... I quite like Joe Root’s attitude, though. I’d like to tell all: Don’t make the game to be more than what it is.
Who’re the batsmen who made you sweat?
Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey. Both used their feet so well.
What do you tell the young spinners?
Be brave... Always smile, even when you get hit... Don’t make your pain public. After being hit, you may want to take a stump and have a go at the batsman, but you can’t do that. You’ve still got to smile and channel your aggression in the right direction.
Your son, Wilfred, is seen as somebody with a lot of potential...
Of course! He’s three-and-a-half, but is exhibiting good hand-eye coordination... He bats left-handed.
[Swann and wife Sarah also have a daughter, Charlotte.]
Lastly... Should the media just let Alastair Cook be or does he need to go as the England captain?
Alastair needs to score, no two ways there... But our media isn’t making it easy for him. He should be given the space to get his game back... Right now, I don’t think there’s an alternative to Alastair. So, he should stay in the captain’s seat.