The perennial prankster

Life is a laughing matter for England off-spinner Graeme Swann. Sanjjeev Karan Samyal writes. Witty and gritty | Characters in cricket

india Updated: Aug 08, 2011 02:54 IST
Sanjjeev Karan Samyal
Sanjjeev Karan Samyal
Hindustan Times
Sanjjeev Karan Samyal,Northampton,Graeme Swann

You call up Raymond Swann with a request for an appointment, and after a few exchanges, he abruptly passes the phone to his wife, Mavis. He apologises profusely on landing up at his door at Towcester in the evening. "I thought it was Graeme up to one of his pranks. He does it all the time," explains Ray.

The parents of England spinner Graeme Swann can't be blamed for their response. They can't help being wary after living with his pranks all the time. With their star son, one has to be careful about serious business. The perennial prankster spares no one when he senses an opportunity to have a laugh. Not even his parents. "Graeme is a gregarious, witty character, blessed with a great sense of humour," says Raymond.

Fun-loving characters are not always favourites with the establishment but people come to watch such guys. The fans want to see a bit of emotion and passion on the field. Someone who keeps going, keeps on smiling and wants to win. Graeme is the most popular player with the England fans and is the livewire of their dressing room. "He can't resist dancing, singing, being on the stage. He's the life, the joker, the singer, dancer in the family get-togethers and parties," says his mother Mavis. The Towcester village is 10 miles from Northampton, and three from the Silverstone Formula One race track.

The showman
"He's a bit of a showman, you know," she declares, smiling cheekily. "If there is a band playing, he will be on the stage singing. He always wants to be where the action is. He has been always like that. When he went to Maldives for his honeymoon, there was a band playing at his hotel and he went up to them and said 'I want to sing with you' and they asked which one. 'Sultan of Swings from Dire Straits' and there he was singing on the stage on his honeymoon."

He left for Ian Bell's wedding saying he would be back early. Some time later, he called back, saying: 'The band is coming in some time and I will be late.'

"He's great at doing impressions, mimicking voices. He's very quick to pick up. He is superb at David Lloyd's commentary style," says elder brother Alec, a former first-class cricketer who plays for the same premier division club here, where Graeme first played.

Their dad also plays for the same club, now mainly the over 60s cricket. "You may be discussing about anything in the family and he will talk like he knows everything about the subject. The joke in the family is Graeme is an expert at everything. But, he is an intelligent, witty kid. He reads books on history, World War II; watches a lot of stuff on the history channel."

Misunderstood at Northants
However, being witty is not welcome at many places in this professional set-up, and Swann struggled to fit in at his home county, Northamptonshire, under the regime of Kepler Wessels, the hard taskmaster.

"He was being misunderstood for his humour in his younger days, as a lack of professionalism. Kepler Wessels was the coach at Northamptonshire who misunderstood Graeme's natural style. Wessels had instructed the other players not to laugh at Graeme's jokes. Our boy was not happy at Northants and his game was not progressing. Wessels has a humour bypass," he joked.

"He joined Nottinghamshire (in 2005) and that was the best thing to have happened to him. There he was told, 'we want you to be yourself but you have to remember that you have a job to do'. That was the catalyst for someone who got talent and it blossomed over there."

Amidst taunts of quitter from Northants, Graeme settled in the relaxed atmosphere of the neighbouring county team. At Nottingham, he was allowed to play with a smile on his face and it translated into better performances on the field. He has said he was again playing with joie de vivre, and it worked for him. Soon he had made a comeback into the England team, for the first time since 1999.

For his parents, it was an emotional moment when he made his Test debut against India. Raymond, who was teaching at the Akeley Wood School, couldn't control his excitement when his son took his first wicket, of Gautam Gambhir, in Chennai. "On the morning of his Test debut, I went to the school and turned on the internet. Soon he took the first wicket and I was running around the school building, screaming, and everyone felt I had gone crazy. And then he took the second wicket, of Rahul Dravid. I was off for another round of celebrations around the school."

Mavis had reached her school and even while she struggled with her internet connection, she was flooded with calls. "The great thing about Graeme is he's not changed at all. The 15-year-old Swann is the same as the 32-year old. He is positive about everything," she says proudly. "I only want him to be a credit to himself."

26/11 shook him
It was also a tour when the England team were shaken by the terror attack in Mumbai (Nov, 2008). The team flew back after the one-day series and had to take a call if they wanted to return for the Tests.

"The incident really shook him. We could see the change in him. He came back, and proposed to his fiancée and got engaged before returning to India. Earlier, he had planned the engagement during Christmas," recalls Mavis. "It really bonded the team together. He was moved by the scenes which he had seen in India on news channels. The decision to return was a great one as a show of strength for the cricket fraternity. It helped bond the team together. In the end it was the right thing to do for cricket," the retired teacher says.

First Published: Aug 08, 2011 00:37 IST