Graeme Swann: "England's weirdos are not so good as they could possibly be."
GRaeme Swann has been quarantined in a hotel room in Mumbai for the past 14 days, just a walk from where he and Monty Panesar threw England to a famous 10-wicket test win in 2012, and has a lot about England Weird thought.
He's been braising on it for a while, but now he's decided to get a few things off his chest. The turning point, which led to a rare request from the subject for an interview, was the latest mood music from England that put Adil Rashid back on the radar for the subcontinental winter.
Swann's problem here isn't Rashid per se. He rates the Yorkshireman highly. But it is more the collective wishful thinking that he can make the mental transition from white back to red again without special coaching support, which in his opinion Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach are also denied.
"Adil has all the skills to be a brilliant test bowler, but I don't know if he really thinks he can," said Swann from isolation at the Trident Hotel, before television works as a recap for the Indian Premier League .
"He'll have heard the chat and I'm worried he's bricked him up now. Because there's a fundamental difference between the settings in one-day cricket – where it has an aura – and test cricket. And when you do." you just don't realize it.
Jack Leach, Dom Bess, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid no longer have a spin coach with England. Composite: Getty Images, Shutterstock
“I didn't feel any pressure before a day-long game because you have generous fields, a maximum of 10 overs and the worst that can happen is that someone grabs you. Maybe you come back and get a wicket and while you do this, it's still a crap day in the office, it's not the be-all and end-all.
“You might be the only weirdo for a friendly and there is pressure to win the game by four and five. Even if there isn't a round, your team, the press, and the public will reach out to you if the game lasts five days. And if you don't think like a real red ball bowler … "
Swann believes England's obsession with ashes has shifted the focus to spin bowling drift to the point where they "don't even think about the best chance" against an "incredible" India team this winter. Certainly, the coaching support for spinners has been understaffed lately, not least given the resources that have been made available to other departments.
After Saqlain Mushtaq's part-time contract ended last year, Jeetan Patel stepped in as a spin coach for the winter. But a visa error then meant he couldn't train during the English summer and Bess and the unused Leach, along with Graeme Welch, a seam bowling coach, were trapped in the biosecure bubble during their time.
"Why didn't you contact me?" says Swann. "I'd like to talk to these guys. And especially about bowling in India, because then the pressure doubles. But England never really understood how I handled all these expectations and worked out these conditions. It confuses me.
“The only time I've spoken to Dom Bess is on a podcast for Sky. It is ridiculous. These are conversations I'd like to have more of, but they should be private – on the nets or over dinner – and not just with the nuts. Joe Root is not a natural spin captain. It's a fact. It's not his fault, it's just the way that English cricket thinking revolves around seam bowling.
“But in the end the weirdos need it. You don't need top level success as a player to be a good coach. But be sure to tap firsthand knowledge. Someone who sat in a hotel room the night before a test in Mumbai and listened to the threatening knock of Indian batsmen on the floor above. "
Swann slipped into the media after retiring and enjoys the work. When he took a call from Andrew Strauss in 2017 to discuss England's spin coaching situation – only to find his old captain asking for his views on Saqlain – he was "dejected". It at least informed him of his passion for the craft.
These are times of austerity for English cricket, and if money can be found for a spin coach, Patel's recent spell will likely make him a front runner. Despite all of the domestic excellence of the Warwickshire New Zealander, Swann's 255 gates of 60 test caps are certainly also a rich experience worth dismantling.
Graeme Swann celebrates with Kevin Pietersen after sacking India's Rahul Dravid on his 2008 Test debut. Photo: Julian Herbert / Getty Images
“When you are done you feel so far removed from the team, and when you do media work, you are also viewed with a little suspicion. That probably meant I didn't reach out to her or give my time, ”says Swann. “But I think I have so much to offer the nuts on the mental side of Test Cricket.
"Because it's all in your head. People look at me and think I didn't give anything. I was so cocky and had no nerves. But before my test debut I totally fucked myself and if anything, I was lucky enough to have two To take wickets in my first over.
“It was the first test after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and I think Rahul Dravid – arguably the best I've come across in county cricket – played the situation and not the ball. He came out with eyes the size of trash cans.
"But after that, as much as I looked back, I had my own dedicated coach in Mushtaq Ahmed and he was critical to my success." He did so much for my mental state, either before or during the friendly matches. And it's the kind of stuff that I really want to pass on to these guys.
“Take Moeen Ali. He's half the bowler he should be by now because somehow he convinced himself that he wasn't good enough. The guy has 181 test wickets, for God's sake. How could that happen?
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"We spoke to England once after his first summer and I said, 'well done,' and his answer was, 'It's only getting harder." It was so horrible to hear and such a product of the English way of thinking, Eddie Hemmings said after a good first year the same thing to me as batsmen would train me, but it's totally stupid.
“Me and Mo are the same bowler. We have no Doosra, no secret. But the balls that take wickets on the first day of your testing career will need another five years. You may need to adjust the odd player's tactics, but you are the same bowler who was successful before. The only person who has spoken to me like this is Mushy, and I bet the current lot doesn't get drilled. "
That attitude is something Swann believes won't change, and if it hadn't been for Mushtaq's wise advice, it might have swallowed him up. One example he remembered was the end of the Ashes in 2009. “It was the last test in the oval and Sky had just started doing pre-game interviews. Nasser Hussain's opening speech was: "You could throw England into the ashes today, but you've never done that before, it must put pressure on you." I was angry.
“Nasser did his job, but what got me into it was that it was a reference to the English system. An Australian weirdo would never get this, he would just get his tires inflated. That won't change anytime soon, but I've gotten over it and I feel like I can help others deal with this type of crap, too. "
When I told the 41-year-old that his above-mentioned cockiness might have influenced England's reluctance to contact, he replied, “Maybe. However, this is not a valid reason. You shouldn't just want "yes men" in the coaching setup.
“And [the head coach] Chris Silverwood knows me. I'm not a guy who wants to cause trouble. What I am looking for is excellence. I just want England to be the best team possible and when it comes to the weirdos, who are all talented guys, they are not as good as they should or could be. "
At the beginning of our conversation, Swann insisted he didn't want to "put an ad in the paper" – and in the end he asks that an industrial language be withdrawn in case his mother reads – but over the course of an hour it was as clear as desperate he is there to help. Whether this will lead to a call from Silverwood remains to be seen.
But when you look back on Swann's career – the 17 five-wicket trains, the iconic scalps, the taming of India in her own backyard in 2012 – and the winter ahead, it would be strange if one of the best exponents of English cricket was Spin Bowling forever remained an untapped resource.