Swann's different flight

Swann's different flight

Swann's different flight
In the short period that he played for England, Graeme Swann created a lasting legacy. An off-spinner cut from the traditional cloth, Swann made his debut aged 29 but when he bid adieu five years later, he was hailed as among the best practitioners of the age-old craft. Relying more on flight and turn rather than the ‘doosras’ and ‘carrom-balls’ that spinners now bank upon, the easy-on-eye Swann ended up with a career haul of 255 wickets in just 60 Test matches.

Busy with radio commentary at the ongoing Champions Trophy, Swann took time off for a free-wheeling talk on various topics. A vehement critic of IPL in his playing days, the 38-year-old talks about his changed stance, his thoughts on R Ashwin and why he thinks England have blundered in naming Joe Root as the Test skipper. Excerpts:

Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes did very well in their maiden IPL. Do you think English players playing in IPL will have a positive effect on England?
I do. More than anything, being in the IPL, you are surrounded by the best one-day players in the world. Stokes sat down and had a half-hour conversation with MS Dhoni. It’s only going to make them better cricketers. The way he played in the IPL, getting man of the match awards every week, the confidence coming from that is huge. He now believes that he's an absolute world beater. That rubs off on to the other players. Woakes got injured because of IPL, it’s a shame for England but it will do their game a world of good. It’s been a shame for England that guys have not been able to play in IPL earlier because of the scheduling. I think the more they get exposed to the IPL and the BBL, they are going to become better and better players.

You were highly critical of the IPL in your playing days. So has that opinion changed now?
It is changing because they (ECB) allowed Stokes and Woakes to stay in India to play in the IPL. I personally don't agree with that because I think you must be playing for your country. We are just one of the few countries that clash with the IPL which is due to where we are in the world — the northern hemisphere. Something that I don't agree with is, if there is an international game, you should always play for your country. I think they could have missed a couple of IPL games even though it’s Ireland and not Australia. I think you should still get your cap. The ECB seem to be more flexible now. I know Kevin Pietersen always wanted to play IPL. It was a very strong line ECB took then — you are playing for your country and not IPL. I agree with that. But the way the world is going at the moment, the way cricket is moving on, inevitably, players have got more power than they ever had because of the money. It was going to happen sooner than later.

India’s R Ashwin enjoyed a spectacular home season in 2016-17. Your thoughts...
It doesn’t surprise me at all, because I’ve always seen just how talented he was. Like I said earlier with Stokes, it’s when you start really believing how good you are. India have relied on him through these Test matches and he’s bowled so well. If you get ten wickets in a match, you believe in the next game you’re going to do the same. I think he focused a little bit on his poorer form away from home, but if you get to play in India for 13 Test matches, you cash in. You get as many wickets as humanly possible because that’s the place of off-spin. He’s a brilliant bowler because he just bowls no bad balls. His variations aren’t out of this world, his carrom ball doesn’t really spin, but he’s just metronomic. He lands it on the spot all the time. And in India, with scoreboard pressure, men around the bat and very good captaincy, it’s no surprise to me he got so many wickets.

Staying with spin, you had a very clean and classical action. You don’t always see that  now. Does that bother you?
Well I think now they have cleaned it up a lot. Basically you can’t bowl the doosra at a decent pace without bending your arm and I think they’ve realised that. But you know I’ve got nothing against people who could do it. It was part of the rules and they did it brilliantly for a lot of years. But personally, as a purist, I prefer if for your variations you have to come up with clever use of the ball and use of the crease or something like that. It’s not very nice facing someone who chucks at you. But like I said, I don’t blame any youngsters coming up who watched guys bowling doosras and would have learned to do it. So it’s unfair to them that the game has clamped down on it. But at the end of the day, if it’s in the laws you’ve got to stick by them. And they have tightened up on the laws so you don’t see doosras nowadays because, as I said, you can’t bowl it quicker than about 30 miles an hour, legally I don’t think so.

Joe Root has been named England’s Test skipper. Will leadership act on him like it has done on Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli?
I hope so. I don’t actually agree with Joe being made captain because I think he is potentially our best ever batsman. I’d love to just leave him alone, don’t burden him with captaincy. Let him be our Sachin Tendulkar, let him be the best that we’ve ever had. I think the pressures of captaincy are all encompassing. I don’t think it’s going to help his batting. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. And I hope he does go on to do greater things like Virat and Steve Smith especially. But I hope I’m wrong and I stand to be corrected, but I’d have let Stuart Broad do it for a while.

Are you worried about Australia’s pace attack for the upcoming Ashes?
If they all stay fit, they’ve got a formidable bowling attack. But I look at the English attack and I think it’s just as good, if not better. Because we’ve got Ben Stokes. All those guys are very good bowlers, but they haven’t got an all-rounder. I don’t think their team is as balanced as potentially the England team can be. Broad is still a brilliant bowler in Test cricket, Jimmy Anderson is still a great bowler and Mark Wood is coming through as quick as anybody. I mean for an Englishman the Ashes is everything.

Already everyone’s picking their teams and who’s going to play. I think the Aussies potentially has a shed full of incredible fast bowlers, but it’s whether they can stay fit for five games, in the first couple of games if the confidence isn’t there… You just have to score a lot of runs in Australia, you really do. First couple of Tests pile on the runs and that piles the pressure on the bowlers. And they can be beaten. We beat them there in 2010-11. We put massive totals on the board and we bowled them out, so it can be done.