Swann counting down the days
Christmas will be coming a month early - but barely soon enough - for Graeme Swann when England finally begin their Ashes campaign at the Gabba.
The world’s number one spin bowler has been ticking off the days until this Thursday, ever since he and his team-mates arrived in Perth at the end of October.
Swann and England’s three other first-choice bowlers were joined in Brisbane today by the remainder of the squad - fresh from beating Australia A in Hobart - having skipped the tourists’ final warm-up match in favour of early acclimatisation.
He has been pinching himself in these sub-tropical climes, struggling to contain a childlike anticipation of England’s defence of the Ashes and their attempt to win in Australia for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.
“When we first got over here I daren’t think of the first Test match - because I was like a kid on December 1, with an Advent calendar,” said the 31-year-old. “I couldn’t wait for the 25th to come along.”
There is a near perfect symmetry in the date, of course - because that opening match he craves will begin on November 25.
“It’s really building now, less than a week to go,” he continued. “I go back to my room at night and I smile like a lunatic and bounce off the walls. It’s going to be amazing come Thursday - I just can’t wait.”
Swann senses it is not just he who can barely keep a lid on the excitement.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “The intensity is going to be hyped up - the cameras in your face, the people in the street.
“Any player would be lying if he said you can’t feel it.”
Swann has even gone to the trouble of popularising England’s own dance routine, as an extra outlet perhaps as the big day edges ever closer.
The ‘Sprinkler’ move is available, essayed by one and all in or close to the England camp, on most video-enabled media - via Swann’s own weekly diary on the ECB website.
He modestly credits others for developing it, but believes the craze says plenty about the healthy group atmosphere.
“There’s a very good vibe in the camp,” he said. “For me, it did show what a good spirit there was - because it wasn’t hard to get anyone to do it.
“I know three or four years ago I might have tried that and got a couple of punches or got my head ripped off.
“If someone’s stupid enough to give me a camera and let me have free rein with it, I’m going to do stuff like that.”
England’s tour so far has been hugely encouraging on the field too, with two wins and by far the best of a rain-affected draw in the bag from their three-match warm-up schedule.
“We’ve played some excellent cricket over the last three or four weeks,” added Swann. “The acclimatisation couldn’t have gone better really.
“I think it just showed the strength and the depth of our squad that we could give Australia A such a good beating the other day.”
Swann, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Steven Finn missed that fixture - having already travelled to Brisbane to prepare with the England Performance Programme squad.
He takes issue with those who are touting his off-spin as the key factor in the Ashes, pointing out batsmen and pace bowlers must play a huge enabling role even to bring him into the equation.
“The way the pitches have played so far on this trip and the weather around Brisbane at the moment, it may be the case that seamers play more part,” he predicted.
“We’re very lucky if it is seamer-friendly conditions as we’ve got two of the best seam bowlers in the world [James Anderson and Stuart Broad] and a guy who will be the best bowler in the world in three or four years [Steven Finn].
“I only do well if the team’s doing well. If we’re not putting on big totals and taking wickets at the other end, it’s hard for me to do very well.”
Even so, he does not mind the attention being lavished on him. “It’s nice," he said. “It shows that I’ve had a good couple of years if people are saying that. But I’m not buying into it.”
Instead, slow left-armer Xavier Doherty is in the frame for a debut - perhaps with the specific intention of exposing the apparent weakness Kevin Pietersen has shown against that style of bowling.
If that is the plan, Swann believes it is misguided.
“It’s not a concern for us, because we’ve seen Kev destroy left-arm spinners,” he said. “Any batsman can get out to any bowler any time.
“I know it doesn’t worry Kevin - and it doesn’t worry the rest of us.
“I feel a little bit sorry for Hauritz, because he’s a good man. We had a good chat after the last Ashes at the Oval, and I rate him as a bowler.”