25. May 2010 21:38
I think I'm strongly enamoured of Graeme Swann. This is not a controversial position to find oneself in but one that sits strangely with me. He's just been deservedly named ECB's player of the year. He's taken 99 wickets in a year in all international matches (in some ways a meaningless stat, but indicative of his ever presence in England's test, ODI and T20 line ups). He can bat. He fields. He's combative. He's England's premier striike bowler. He's quite witty, he's charismatic, gives good post match interviews and is striken with an underbite so big, you're not going to be insanely jealous of his good looks. What's not to like?
He's an off spinner. That's what. My cricketing heroes have been everything and anything but off spinners. Of the batsmen I have been wowed by such diverse talents as Trumper, Hobbs, Hutton, Compton, Boycott and Gower. Fast bowlers aplenty from Lohmann and Barnes to Willis and Botham. Wicket keeper Alan Knott was my first ever hero. And I can do spinners. Wilf Rhodes? Clarrie Grimmett? Shane Warne? But I don't do off spinners. I even preferred Tony Lock to Jim Laker (I know this is madness). They just can't surely carry the threat that a hero needs to possess. (I don't count Murali as an off spinner. He is brilliant, a Sri Lankan hero and a freak)Anyone can bowl off spin. What's the most dangerous ball you're going to bowl? The one that goes straight on? Do I look scared?
Yet somehow Swann is paralysing the world's batsmen with terror. When he comes on, he invariably takes a wicket early. He seems to be channeling the venomous strike power of the late Malcolm Marshall through the effete flapping of his off breaks. He takes iconic wickets, such as Hussey's to win the Ashes. He mesmersied, stunned and ultimately destroyed South Africa's middle order to the point that Duminy's career is in tatters while Prince and Smith have been struck dumb. And he bats like a game changer. Not with the same effect as a Botham or an Imran Khan, but always better than you'd dared hope. I don't understand it, but I think I'm starting to believe it.
The bouncy pitches of Australia will also suit him. He may have had an excellent year. He might be about to become an icon. And then, why surely, ennoblement from the queen who has previous with swans.