That the off-spinner Graeme Swann lasted only five years is something that English cricket, with its unsustainable itinerary, needs to ponder.
Graeme Swann undone by excess amount of cricket
“When I came out on this trip I half expected it to be my last tour for England,” Graeme Swann said in Melbourne on Sunday.
“I was desperately hoping to win the Ashes out here again, like we did in 2010/11, but with the Ashes gone now in those three Test matches, personally I think to stay on and selfishly play just to experience another Boxing Day Test match and another Sydney Test match would be wrong.”
And with that, Swann brought down the curtain on the most successful career that an English spinner has enjoyed since Derek Underwood (297 Test wickets) played his final game in February 1982, when Swann was not yet three years old.
There are two ways of looking at the Swann exit. Some will say he leaves behind a demoralised team who could have done with his experience as they seek to restore some pride in an Ashes series where nothing has gone their way.
“It does not matter how spent he felt when Australia kept hitting him back over his head,” wrote David Hopps on Cricinfo. “He is contracted to see it through. It is the role of Andy Flower, as team director, and Alastair Cook, as captain, to choose an XI for Melbourne and Sydney that can best serve the collective in times of need - and, in discussion with him, to decide if he is worth a place in the final XI. By retiring now, Swann has not allowed them that opportunity.”
The other viewpoint would tell you that Swann had nothing left to give, that after three Tests where his seven wickets cost 80 runs apiece, he was running on empty. It is also instructive to look at the amount of cricket that England play and the impact that it has had on leading players.
When Kevin Pietersen spoke of the need to perhaps give up one format last year, he was labelled a money-chasing mercenary by most. Pietersen’s eagerness to play a full season in the Indian Premier League was not in dispute, but in the rush to criticise his choice, the workload imposed on England’s top cricketers was mostly overlooked.
The numbers do not paint the administrators and their profit-chasing in very flattering light. If you look at the past five years, Swann bowled more overs in international cricket than anyone else – 3,109.3 across the three formats. Saeed Ajmal, the next spinner on the list, bowled 2,673.3. But only 1,592.5 of Ajmal’s overs came in Test cricket. Swann, who topped the Test list, as well, bowled 2,457.4 overs in the five-day game.
Across formats, Swann played 58 Tests, 64 ODIs and 36 Twenty20 internationals. That’s 390 days of cricket, or 78 playing days a year. Sachin Tendulkar, in a career that lasted nearly a quarter century, averaged 60 days of international cricket a year.
Even if he were not worn down by depression, like Marcus Trescothick or Jonathan Trott – even at the retirement press conference, the typical Swann wisecracks were in evidence – it would be simplistic to ignore the effect of such a treadmill run on a bloke with a young family.
The space Swann vacates will not easily be filled. He may not have had the doosra or any other newfangled variation, but Swann was a match-winner.
Of the 60 Tests he played, England won 30. In those matches, Swann picked up 150 wickets at 22.66. That average is comparable to the legendary Shane Warne, whose 510 wickets in Australian wins cost 22.47 each. That Swann lasted only five years is something that English cricket, with its unsustainable itinerary, needs to ponder.
Players who retired in a hurry
Damien Martyn, Australia
One of the most stylish of Australian batsmen made 29, 11 and 5 in three innings as Australia took a 2-0 lead in the 2006/07 Ashes series. Before the next Test, in Perth, Martyn announced he was quitting and promptly disappeared. Even Ricky Ponting, one of Martyn’s best friends, was not given an explanation. “Look, he’s disappointed, and rightly so, but to look him in the eye, I would have broke down,” Martyn said later. “I would have been in tears and I don’t think I could have said what I wanted to say.”
Anil Kumble, India
In the first Test of the 2008 series against Australia, he bowled 51 wicketless overs in Bangalore. Injury ruled him out of the next game, in Mohali. In his absence, MS Dhoni captained the side and Amit Mishra took on the leg-spin responsibilities. India won convincingly. Midway through the next Test in Delhi – the venue where he had once picked up 10 in an innings – Kumble announced that enough was enough.
Ricky Ponting, Australia
He had been in prime form in domestic cricket for Tasmania last year, but Ponting’s outings against South Africa realised just 0 (Brisbane), 4 and 16 (Adelaide). After discussions with family and teammates, Ponting decided that the series-decider in Perth, where he had made his debut 17 years earlier, would be his last Test. He made 4 and 8 as South Africa won by 309 runs.