General News | 9th February 2009

All Out Cricket: Graeme Swann Interview

Notts and England spinner Graeme Swann is the cover star of the March edition of All Out Cricket.

AOC: So why off-spin, Graeme?

GRAEME SWANN: I’ve no idea why I bowl spin. I started playing cricket from when I could walk. I was a week old when the cricket season started and was first wrapped up and taken down to the Old Northamptonians Cricket Club. Every week me and my brother would be down there watching on a Saturday. We thought everyone’s dad played cricket on a Saturday. Being older, Alec always got to bat first and I guess the only way to get it down the other end was for me to put a great deal of flight on it. Somewhere on the way I ended up bowling spin.

As a kid I got thousands of wickets doing it because little boys can’t play spin. When I was a teenager, I desperately tried not to bowl spin and actually had a couple of games where I bowled seam up. I got six-fer in the first game I tried it. It was during a league game for Northants County Colts where I opened the bowling with Neil Foster (ex-England tyro and Colts captain – he got just the one wicket!). The next day I ran in against Essex in the second team and got absolutely battered and couldn’t land it so put the quick stuff firmly on the backburner. For a while off-spin seemed a dull option, but then it suddenly dawned on me it was the best way for me to succeed – particularly down at Northampton.

AOC: Do you reckon you’ve got the patience required to bowl the slow stuff?


GS: Nowadays – yes. In a way, it was too easy to bowl spin down at Northampton. I’m not a stats man at all but I was really pleased when someone pointed out that my bowling average is the same at Notts as Northants. At Northants I would try to bowl a different ball every time because although I’d go at three and a half runs an over, I’d get a wicket every five or six overs because the pitch helped you so much. I wanted to play Test cricket and really test myself. I’ve had to adapt my bowling and be more consistent – you can’t experiment for five overs at Trent Bridge or you’ll get belted. And there’s always a short boundary as most Championship games are played on one or the other side of the square.

AOC: You have a reputation for immense self-confidence. This has to be a good thing right?

GS: The first time someone calls you an arrogant prick behind your back, you’ve gone too far. I look back when I first started and sometimes wince at how arrogant I could be. As a 19/20-year-old, I was fairly gregarious which came across as arrogance. In one game, I was having a go at former Northants stalwart and captain, David Ripley, who’d set my field and Rob Bailey – an England international – said to me ‘Just get on and bowl you.’ It really hurt as it came from the nicest bloke in the world. I was embarrassed and it was a good kick up the arse. I’ve always tried not to come across like that since – there can’t be a less attractive trait in a human being than arrogance.

AOC: But if you get the balance right, surely confidence can empower your teammates?
 
GS: Maybe. But the second you go too far it’s a bad thing. If a youngster walks in and plays shots the opposition won’t like him. If he’s got a strut, you detest him. And if he has something to say, you want him to die a horrible death! It’s the same in football – no one can deny that Craig Bellamy is a very talented footballer, but I’ve not seen a man who has more detestable points. He thinks he’s bigger than football – he even goes on TV and slags off the manager. When even your own teammates think you are arrogant then you are.

AOC: Well that’s certainly cleared that up! Where do you see yourself in six months time?

GS: The stock answer is to say ‘I take each day as it comes’. I don’t know anyone in the world who doesn’t think about what’s going to happen in the future. I have hopefully bowled myself into a position where I will be the first spinner in line for selection following the India tour – but you never know. If I can start the West Indies tour in the same vein, hopefully I will be in possession for that first Test.

AOC: And further into the future – I assume you would like a crack at the Australians?


GS: All I want to do is play in the Ashes. Even the Twenty20 World Cup that’s coming up – it doesn’t even flicker in my imagination because all I can think about is the Ashes. I’ve wanted to play in it since I was a seven-year-old. Watching the ’86-’87 series from down under is my first recollection of Test cricket as a kid. The BBC highlights came on at 11pm, with that unforgettable music. John Emburey was my hero – and he was our off-spinner at the time. England went on to win the Ashes and the one-day tournaments, catching everything that was above ground! I fell in love with cricket there and then.

AOC: So where do you stand on earning riches then? You did make the pink Ferrari comment before the Stanford Super Series…


GS: (laughs) The only time I was genuinely after more money was when I couldn’t afford my rent as a 17-year-old at Northants. I was on £3,000 for the summer and it seemed a big issue then, not having any cash. I am genuinely bad with money – the more I get, the more I spend. I know some people who are money crazy and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that – I’m certainly not a communist – I love the lifestyle it affords and am not arrogant enough to say money doesn’t make you happy, as it makes you a lot happier than if you were on the breadline. But as long as in 50 years time I can buy bread and milk and the kids have got a decent life, I’ll be happy. I play the lottery sure, because I could help stop mum, dad and my brother from working again.

AOC: Would you carry on playing if you landed a lottery windfall?


GS: Yes, but I would probably buy my own county club and we wouldn’t have a fitness trainer! My team would categorically refuse to draw games of cricket, and I’d employ all my best mates from county cricket. It would be great fun.

AOC: Back in the real world, you’ve got a new England skipper in charge for the Windies. What is he like?


GS: Straussy was my roommate in Adelaide on the first Academy and I fell in love with him. He’s an absolute toff, a Radley boy. You can tell a real toff because he’ll defend his own public school to the hilt and slag off everyone else’s – which he does brilliantly. We were having a chat at slip during the Test match in Mohali and I asked him for his top five schools – he could only give me three! He is a very genuine bloke and he called me a buffoon on tour – brilliant! That’s the sort of word General Melchett used in Blackadder Goes Forth. Seriously, I wish him all the best.

AOC: Nice. As an England player, you are currently a part of all three teams – Test, ODI and Twenty20. Does this make you a modern cricketer?

GS: I think I’m fairly adaptive – as soon as Twenty20 came out I adapted to that quickly. I love all the innovation in the game but I still really enjoy the long form.

If I’m honest, I love Twenty20 for the wrong reasons – it means you can stay in bed longer in the morning, the game is over in three hours and every ball is an event. And there are crowds – the hairs on your neck stand up. I like four-day cricket for entirely opposite reasons. It’s a test of your patience and skill more than one-day cricket ever will be. When you get out for no runs in the Championship, you can hear the individual comments of the members rather than the murmur of the masses.

AOC: Are you the most rock’n’roll member of the England squad?

GS: I am by miles and the least is Stuart Broad, without a doubt. We went training one day and he brought his iPod for us to listen to. It started with ‘Blame it on the weather man’ by B*witched. I was expecting Eye of the Tiger’ or something like that!

AOC: Finally, as we are on your favourite subject. How is the music in the dressing room?


GS: It’s a running thing that whenever the iPod is put on, people will look in my direction. They put this rubbish by Akon on and I can’t understand how grown men can listen to a synthesized chipmunk – it’s computerized crap, that’s what it is! There is a small pocket of marquee resistance from myself, Jimmy Anderson and Alastair Cook (who goes along with anything Jimmy says). If we manage to get our iPod on for two minutes, you know it will be ripped off and Akon put back on the second we go out of the room. ‘Some might say’ by Oasis is the first song that grabbed me by the bollocks and made me want to play the guitar and sing. When I put that on and Matt Prior turned to me and said ‘This is just noise isn’t it.’ He said it with a smile on his face but you knew he was half serious. If we are out and about and Akon comes on, the boys will have a dance.


The March edition of All Out Cricket magazine is now available.

Among all the regulars – reviews, lists, jokes, prizes, comment – we’ve got an exclusive and rare interview with the great Virender Sehwag; Michael Holding introduces us to the new batch of West Indian hopefuls; we celebrate the team of the year, South Africa, and their achievement in defeating Australia on their own patch; and the greatest teams in history play off against each other in AOC’s ‘The Keith Arthurton All-Star Contest of Champions’.

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