• ESPN Sports Personality of the Year

Graeme Swann - The King of Spin

Ben Blackmore December 24, 2010

Topping our list for ESPN Sports Personality of the Year is a spin bowler whose witty oratory has been as unpredictable as his wrong 'un over the past 12 months.

"We can't all be as gorgeous as me when we play the game."

In one throwaway comment, borne out of devilish humour and a confidence that comes with being one of the world's best bowlers, Graeme Swann encapsulates not only a current truism in the game of cricket, but also the reason why he has become such a giant cult figure among England fans.

The quote arrived after he had just helped England to a group stage victory over South Africa in the World Twenty20, which England went on to win. Swann, whose offspin often proves as economical as it is dangerous, played an integral part in that triumph - England's first global one-day trophy.

The World Twenty20 was just one highlight in a year that saw Swann dominate just about every competition on an international platform. The go-to man in Tests, the end-blocker in 50-over encounters, just about the only competition the Nottinghamshire bowler did not have an interest in was the IPL.

"I've only been married two weeks and she said she'd leave me if I couldn't go home after this tour," came Swann's typically amusing reasoning for turning down the cash-lucrative opportunity.

At the age of 31, Swann is making up for lost time having been overlooked for seven years from his debut in 2000 until his recall late in 2007. But he is the perfect example of a player who, selected too young, has gone away and learnt his trade on the county scene. Now he is a match-winning figure for his country.

A career-best ten-wicket haul in Chittagong against Bangladesh was statistically his top performance of the year as he rose to No. 2 in the world bowling rankings behind Dale Steyn - an honour that confirmed Swann's status as the best England spin bowler for a generation.

Imran Farhat was left in a mess by Graeme Swann's 'ball of the century' © Getty Images

Further awards followed, with the ECB naming Swann the Cricketer of the Year in May, based on a 12-month period in which he took 99 wickets in 45 matches for England, at an average of 26.26. Not that Andrew Strauss felt the need to put any extra faith in his primary weapon out in the field: "That's the result of ten years acting like a buffoon," conceded Swann. "The captain won't listen to me anymore."

Strauss may not listen, but he would not want to be without a man whose main currency is simply wickets. There were 21 in four Tests against South Africa, 16 in two Tests against Bangladesh, and then another 22 in four Tests against Pakistan. Figures of 6 for 60 against Pakistan at Edgbaston saw Swann in his prime, with his second-innings removal of Imran Farhat every bit as good as anything ever produced by the legendary Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralitharan - and later dubbed the "ball of the century" by sections of the English media.

Swann had previously stated of the Pakistani team: "I would hate to play poker against them as you'd never know what hand they are holding," but there was only one man holding all the aces at Edgbaston.

His popularity is not just founded in his cricketing ability though. Like Andrew Flintoff, Swann's antics off the field are fast becoming the stuff of legend, with his tour videos rapidly going viral. The "sprinkler" dance filmed by Swann on the current Ashes tour is just one example of the way the bowler has become a favourite among England fans.

Back on the field, another dazzling delivery - this time to Michael Hussey in Adelaide - got Swann's Ashes campaign off to a belated start after he failed to meet his own high standards in Brisbane. His impact in the rest of the series will likely define his year, which up to this point has left England fans with plenty to smile about.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk