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A player like Graeme Swann comes about once in a lifetime and we should be grateful we were the generation of fans who got to experience his career. Those were my first thoughts upon hearing the news of his retirement. And as social media exploded and the tributes began to pour in, I started to realise something else; Swann's departure will leave a massive hole in the England team - and I'm not talking about his cricketing abilities. Over the past few years England fans have been treated to watching a cricketer who played the sport with passion, joy and a huge great big smile plastered on his face. Graeme Swann is quite simply irreplaceable to England.
His individual record is somewhat meaningless when you think of the success he's had. Three Ashes series wins (including the historic victory in Australia in 2010), one T20 World Cup, 255 test wickets and 104 ODI wickets. Questions will be thrown about over why he's decided to retire now, of all times, in the middle of an Ashes series. But the reality of the situation is that Swann has often spoken of retirement and he has often said it would be after an Ashes series. He has a debilitating elbow injury and a young family. Can you really begrudge him his retirement?
The way to judge Swann's career is to look at the impact he has had on the England team off the field. The dressing room came alive when Swann rejoined international cricket in 2007, and the evidence of this lies in his video diaries from the 2010 Ashes series. From Andrew Strauss' awkward boogie to Tim Bresnan's wildly impressive sprinkler action, Swann gave the fans a glimpse into the life of an international cricketer on tour. Because of Swann the fans got to see Jimmy Anderson's surprisingly impressive acting skills, Mushy's Adidas beard and the hi-jinks and shenanigans that happen off camera and off script. Because of Swann, the England team became more human and more approachable; he gave the team a voice beyond the ECB party line. That became invaluable.
To put it simply; Swann is the fan's cricketer. He wasn't censored, he wasn't dour, he didn't sound like a broken record in interviews and his attitude was a breath of fresh air. We've had characters in the past, we've had Ian Bothams, Andrew Flintoffs and David Gowers, but Swann was a different breed. There was no ego with Swann. He never played for himself; he always played for the team, the fans and the country. That has always been the most likeable aspect of his cricket.
Every single one of my favourite memories of Swann's career have been off the field, which is not in any way a reflection on his cricketing career, but more a reflection on his character. Most players are defined by their actions on the field, by the amount of wickets they take or the runs they score but it's the mark of a truly great cricketer to be judged by what they have achieved off the field. So let's remember his Zoolander impersonations, his atrocious Northern accents and his humongous chin instead of picking apart the reasons behind his retirement. Maybe it's because of his elbow, maybe it's because he's lost some form, maybe it's because England lost the Ashes, maybe it's a million different reasons, but should that matter to a true England fan? I saw one ill advised social media gremlin call him a quitter. If there's one word that will never haunt the career of Graeme Swann it's 'quitter'.
Cricket journalists have already started to bleat about the fall of the 'old guard' in the wake of Trott's departure and Swann's retirement, not to mention the question marks over Andy Flower's future involvement with the England team; but this 'old guard' talk is merely a myth. Stuart Broad has been in the side as long as Jimmy Anderson (post 2008 resurgence); Alastair Cook has been in the team since 2006 and Ian Bell since 2005. Are they not the 'old guard' as well? If it truly was the end of an era then we'd be seeing the backs of Broad, Bell, Cook, Prior, Anderson and KP. I think that would be rather detrimental to the future of the England team, but of course, that's merely personal opinion...
England are going to have to rebuild, every great team eventually falls. The West Indies of the 70's and 80's, the Australia of the 90's and the India of the 2000's, all experienced great success and all had to experience intense periods of rebuilding. But for England, we have the benefit of tried and tested young players, and the experience and brilliance of the likes of Anderson and Cook to steady the ship. Swann's retirement is a line in the sand, but it's not a cavern. The talk for the next few days will be about who will replace him and where England will find another finger spinner from; for Swann's sake, I hope people don't forget the legacy he's left behind. He's a shining example of what an England cricketer should be, for he played the game in the spirit that it should be played in. And he did it all with a smile on his face.
I just hope Jimmy Anderson can cope without him.