'India are No.1 and we want to knock them off their perch'

By Richard Sydenham

England off-spinner and the world’s No.2-ranked bowler Graeme Swann has established himself as one of the top spinners in the world cricket and for a man whose international career started late, his achievements have been nothing short of extraordinary. He remains one of the few spinners who doesn't mind tossing the ball up in ODIs, and in Tests, his attacking verve comes to the fore. He's always looking to think out batsmen and has a wicked turn of phrase as well. There's no question that he will be the kingpin for England in the upcoming Test series against India, which starts at Lord’s from July 21 .

In a free-wheeling interview, he answers a wide range of questions from the series against Sri Lanka to the challenge of facing up to Sachin Tendulkar and India. Excerpts:

England beat Sri Lanka so convincingly in Cardiff, yet could not force through a win at Lord’s and ensure a series win before the Indians arrive. Was the team disappointed by that?

There was frustration to be honest. Frustration with the fact that after Cardiff, you’d have hoped you’d go on and win the next game. But the pitch wasn’t as lively as we’d have liked and the Sri Lankans were a lot stronger than we’d hoped. Five days and not getting a result is always frustrating especially when you are on the positive side of that draw. It’s disappointing we couldn’t force a victory. But Lord’s Test matches I absolutely love them to bits. So, I’m not complaining too much.

There were one or two suggestions the team was not as focussed as it has been in recent times?

Not at all, it’s a very easy thing to say "oh yes, we’ve taken our foot off the gas or we weren’t focussed". I don’t know one single sportsman who goes out on the field in front of a full house and doesn’t try his socks off. Sometimes, it just doesn’t click for you. If we had a good day every time we go out, then we would be unbeatable. But the very nature of sport is that you can’t always be at the peak of your powers. We didn’t bowl particularly well on the first day and Matty Prior was diving around far more than usual. But as the game went on, the seamers picked up more rhythm and I thought Stuart Broad was unlucky all game.

How vital in that result was the absence of James Anderson?

It wasn’t a complete performance. But you when you take a major factor out of your bowling in Jimmy Anderson, who’s basically led the attack superbly for the last 12 months, you can’t expect to remove a lynchpin like him from the attack and just serenely glide by. It would be remarkable if we did.

I suppose it is a measure of England’s improvement that there is still criticism after a favourable draw?

Yes, we are going the right way. A few years ago, we’d probably have been more than happy with a draw against Sri Lanka. It is frustrating because over the last six matches, we’d set such high standards by bowling teams out for under 100 and winning by an innings that you come to regularly expect that. When it doesn’t happen that’s when frustration sets in. That’s a positive place to be and it’s much better being on the other side of the coin when you’re frustrated because you’ve messed up again. It’s a good place to be.

Were you present for Matt Prior’s window-smashing moment?

I was. Yes and I was honestly gobsmacked by the reaction of the press. People are saying he blatantly threw a bat through the window. I saw him do it. I saw him put his bat on the windowsill and it bounced off his other bat and went through the window. It was hardly moving and went through the window. Anyone can say what they want, but I saw what happened and I’m willing to fist fight anyone who says he punched a window or anything else. There were loads of people on Twitter saying he’s thrown a glove through the window and that he’s a disgrace! Go away, you stupid people. I saw it all. He was very unlucky to fail. But it was just lucky no one got hurt.

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann is hoping the home advantage helps the team against India. AFP

Was there a moment of silence after that?

No one really said anything until a pavilion attendant came in after about five minutes to survey the damage. As she stood there, there were three windows in the room, one with a massive hole in it, and she said "which of the windows is broken?" That made me laugh my head off. It was the one with the huge hole in it. Matt got changed and went down and apologised. No harm done.

The statisticians say if you play 56 more Tests, you should overtake Ian Botham’s number of Test wickets and claim the English record. Is that realistic?

Four and a half years that would take it. I’m not sure I’ll be playing in four and a half years. It would be lovely to think I can carry on doing well over that period of time, but I don’t like making predictions for the future. I might get offered the record deal I always wanted tomorrow and then I’ll be off to Japan with David Hasslehoff.

It’s the Queen’s Honours List weekend. Have you considered Sir Graeme Swann?

A knighthood? No. If I ever get a knighthood, I’d want it for services to rock and roll. I think I’d make a very good ‘Sir’, but maybe not for another 40 years. I need to invent stuff I reckon. I’ll invent the hover car, maybe and I’ll be knighted for services to road congestion!

How much do you enjoy what you do – playing cricket for a living?

I never take it for granted. I absolutely love playing for England. Even when it was raining the other day and we sat in the Lord’s dressing room for three and a half hours and I was thinking "my job is brilliant". I was getting paid to play crosswords and was having tea brought to me and having my every whim taken care of. It was brilliant. I could have been at home clearing bins or changing nappies. But no, I’ve got the best job in the world.

Have you thought about how long you will go on?

No, I don’t even think about that. As soon as my body says I shouldn’t play any more, then I’ll stop playing. But I don’t know when that will be.

You and Harbhajan Singh – the two best off-spinners in the world now – will go head to head later in the summer. How do you approach off-spin bowling as a skill?

I’ve always been a big spinner of the ball and have always given it a big rip. I like the fact I’ve come out on top of that little chart -- for the most revolutions on the ball -- because one of my bugbears is when spinners don’t try to spin the ball very much. That’s the whole point. If you’re picked as a spinner, you might as well give it a spin.

Has it always been your philosophy to give the ball a rip?

I don’t see the point in bowling well unless I’m trying to spin the ball. I can’t control it very well if I’m not trying to spin it, that’s just how it is. There are people who might think differently, but it’s not for me.

You have the deciding Test against Sri Lanka coming up this week. It is the Rose Bowl’s maiden Test. What are your experiences of playing four-day cricket there?

I have played, maybe, two or three four-day games there at the most. It’s generally a fairly good batting wicket these days. I know when it first opened, it was horrendous. It used to be the absolute nightmare for county batsmen, but that was when it was bedding in. Now, it’s become a pretty good batting wicket. Hopefully, it will have more pace than the Lord’s wicket and we’ll be able to get some use out of it. The one-day wickets we’ve played on down there have been very good. Hopefully, the five-day one will follow suit.

James Anderson has been recalled after injury. Some people are saying Stuart Broad and not Steven Finn should make way for him. What do you think?

Broady is a great bowler and has not got the wickets so far that he deserves. He’s bowled superbly without much luck. I’d be amazed if Broady wasn’t picked because he’s one of the best bowlers in the world. He can be a bit of a b*****d when he bowls, but you need that as a fast bowler. I don’t want my fast bowlers to be friendly and happy to bowl half-volleys. I want them to be nasty pieces of work who want to knock people’s heads off. He’s a beautiful boy, but he is a nasty bit of work when he has got the ball in his hands.

Do you need that nasty edge in a team?

You need that in anybody who bowls fast basically. Thankfully, we’ve got Jimmy who is the grumpiest, angriest man in the world, Broady who wants to knock people’s heads off and Tremmers (Chris Tremlett) who quite frankly makes me nervous at slip because he’s so enormous when he comes into bowl. What the batsmen are thinking I’ve no idea.

India are looming, as well as the challenge against Sachin Tendulkar. Is that exciting?

It’s very exciting. They are No.1 in the world now and we want to knock them off their perch. I’m very much looking forward to playing the Indians. Hopefully, we can make home advantage count and turn them over.

Finally, what did you think about Mohammed Amir playing club cricket in Surrey when he is supposed to be banned from all cricket?

I couldn’t believe it when I saw that. I can’t believe he didn’t wear a disguise or put a big blond wig on with a fake comedy nose and fake glasses. I just don’t think he’d thought about it. It’s not ideal. If you’re banned, you’re banned. If you get found match-fixing you shouldn’t play for anyone, not Addington, no one. If you’re going to do it on the quiet, at least wear a disguise. What was he thinking? I don’t think he’s a particularly bright young man!

Published Date: Jun 13, 2011 11:24 am | Updated Date: Jun 13, 2011 11:24 am