By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
9 August 2011
England bowler Graeme Swann has revealed how England’s ascent towards being the No1 ranked Test nation in the world was meticulously planned by a Cambridge university maths graduate and ‘stats geek’, Nathan Leamon, also the ECB’s Cricket Peformance Analyst.
Victory over India in the Second Test at Trent Bridge eight days ago gave England a 2-0 lead in this summer’s series, meaning the official No1 slot in the ICC rankings is within grasp. A win in this week’s Edgbaston Test, due to start on Wednesday, will secure it.
But Swann has now revealed that Leamon, hired by the ECB in late 2009, has long been plotting England’s ascent, and at a squad meeting early last year in Loughborough, addressed by England coach Andy Flower, the No1 ranking was targeted in a ‘mission statement’.
‘Andy sat us down and said this is what we want to do, become the best in the world,’ says Notts bowler Swann, 32. ‘And then Nathan, who’s the computer geek who understands the technology and the numbers, talked us through how we could achieve it, by doing x and y in this series and that series.
‘It seemed far-fetched, to be honest, second-guessing what we could do and what results might happen elsewhere but what was obvious was we’d need to win every series – and we have.’
England subsequently beat Bangladesh, Pakistan, retained the Ashes on a stirring tour Down Under, and have also beaten Sri Lanka before taking the current series lead over India.
‘It’s just a number on a computer,’ adds Swann of the ranking. ‘It doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly got a house in the Bahamas and a private jet. But it does indicate that we’re achieving some of things we want to do – and that starts by winning Test matches consistently.
‘We knew we had the potential to give India a run for their money, and what’s been pleasing is winning the first two Tests from positions where we haven’t been comfortable. In the past maybe England wouldn’t have done that but we’ve seized the chance with both hands.’
The Trent Bridge Test’s major talking point was the appeal over Ian Bell’s wicket and the subsequent withdrawal of that appeal by India. Swann says it was ‘absolutely the right thing for cricket’ and said if India hadn’t made that call, ‘the series could have got ugly very quickly, because let’s face it, it would be easy to take lots of cynical wickets, like when players are backing up, but that doesn’t happen because that’s not sport.’
Swann’s says England are playing ‘some very good cricket, but not perfect by any means.’ The Holy Grail, he says, ‘is putting together the perfect match. Batting first and getting 700 or 800 and then knocking them over quickly, twice.’
Andrew Strauss’s captaincy has been brilliant, he adds. ‘He’s obviously the best captain in England, probably the world,’ Swann says.
He adds that the ‘three captains’ experiment is shaping up well. Strauss is in charge for Tests, Alastair Cook for one-day matches and Stuart Broad for Twenty20 games. ‘They’re growing into their roles,’ he says of the latter pair.
Swann relished winning at his county club home, Trent Bridge, for the atmosphere if not the track. ‘Trent Bridge couldn’t have been a less receptive venue for me as a spinner,’ he said. ‘But the crowd is brilliant, and the players love it, we always seem to do well there.
‘I can’t see why we can’t automatically have a Trent Bridge Test each year. I know the ECB has this rotation policy but I hope that common sense will prevail and TB gets a Test each summer.’
Graeme Swann supports the NatWest Cricket Club. Join today to be in with a chance of winning tickets and great experiences at the NatWest England v India ODIs, and to find out how to do more to help your local club this August through the NatWest CricketForce Fundraiser. Go to www.natwest.com/cricket