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Gobby young county cricketer becomes less gobby Test cricketer.
on 30 May 2015
"Graeme Swann is a good lad", is one of the great cliches of recent English cricket. "Swanny" was one of us - a bloke who liked a joke and a few beers but who just happened to bowl a cracking off break. Unfortunately for readers of this book, Swann appears to have bought whole-heartedly into his own myth. That is not to say that Swann is not likeable, or indeed not a "good lad". He is just a little too keen to prove it.
Very much (as is drummed into us from page 1) a book of 2 halves. The first half is entertaining - Swann is a cricket-mad boy with a cricketing father and following in his big brother's footsteps. Despite not coming from a cricketing school, he prospers from a young age and is fast-tracked into the England youth set-up. The point about the school is indicative - Swann opts not to make any serious points about the opportunities potentially denied to young English kids by lack of resource and decimation of school sport, but instead prefers to score cheap laughs about how his ragbag group of heroic urchins would try to stuff the poshos from Oundle.
The young Swann is a prat (and, to be fair, the first to admit it). Arrogant, mouthy and lazy (although I suspect not remotely as bad in reality as he tries to make it appear), he almost blows it, but instead is marooned in county cricket for 7 years between his first England squad call-up and his first cap. This section of the book is quite good, not least because Swann the author is prepared to be honest about himself and others. The coaching style of Kepler Wessels at Northamptonshire is particularly (and justifiably) panned.
Finally, our hero makes it into the England team in 2007. As we know, he was a fixture in the World 20/20 win, the Ashes triumphs of 2009 and 2010/11 and the rise of the Strauss/Flower team to number 1 in the Test rankings. This is where the book careers into the generic dullness of the sports autobiography, and where Swann's self-righteousness begins to grate. Swann here seems torn between asserting his 'bad-boy-done-good' blokey stories about beery nights and 'hilarious' dressing room banter and the justifiable pride that he feels in his, and his team's success. So, why we learn, enigmatically, that 'not everyone in a dressing room will be friends', we learn next to nothing about the personalities involved. Whereas the dressing rooms of Atherton, Hussain, Stewart and Gough and pilloried for their cliques and ego, we now simply hear about what 'great blokes' Jimmy, Broady, Bres and Cooky are (don't you just love those cricketing nicknames?). The most telling points are those not made - there is almost nothing about Pietersen in a social capacity, for example.
Swann is desperate to have his cake and eat it. He revels in telling us how much he hates being ordered to tow the party line, but then does so relentlessly. He repeatedly affirms that he has stayed his own man, but this manifests itself in him occasionally going to sleep in the dressing room. Moments of true insight are concerned with crowbarring his story into the over-arching narrative: "Swann the captain would not have picked Swann the youngster", we are told at one point.
Swann also sees things in black and white, which is strange for such an intelligent man. This manifests itself both in "I bowled well that day" and "I played badly that day" stories, but also in his take on some of the bigger cricket stories of the last decade. Personally, I found his self-righteous judgement of Mohammad Amir particularly simplistic.
Of course, one has to remember that this book was written was Swann was still in the team, and the desire not to offend is understandable. However, reading with the benefit of hindsight, and the knowledge of the selfish retirement in the middle of the middle of a losing Ashes series and the sudden need to cash in on his "personality" by scuttling off to the media simply leaves one with the knowledge that the book would have been hugely improved if he had resisted the urge to tell his story for a couple of years. Instead, the last 200 pages could have been cut and paste from Matt Prior's own (deeply dreary) memoir of the same period.