Graeme Swann has called time, with no regrets, on his “magnificent journey” as an England cricketer.
Swann’s shock retirement from the game, in the middle of an Ashes series already lost, is with immediate effect – ruling him out of Melbourne’s Boxing Day Test. The 34-year-old reasons that, where he was once a cornerstone of three successive Ashes series victories, he can no longer make an impact when his team need him to most.
He departs with Australia in an unassailable 3-0 lead and the urn gone, after England set out with high hopes of winning it for a second time in six months.
But Swann is convinced he got his decisions and his timing right. In the first instance, to try for a fourth consecutive Ashes and then to have accepted he can no longer serve the Test team properly.
After three operations on his bowling elbow, the most recent last February, in an attempt to nurse his career through ten Ashes Tests in six months, he has fallen short of the standards he demands. He nonetheless finishes with an England off-spinner’s record 255 Test wickets, above the great Jim Laker and behind only Derek Underwood among slow bowlers of any variety for his country.
Swann’s last seven were hard-earned, and costly, at 80 runs each, but his inevitable mixed feelings at leaving on a low note after a failed campaign are far outweighed by a conviction that he had to be part of England’s attempt to beat Australia again. He said: “At the end of the Oval Test, I think, ‘Why didn’t I just stop then?’. I knew more or less that the time was coming. But then I’d never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t come out here and given it a crack.”
Swann’s international career has been in two parts. The first contained a single one-day international cap as a 20-year-old before he fell out of favour with then coach Duncan Fletcher. The second has been a stellar and fulfilling 60 Tests and 117 more limited-overs matches.
“It’s easy to wish you’d gone out taking ten-for in your last game, and been hoisted on to people’s shoulders as you walk off,” he added. “But I look back and I don’t regret a single day I’ve had for England – even the early ones with Mr Fletcher. They’re all part and parcel of the magnificent journey I’ve been on.”
Swann has found it tough to walk away, and knows adjusting to life after England will not be easy either. “This England team has been my family for the best part of a decade,” he added.
“You spend so much time with guys you absolutely love to pieces.
“It is going to be hard not going to breakfast with a miserable Jimmy Anderson every morning, breaking him slowly during the day and seeing a smile about teatime. I genuinely will miss [things like that], and I’m nervous about it. But to carry on just for those reasons would be really selfish.”
The worry for England must be that Swann’s retirement is the first of several as a team of world-beaters begins to show its age. Swann takes issue with the suggestion that, in his absence, England will be light on prospective Test match spinners and he expects Monty Panesar to be an able deputy at the MCG.
He added: “I think Monty is going to do a great job in this game this week – and whoever takes the role full-time, I think they will do a great job as well.”
Asked to reflect on his own career, he cites Mike Hussey’s wicket as England clinched the Ashes in 2009 as his most cherished moment – and wants to be remembered as someone who brought enthusiasm as well as a competitive edge to Test cricket. “I hope my legacy is someone who always enjoyed it, who always played with a smile on his face – sometimes a snarl when the fielders mis-fielded,” he said.
Former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott believes Swann’s decision is “honest” and “brave”.
The 34-year-old has come in for criticism on social media sites for the timing of his decision, with Derek Pringle, who took 70 Test wickets for England, saying on Twitter he “should have seen the tour out as a senior player” unless he was injured.
But Boycott told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He hasn’t been right the whole series, he hasn’t been the Graeme Swann we know. It’s very difficult to get up for top-class sport when you’re not bowling your best.
“I think it’s very honest to say, ‘Hey I’ve shot it, that’s it, I’m not going to be any good any more’. It takes a brave man to do that.
“He knows he’s not bowling well. The Australians have got him by the throat anyhow, they’re whacking him around, he’s not getting anybody out that matters. He knows all that. He’s nothing to be ashamed about, he’s nothing to be embarrassed about. He’s been an excellent performer for England and I think he can hold his head up high.”
Michael Vaughan, Boycott’s fellow former Yorkshire batsman and his colleague on 5 Live’s commentary team, added: “There will be many cricket fans saying, ‘Wait a minute, you signed up to play the whole of the Ashes tour yet you’re doing one three games in’.
“But I think it’s more the mind. I think the elbow problem [the three operations on Swann’s bowling arm] has just triggered the mind to suggest that enough’s enough. I am surprised at the timing, I do think Swann had more cricket left in him, because I know what a wonderful bowler he is.”