Year of the Swann
Posted in England in South Africa 2009-10
Graeme Swann wrapped up victory in the Durban Test, 10 years after watching South Africa grind out a painstaking draw against England at Kingsmead.
On December 30 1999, 20-year-old Swann was a spectator as Gary Kirsten played out the second-longest innings in Test history, a South Africa record 275.
A decade on, the off-spinner from Northampton completed his second consecutive man-of-the-match performance, little over a year after his Test debut.
It had been a long time coming for Swann, who made his Test bow against India in Chennai last December.
His first international cap had come in a one-dayer versus the Proteas in January 2000, on a tour in which he lost favour with new coach Duncan Fletcher after missing a team bus.
Swann did not play for Fletcher after that tour, doing little to enhance his international prospects at Northamptonshire whom he left for Nottinghamshire at the end of the 2004 campaign.
Swann’s fortunes immediately improved as Notts won the Frizzell County Championship in his first season at Trent Bridge.
Although relegation followed in 2006, Swann’s reputation grew steadily. His 43 championship wickets the following season helped Notts back into the top flight and contributed to an England recall.
That came on the autumn tour of Sri Lanka where he played in the first four one-day internationals, in which the tourists wrapped up a surprise series victory.
Unused in the Tests that followed, Swann toured New Zealand in the second half of the winter and made his Twenty20 international debut before two more ODI caps followed. However, he was again a spectator in the Test series.
In the return tour at the start of the 2008 summer, Swann featured in each match of England’s NatWest Series defeat but missed out against India, the second tourists.
Having featured in the now infamous Stanford 20/20 for 20, prior to which he revealed he would spend the $1million each victor stood to earn on a pink Ferrari, Swann’s breakthrough came on the subsequent tour of India.
His appearances in the one-day series suggested little of what was to come in the first game of a Test rubber that could easily not have gone ahead after the Mumbai terrorists attacks.
Swann stunned the hosts, and presumably his team-mates, by claiming two wickets in his first over in Test cricket - Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid no less.
India fought back to win that match and Swann could not prevent a series defeat in Mohali, but the spinner had established himself as a viable option in the Test arena.
Former Northants team-mate Monty Panesar remained England’s first-choice spinner when the Test series in the West Indies began in February, but fortune was about to favour Swann.
Having been overlooked for the second Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, abandoned after 10 balls due to the dangerous condition of the outfield, Swann was surprisingly preferred to Panesar for the hastily-arranged match at the Antigua Recreation Ground.
He seized the opportunity with 5-57 in the first innings and his three wickets in the second left the hosts hanging on nine wickets down.
Another five-for followed in the next game at Barbados and by the end of the series Swann was firmly established as England’s premier slow bowler in all formats.
More consistent performances during the summer saw England regain the Wisden Trophy and, most famously, the Ashes. Swann deservedly clinched series victory over Australia when he had Mike Hussey caught at short-leg.
A maiden ODI five-wicket haul averted an Australia NatWest Series whitewash, followed up by further outstanding form in the ICC Champions Trophy and one-day series triumph against South Africa.
Swann’s stunning form showed no sign of letting up in the Tests, where an international-best 85 followed another five-for at Centurion.
His latest five-wicket haul at Durban was his fourth in Tests and propelled him to a career-high third in the ICC bowling rankings, a far cry from his first experience of Durban.
For the record, that match was reached its climax when Kirsten fell to another spinner. Not Phil Tufnell, who sent down 45 wicketless overs, but Mark Butcher who bowled the left-hander round his legs one shy of an individual Proteas record.