Swann confronts darkest days

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Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann, aged 20, struggled to come to terms with the international game on the 1999-2000 tour of South Africa

Graeme Swann has come full circle since his first England tour and on the eve of his South Africa return admitted he nearly gave up cricket during his downward spiral.

Swann made his one-day debut on the 1999-2000 tour but missing the team bus after oversleeping put him out of favour with coach Duncan Fletcher, and the off-spinner had to wait more than seven years to represent his country again.

While at Northamptonshire and with his international career appearing to be in tatters, Swann contemplated a media career and certainly did not envisage the spectacular return to the England fold he has enjoyed in the last year.

"When I was playing at Northants at the end I couldn't have been further away from playing for England," said the 30-year-old. "I didn't even want to play cricket - for Northants or Northampton Saints, let alone England. I wanted to give up and become a hack.

"There was a lot of time when I couldn't imagine playing for England again."

Swann now has 12 Tests under his belt after making his debut in India last December, and has since established himself as England's premier slow bowler.

Having played a key role in defeating Australia this summer, he travelled to South Africa for the ICC Champions Trophy - and returned the hotel of the infamous lie-in.

"I woke up and thought I was an hour late but I was four hours early and suffering with jet-lag," he joked.

"Since that first tour I started taking two alarm clocks everywhere but got one nicked in the West Indies. I'm back to one so if I'm late it's not my fault."

Swann's focus is on keeping his place in the England team and retaining the Ashes in Australia next winter.

"I daren't look further than the next 18 months," he said. "You're meant to say you're focusing on the next match but I want to keep performing and doing well, hopefully winning in South Africa, because to be in the team with the chance to retain the Ashes over there really whets my appetite.

"For an Englishman, Australia home or away is the best challenge there is - you grow up wanting to play in the Ashes. They still have the best player in the world in Ricky Ponting, and Michael Clarke wasn't far behind him in the summer."

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