Graeme Swann has a place in our hearts for many reasons: 255 Test wickets at less than 30, nearly 2,000 Test runs without that ever-elusive hundred and a starring role in many of the great victories of the last five years. Plus there was his character – in a world of bland sportsmen peddling the same old tired clichés, Swann’s freewheeling sense of humour stands out a mile. Before it all went wrong in this series, he was also the heartbeat of all things England, his effervescence rubbing off on a number of his more straight-laced comrades. Although we should probably mention that, just like everyone else, he didn’t always get these things correct.
Hence you can probably imagine how miffed we were to emerge from our gin-addled slumber yesterday morning to discover that he’d retired from all cricket. Just like that, he was gone, smuggled away in the night like Jaap Stam after some poorly chosen comments in his autobiography. Suddenly, the terrifying future for England’s slow bowling has arrived. We talked about it at some length a while back and the conclusion we reached then haunts us to this day. Basically England are completely screwed.
In the short term, questions will be asked about how things were allowed to reach the current situation. Indeed, the obvious failing of the Flower era has been the lack of success in regenerating the team, with the players of the future seeming to go backwards (Finn) or nowhere (Bairstow). Basically, for every Stokes wunderkind set to dominate Test cricket for the next ten years there’s been at least a couple of Kerrigans.
With regards to the position of spinner Monty Panesar is the only realistic option for the rest of this tour, with the real decision about where to go next on hold until next summer. In a way, Monty is a reassuring option for England. He’s experienced and you know what you’re going to get from him – comically bad fielding, comically bad batting and quite a lot of dross with the ball, mixed in with the occasional magic delivery. Panesar hasn’t been a major threat at international level for some time – since 2008 he has only taken ten wickets in a series twice, both times in hugely spin-friendly conditions (in the UAE and India) – but integrating him into the side won’t be a problem, possibly the only positive for an England team in need of two positives right now. One to cancel out the negative and another one, you know, just so they can have a positive.
In terms of his own future Swann won’t be short of offers. We can see some truly horrific ideas for TV programmes coming up in the near future, mainly built around Swann trying to force epic levels of banter out of overtly hilarious situations. We’re talking about something along the lines of ‘Swanny’s House Party’, in which he plays tricks on any former BBC Radio One DJs that haven’t yet been implicated in Operation Yewtree. Possibly with Nottinghamshire team-mate Samit Patel in the Mr Blobby role. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty.
And for England, things are about to get seriously ugly. While the ODI side has already moved on from Swann (with James Tredwell doing enough to justify his selection as first choice), their whole Test strategy over the last few years has been built around him controlling the game from one end while the seamers work their magic from the other. Panesar just doesn’t offer that same level of control and nor will any new spinner that is introduced to the side. It’s time for a complete rethink or, more likely, a completely new approach to bowling from a new head coach. Whether he meant it or not, Swann’s announcement was just another nail in the (metaphorical) coffin of Andy Flower. Will it be the last? (Which we say while looking very nervously in the direction of James Anderson.)