With the Ashes gone and an admission that his stamina might be in the same category, England spinner Graeme Swann decided to call it quits on his international and first-class cricket career on Sunday.
Once touted as potentially England’s greatest spinner, Swann retired with 255 wickets from 60 tests. Critics might say he retired too soon, but Swann said it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision just four days ahead of the fourth Ashes test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground beginning Thursday.
“It’s quite simple. When I came out on this trip I half expected it to be my last tour for England,” Swann told a news conference in Melbourne. “But with the Ashes gone now in those three test matches ... I think to selfishly play just to experience another Boxing Day test match, a Sydney test match, would be wrong ... wrong for the team ... wrong for me.”
The 34-year-old Swann says age may have caught up with him.
“My body doesn’t like playing five-day cricket anymore and I don’t feel like I can justify my spot in the team in the last stages of a game,” Swann was quoted as saying. “As a spinner, that’s when you need to come into your own. Me hanging around with a decision already made in my head wouldn’t be right.”
Swann said he struggled to tell England coach Andy Flower and captain Alastair Cook of his decision on Saturday, and broke the news to the rest of the team on Sunday morning.
“It should have been a very easy conversation, but it actually made it doubly-hard just to sit down over a coffee and blurt it out,” Swann said.
After England lost the third test in Perth last week to give Australia an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five-match series, Swann was forced to apologize for making comments on Facebook in which he compared his team losing the Ashes series with rape. He said Sunday that incident was not the reason behind him deciding to retire.
Swann has had a terrible series by his own standards, taking just seven wickets for 560 runs in three lopsided losses. He struggled to adapt to the bouncy Australian pitches and the lack of sideways spin. He returned 1-92 in the second innings in steamy conditions in Perth last week after taking two key wickets in the first innings.
The England squad will miss Swann, who was distinguishable on the field because he bowled with his sunglasses on and collar turned up and who always challenged opposing batsmen to take him on.
At his news conference, Swann said he wanted to be remembered primarily as someone who loved playing the game.
“It really annoys me when people out there take it for granted and get above their station ... it’s the most privileged thing any man can do.”
Swann said in hindsight he could have retired after England’s win in the previous Ashes series at home in August.
“Why didn’t I stop then? I knew more or less that the time was coming up,” he said. “But I’d never forgive myself we had the chance to potentially come out here and win four Ashes series on the bounce. It’s easy to wish you’d gone out taking 10—for in your last game and being hoisted on people’s shoulders.”
England coach Andy Flower said Swann made an “outstanding contribution” to the team.
“His commitment, competitive spirit and sense of humor have been recognized and admired by team mates and supporters alike and he has played a big part in England’s success over the last five years,” Flower said. “The dressing room will be a very different place without Graeme’s unique personality.”
Swann played 79 limited-overs internationals, making his debut in 2000 at the age of 20 against South Africa in Bloemfontein.
While some critics suggested that Swann retired because he may have been dropped for the fourth test, former England captain Michael Vaughan had nothing but positive words.
“Too soon ... for Graeme Swann 2 retire but it’s been a absolute pleasure watching him perform,” Vaughan posted on Twitter.
Australian paceman Ryan Harris said he was surprised by the announcement.
“Something’s obviously not quite right with him, or he’s fulfilled whatever he wanted to do, but to me that’s a huge shock,” Harris said.
Swann is the second England player to leave the tour. After the opening Brisbane test, batsman Jonathan Trott returned to England with a stress-related illness.
Swann’s departure leaves Monty Panesar as the experienced spin option for Melbourne and for the fifth test in Sydney, which traditionally favours spin.