Captaincy excites serious Swann
Graeme Swann will have to ditch some of his wisecracks to make sure he fits the bill as England captain.
Swann has become English cricket’s national treasure, not just for his world-beating off-breaks but his unaffected humour with team-mates and the public alike.
He knows he should perhaps put his role as team comedian on hold, though, after being chosen to deputise for injured captain Stuart Broad in the 14-man squad announced today to take on West Indies in two Twenty20s next week.
Swann is not about to undergo a full-scale temporary personality overhaul - because he knows what works for him and England.
But he accepts the need to adapt a little as he takes charge of a squad of emerging players, which features two potential debutants in Jonathan Bairstow and Danny Briggs.
“It’s a Twenty20 series with a lot of young lads, so I’ll have to change the way I am from the Test side,” said the 32-year-old, who will first of all remain in the ranks as England conclude their victorious NatWest Series against India at Cardiff on Friday.
“I’m very much the joker in the Test side. I’m there for a stupid quip at the end of the session – that’s part of my role. But that’s a very settled side, with everyone knowing their place.
“With this Twenty20, I’d naturally have to be more grown-up and mature about things anyway.”
Being captain as well will be a helpful reminder to Swann not to get carried away when he sees the funny side.
“It’ll probably help if I have an armband around me – it’ll make sure I won’t slip up,” he said. “But I don’t intend to be deadly serious and change what makes me the player I am.
“I believe a fairly high-spirited approach has made me the cricketer I am. I’ll certainly look to keep that going within my own game – and if that’s infectious to others, then great.”
In the absence not only of Broad and official vice-captain Eoin Morgan, who also has a shoulder injury, but also the rested Kevin Pietersen - and no return yet to the shortest format for one-day international captain Alastair Cook - there is a decidedly youthful look to England’s group of Twenty20 hopefuls.
Swann said: “It’s obviously a case of being fairly mature in the changing room, because we’ve got a few young guys who’ve not played before and need to have at least a semi-sensible role model to look up to.
“But I’ll be looking to still inject my own brand of energy into the team, and hope that will come off.”
As for the jokes, he added: “I think they’ll stop to a certain extent.
“But most people who see me on the field realise I’m not that funny out there anyway - I’m as grumpy as anyone - so I’ll probably have to lighten up if anything ...”
Swann has proved many times he can get serious when necessary, and he was straight-faced and sincere about his reaction to being chosen to captain his country for the first time.
“It’s a great honour,” he said. When you get asked to do it, in whatever circumstances, it makes you proud. I’m delighted. Naturally I thought about it when Broady wasn’t going to play.
“I looked down and thought, ‘Who’s going to do it? I wouldn’t mind!’. You don’t dare to think it will be, because I’m not one for setting myself up for a fall.
“It was great when (team director) Andy (Flower) asked me – a very nice surprise.”
Flower spoke discreetly to Swann during Monday night’s International Cricket Council awards dinner in London, and the new incumbent’s first task in his new role was to make sure the privileged information did not leak out before today’s planned announcement.
“Andy took me to one side and told me they’d like me to do it and asked for my thoughts,” Swann said. “It’s been pretty hard keeping it under wraps for a couple of days, because I’m not very good like that.
“I was desperate to phone my mum and dad up, but I couldn’t. Somehow I managed it!”
It is more than a decade since Swann last captained any team, but he has been giving himself daily rehearsals in the intervening years and is confident he will be well-versed on the tactics required.
“I’ve captained every game I’ve played, in my head, throughout my entire career,” he said. So I’ll just do that a bit more vocally when I’m on the field.
“It gives me the opportunity to set the fields I want rather than have them set for me.”
Swann’s England may bring some innovations too, but he insists there will be nothing too left-field going on at the Kia Oval.
He said: “I certainly have my own ideas about fielding positions - and I’ll be checking with Andy Flower that they are okay to put into practice.
“They’re not that maverick, though, don’t worry ...”