Graeme Swann’s retirement leaves England with a huge void to fill
One of the great English spin bowlng careers ends with immediate effect
Graeme Swann during an England nets session at the WACA in Perth, Australia. Swann has announced his retirement from the international game. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
“Swann to Watson, SIX, floated up, Watson is on the rampage and this goes many a mile over wide long-on again. This is like watching a man kicking a kitten.”
Thus ended one of the great England careers, although we were not to know it at the time. Graeme Swann’s Test career began with a four carved away to the square boundary at Chennai’s Chepauk Stadium followed by the third-ball wicket of Gautam Gambhir, and ended with a spectator picking the ball out of the seating high up in Perth’s Prindiville stand to finish an over that conceded 22 runs.
“I did go out with a bang,” the 34-year-old reflected ruefully at the MCG after confirming his retirement from international cricket with immediate effect. “That last ball went about 135 metres. I shall forever remember that.”
In between times, in 60 Tests, there had been a further 254 wickets in a little more than five years, prolific wicket-taking exceeding anyone else in Test cricket in that period, with Jimmy Anderson (232), Stuart Broad (207) and Dale Steyn (205) behind him.
His tally leaves him sixth in England’s all-time list, the leading off-spinner, and as a slow bowler, second only to Derek Underwood, who took 297 wickets. His average of 29.96 is remarkable in itself given that much of his bowling has been done in a defensive role.
With the departure of Jonathan Trott during the first Test in Brisbane, it means that England have lost two linchpins before the series is out.
Had the series still been alive there is little doubt Swann would have continued but he has been bowling under the handicap of a chronic elbow condition that had required surgery in the US in the spring.
It has deteriorated once more to the stage where he cannot bowl effectively in the later stages of a match, the very time when he would be expected to hold centre stage. With the series already lost, he has decided there is little to be gained by him continuing. There had been speculation, although no firm evidence, that this would have been his last tour in any case.
“If I did carry on it would be purely selfish because at the back end of a game my elbow lets me down completely.
“I took 26 wickets in the Ashes last summer but I don’t think I bowled that well. At the back end of the Trent Bridge Test I could hardly spin a ball on a five-day-old pitch. I just knew deep down that I wasn’t the bowler I was a couple of years ago . . I’m not willing to just hang on and get by being a bit-part player. I want to be a guy who wins matches for England . . . ”
Monty Panesar will assume the role of senior spinner, beginning in the fourth Test that starts at the MCG on St Stephen’s Day. Panesar is 31 and, with 166 Test wickets at 34.56, plus 12 five-wicket hauls, has the credentials to be Swann’s replacement. England have not yet announced whether they will be bringing in a replacement. The Sydney Cricket Ground, where the final Test will be played, is seen as a venue where two spinners would be a possibility.
Beyond Panesar, spinning options are thin on the ground. Last summer, while Panesar was out of contention for personal reasons, England played the Lancashire left-armer Simon Kerrigan in the final Test at The Oval with catastrophic consequences for him. Another left-armer, Danny Briggs, is in the one day squad for the series that follows the Ashes but is not viewed as a Test-match bowler.
The Durham all-rounder Steve Borthwick might have a role to play. The Kent off-spinner James Tredwell, who played one Test against Bangladesh in 2010, is coming to Australia with the one-day squad in January, so he is an option as is Joe Root. But it all shows that Swann is as near to irreplaceable – as a spinner, lower-order batsman of proper nuisance value and top-class slip fielder – as a cricketer can get.