Graeme Swann has called time, with no regrets, on his “magnificent journey” as an England cricketer. Swann’s shock retirement, 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 has got his decisions and his timing right, to try in the first instance for a fourth consecutive Ashes and then to accept 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 10 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 containing a single one-day international cap as a 20-year-old before he fell out of favour with then coach Duncan Fletcher, the second a stellar and fulfilling 60 Tests and 117 more limited-overs matches.
“It’s easy to wish you’d gone out taking 10-for in your last game, and been hoisted on to people’s shoulders as you walk off,” he said. “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.” He 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 is unsure if he is leading the way for a clutch of other thirty somethings. He said: “It’s no secret a lot of the guys are getting on a bit, into their 30s, so maybe a couple more will follow. I’ve spoken to Jimmy - I know he’s not doing it.
Sport is cyclical... you do have to have new blood coming in. We’ve got very exciting young players. Ben Stokes showed last week what a great player he is...I think you could almost build a team around people like that.”
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 misfielded,” he said.
“Since I got back in the England team, I’ve treated every day like a lottery win. It really annoys me when people take it for granted and get above their station - because they shouldn’t.
“It’s the most privileged thing any man can do. I hope people will look back and say, ‘Yeah, he did always play with a smile on his face and enjoyed himself’.”
Recalling Hussey’s dismissal four years ago, he added: “It was my first Ashes, and winning them at The Oval I get goosebumps when I think about it.
“I’ll never forget doing the lap of honour, both times at The Oval, with a huge St George’s Cross on the outfield. “I’ll never forget moments like that. I feel truly privileged to have been given the chance to do that.”
The problem with Swann and Fletcher...
Current India coach Duncan Fletcher reportedly played a key role in keeping Graeme Swann out of the mix during his eight-year term with England. Cricket writer Simon Briggs wrote in The Daily Telegraph in 2011: “He (Swann) had only one experience of international cricket in the first 28 years of his life — the ill-fated trip to SA in the winter of 1999-2000, when the newly arrived Fletcher took a look at this arrogant young off-spinner and shook his head in dismay.” Before India’s 2011 tour of England, Swann told the British media that Fletcher could “come a cropper” against England.