One of Graeme Swann’s lesser-known England roles was to be the team’s stress-free,wrinkle-free and happy mask in times of crisis. Whenever the captain was at a loss of words to explain a depressing day on field or a fellow player,battling a controversy,wasn’t in a mood to answer questions,the sharp-talking off-spinner would be the manager’s ‘go-to’ man. Armed with his beaming smile,Swann would artfully side-step the day’s thorny issues. He would play the clown but still would sound clever. Even if chairs were being hurled in the dressing room,Swann always seemed part of a team that was high on bonhomie.
On Sunday,The Mask retired and England lay exposed. They looked worried,defeated,shattered. Worse,they seemed hopeless. The life of the team hotel,team bus,dressing room and 30-yard circle had gone with Swann quitting.
When not bowling,he would be pulling a rival’s leg or pushing a team mate to try harder. Andrew Strauss,Swann’s one-time skipper and long-time slip cordon neighbour,would at times stuff his fingers in ears to cut the noise. Strauss loved calling Swann a ‘buffoon’ and didn’t mind being ridiculed as an ‘upper class public school types’ by the man who always had a better comeback line.
Down 3-0,England would have loved Swann to deliver the comeback line in the final two Tests. There are many who are calling him a quitter or even a traitor. That’s not him. In the world of off-spinners with bent elbows and full-sleeved doosra chuckers,Swann was a purist. He never took short cuts or easier option.
When the world announced the death of finger spinners,the English man ran in hard,wheeled his shoulder perfectly and gave a heavy tweak to the ball. After two recent elbow operations,Swann couldn’t keep repeating his energy-sapping and give-it-all action. He wasn’t enjoying himself,something he seemed to be doing right through his career. The man who out-thought batsmen for a living would certainly know when his act was over.
The funny man / thinking cricketer will very likely move to the commentator’s box. Can’t wait to see him sitting next to Shane Warne,cerebral spinner turned delightful pundit. That’s the lone bright spot of this unexpected departure.
Sandeep is national sports editor based in Delhi