A review of “The Breaks Are Off” by Graeme Swann.
Ah yes, nothing screams “topical” more than a book written in the glow of the 2010/11 Ashes success and a blogger reviewing it because he only just got around to reading it. I have no idea when I bought it, and no doubt when I did, I paid nowhere near full price. This is the hardback version. If you feel so inclined you can purchase this for 1p plus postage and packing on Amazon, so it’s not as if you are going to be out of pocket if you purchase it and hate it. A number of you may have read it already. So why the review?
Well, I once had a discussion with my editorial committee who said that we shouldn’t really bother with this sort of thing. But as Sean and Chris are away at the moment, I thought I’d do what I want! Secondly, and I almost hate myself for saying this, it isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. Thirdly, with the power of hindsight, and the subsequent events, there’s some interesting stuff in there. When you consider this would have gone through the ECB powers-that-be to get to the press, some of it is remarkable. Fourthly, the book is recalled by many for his slagging off of Kevin Pietersen as captain – he really doesn’t do that too much (the effing bowl effing straight was as juicy as it got, and he pointedly doesn’t take sides in the Moores v KP debate, except to say the latter wasn’t a great tactical captain which I’m not sure even his most ardent fans could say there had been evidence of). Fifthly, I’m on a roll with content, so let’s go for it.
Swann has his own little nickname on here – Lovejoy – because there’s rarely been someone so cocksure in his own laddish hilarity than the erstwhile host of Soccer AM, subject of one of the all time great book reviews, and now, for reasons best known to the Beeb, employed (or was employed) on a cookery show. Graeme Swann might as well be his twin brother. This annoying trait runs through the book like a stick of rock. Constantly on the lash, getting trashed with mates, taking the mickey out of all and sundry, he’s great when he’s dishing out the gags. When crowds remind him of his “cat under the floorboards” excuse for drink driving they are “inane” and “I didn’t hear one amusing thing”. Frankly, if, as he said, crowds meowed at him as he came to field near them, I’d be laughing my socks off. Maybe japester Swann might one day get it. I have no idea how a bullying culture might have developed.
The book takes the usual route. Boring bits about childhood that no-one really wants to read (OK, some do, I don’t – it’s either awwww shucks I’m so lucky, or I was really talented and was only a matter of time before I was found out) and so many times I’m put off reading books like these because I have to plough through the tedium. Once Swann gets his breaks, he encounters a couple of road blocks. The first was his calling for England in the Fletcher / Hussain rebuilding series, where he confesses he didn’t take it the way he should have, and his comments on his ODI debut are very revealing:
He’d been given a time-keeping warning during the test series, Gough had given him that punch (not a lot of insight on that incident) and Swann had just wanted to go home. The treadmill of international cricket, especially when you are not playing, must be very harsh. I think it speaks volumes of how the team ethic was in those days. Nasser was a captain imposing himself, there were a number of former captains in the team, and it was a tough place for younger, newer players. Again, the events from further down the line, when Swann was the senior player, seem remarkable given the troubles he’d had earlier on.
Swann really gives it to Kepler Wessels as a coach, which hasn’t been disproved by subsequent events. Wessels comes across as a weapons grade bully, confusing being tough with being a dick. Swann may not be the most reliable of witnesses, but it’s certainly the feelings I’ve heard from that time. Swann decided to move on to Notts and played reasonably well, got noticed by the selectors and made his second ODI debut on the tour of Sri Lanka where England somehow won the series 3-2. Test honours followed on the tour of India in 2008, or at least they were likely to be until the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai.
There’s an excellent part of the book where you feel Swann had major issues to contend with. Recently “partnered up” he was reluctant to return to India. A conversation with his dad, who comes across as a right no-nonsense sort of bloke, like Competitive Dad, basically said “this is your chance to be a test cricketer. I think you will be safe, but we will all be worried while you are away, but put yourself first. This is what you always wanted.” I think it’s one of the best parts of the book.
“What on earth were we doing even thinking about playing cricket when the hotel manager and his wife, a couple who had looked after us so well just days earlier, had been executed in the lobby of the Taj?”
It’s always easy for us to judge. But this is pretty powerful stuff.
Here’s one of the parts that I thought “how did you get this through the ECB censors?”
and the quote:
“Because Giles Clarke had been so adamant about us staying put, and that there was no danger to us whatsoever, I had anticipated that we would be asked to go back from the moment they confirmed us on the flight home.”
And his reaction to being called a sporting hero by the Prime Minister:
“…if I am 100 percent honest, there was no show of solidarity from me. I went to receive my first England Test Cap when there was a threat it would never materialise otherwise.”
You have to give credit for the honesty.
There’s not a lot of sympathy for other players, Monty especially, for being elbowed aside, but then when we are talking about elbows, his discussions on how he was made to play on when his elbow played up in West Indies (god, that was an awful link). Play through the pain, damage it more, an injection or two, and we’ll repair it in your spare time. Oh, and we’ll tell a story about a well-meaning religious man who loved cricket, just for laughs (he was working at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota). It does give you a brief insight into how the sporting personality can work.
We have how great it was to win the 2009 Ashes. How great it was to take the final wicket. How Swann batted in only one way – the way he plays, and how difficult it was to block at Cardiff when it was needed. Swann goes on a moral crusade when it comes to the Pakistan tour of 2010 – there was always something about Butt he didn’t like and Amir should have definitely been banned for life and that if he came across him again he would give him some – which is fair enough. We always moan when players spout platitudes, and yet when they comment we say they should shut up. Argue the point, not the man, even if he is Lovejoy!
There’s a story about how the players finished their season against Pakistan and booked holidays. Swann was off to Las Vegas, as was Stuart Broad for Luke Wright’s stag do, until they were told to cancel for a four day boot camp in the German countryside. Swann tells you precisely what he thought about this old drivel, in two pages of barely concealed contempt.
The “he” in this particular text is Andy Flower. However, on the next page Flower is said to mutter “What the hell am I doing here? Why did I agree to this?” Our Ashes prep had been put together by our security advisor, Reg Dickason, so maybe that’s why he’s above Lawrence Booth in the power list. If he’s strong enough to get the England lot to buy into this team-building nonsense, then he needs a higher ranking. The bloody team psychologist went on it – we know because Swann lets the reader know he’s a bad snorer – while the security guy plonked himself in a lovely hotel! It’s a wonderful insight into the garbage an international sportsman has to go through. Then it gets even more silly when they matched Jimmy Anderson with Chris Tremlett in a boxing match, and the man mountain injured Jimmy. I mean, if this is true, you can pretty well understand why the likes of KP, and Swann, found the regime humourless and oppressive. It’s an interesting four pages into the one-sized fits all world of modern sport.
The Ashes makes up the end of the book. Lots of good times, Perth brushed over a bit. But to me the interesting section is this, especially in hindsight and the handling of the individual subsequently:
It makes you wonder. Love him or loathe him but Swann had the attitude for test cricket. Accentuate the positive, self-belief, relish the moment when it arrived. Once secure in the team, he was, along with Prior, the main mouth against the oppo. We don’t like it, but that attitude was very much part of that team. It also meant that it was not bound to last. But Finn, who was told too many times what he couldn’t do, told that England’s strategy of “bowling dry” was not something for him, and with the presence of Tremlett looming, worried about what he hadn’t done. What hadn’t gone right despite the figures. It’s quite revealing the difference between secure player who can’t understand how an insecure player perceives his own performance, and the insecure player feeling worried despite a result the secure player would sell his grandmother for. Really interesting (well, to me it was).
The book has digs at ODI series not meaning that much to the players, and there’s the reminder that the current regime is only following those of the past when he said that England were scheduled to play Ireland the day after the 2009 Ashes was scheduled to conclude (Strauss opted out of that game, but a lot of the main men went). Then there is the “what the hell are you doing here when there isn’t an Ashes series” 2010 matches v Australia in England. Swann lets it go:
“Everyone wants to play in England v Australia matches, although the one-day series we played against Ricky Ponting’s team in midsummer 2010 was naturally unloved. The five-match campaign was no more than a money-making campaign and nobody was fooled by it. As players we couldn’t escape the feeling that instead of a NatWest Series we could all have been enjoying a fortnight of rest and recuperation at the halfway point of another hectic year.”
I’m not rushing to find out what he might think of the current series.
Here’s another “how did this get through the ECB moment” after the Pakistan accusations over England throwing an ODI:
It’s quite a decent read all told, if you can suspend the loathing he inspires on here. There’s enough to get your teeth into, and is worth the pick up for shirt buttons on the secondhand market. You do get the impression that if he was in ice cream he’d lick himself, but he’s not boring in the book. Give it a whirl.
For nonsense like this:
Hope you liked this. Got a lot more where this came from. Some of the old Bob Willis books are treasures. Real treasures. More reviews in the down days before the Ashes – unless my editorial colleagues want to go on a boot camp somewhere and beat it out of me.
If there’s one player whose childhood I would like to read about, it’s Steve Davies.
Even though it’s 2017, homophobic insults never seem too far from the lips of players who should (and often do) know better, and may go some way to answering questions as to why so few teams have players who are happily out as LGBT. If any player would have an interesting childhood story, it’s likely to be him.
There are always exceptions, and while I agree with you on Davies, the bloody sod is making runs against Surrey, so business is business!
But mostly it is fake humility, boring tales of your dad taking you to games, with none of the passion and all of the “I know you want to get to the more juicy stuff”.
The aside about Lawrence Booth’s power ranking justifies me posting this droll interchange here:
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You getting the theme of the recent blog post titles? And if so, you’ll know this song. It was almost written for £20 to get in.
Of course! Although, of the five most recent posts listed, I could only name two songs (The Theatre, and How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?, i.e. this one) without Google. *Obviously* I knew Being Boring, as it is one of the most beautifully-crafted pop lyrics written in my lifetime.
I’m embarrassed not to have recognised This Must Be The Place….
HCYETBTS was clearly aimed at the likes of Phil Collins and Sting, yet I always think of Chris Martin if I hear it now. Of its time, yet timeless.
Actually was 30 years old earlier this month, by the way. My first “all-time favourite” album.
We’re buying and selling your history, indeed, eh?
I’m doing something somewhere else reviewing their old albums on another blog. I haven’t got past Please yet. I really don’t get the love for Behaviour. It’s got some good stuff, but some absolute filler.
Another heart in a different scene is from the best B side song I have ever heard and is the second most played song of their’s on my Ipod. (I think you hate my #1).
Do I? Can’t think of a PSB song I hate as such. Not really here for post-93, but hate I reserve for X-Factor and tinny, twee versions of soul, funk and rock classics on shit TV adverts.
On music, have you read Dave McGowan’s ‘Weird scenes inside the Canyon’?
I really enjoyed that. Tell your editorial board to take a hike, I for one would love to read more stuff like this!
I don’t loathe Swann at all, even if he is one of the very few people to have blocked me on Twitter (Selvey is another, you may not be surprised to learn, but Graeme Fowler blocked me after a misunderstanding). He certainly was the best spinner England have had in my time, much more proactive and aggressive than Monty. But the way he reacts to being ragged by spectators over the cat-in-the-floorboards affair kind of sums up his personality — it’s only funny when he’s dishing it out, not when he’s on the receiving end. I imagine being on tour with him would be a bit like being stuck in the back seat of a car with a 14-year-old boy on a long journey — amusing for the first 15 minutes, after that, you want to push him out the door.
What he manages to get through the ECB censors about Flower’s regime is revealing enough. The full truth must be absolutely horrendous.
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*That* part of KP’s autobiography – the Oxford apology section – told me everything I needed to know, I think. If he hadn’t offered his detractors so much red meat in other parts of the book, that chapter might have been given its due attention.
There’s a memorable exchange with Swann, I seem to recall.
This is the bit referring to Swann.
I read The Breaks Are Off a long time ago but bits of it have always stuck in my mind. I enjoyed your review and look forward to more.
What struck me about the Steven Finn episode was how sad it is that a lack of confidence and self belief can determine a young man’s entire future. I’ve never forgiven Graeme Smith for being complicit in ruining Finn’s career, particularly when I hear him chuckling about the event and enjoying the titbit on TMS.
As far as Graeme Swann is concerned, he is who he is, which made him play the way he did and we miss him still. There are times when he irritates me beyond words on TMS, but as where we find genius there is often a streak of madness, his strengths and his weaknesses are polarised.
In this book I valued his perceptions, his honesty and his cricketing intelligence.
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Hi Jen, long time no hear, I agree with you that when Swann is pinned down to give insight to the game (and, sadly very rarely, the inside cricket politics) he is very good on TMS, however, more and more he seems to have his LoveJoy persona encouraged – and he does delight in it – what with the poor impersonations etc and me me me, errm memes,
it’s just a reflection on the short mind interest capture that has wrecked our game in the name of ‘popularity’ (real name be money, and not always to those who are deemed entertainers, but to the providers, be it ECB/SKy/ICC/BCCI/ICC/Star, whoever)
Nevermind, there’s always fragrance in one’s own garden…
I hope you are keeping well. I’ve been around and about on Twitter. I always read the blogs but haven’t commented lately. I find the *Like* button very useful.
It’s a bit of a cricketing dull period at the moment. I find it difficult to muster much interest in this ODI series. The season is done.
Look after yourself. x
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Thanks for the reply. I have to say that Finn’s confidence, as evidenced by this book, seemed to be gone before Smith’s nonsense. Also, if I recall, Finn bowled really well in the Lord’s test after the Headingley incident – certainly in the 2nd innings. Holding always rated him – said he would only be concerned at the run rate if he wasn’t taking wickets, and Finn had a great strike rate. I balance that by saying in 2013 I was screaming at Cook for keeping him on at Trent Bridge when Haddin threatened to win that test for them!
The other thing I noted is that you can be an irritable arse, be someone who glories in the “that’s the way I play” ethos and yet still be talked about in hushed tones. To do that with others, you risk invective. Again, if KP had written a book like this, nothing would have changed. In it’s way it is more arrogant than KP’s book. BUt then, he’s our arrogant tosser and it made him what he was in an England shirt, and we miss some of that attitude.
Also, as an interesting aside, two people who missed most, if not all of the four day exercise. Trott (all) and Cook (half). Look who steadied the ship in the next test after it!
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I think ‘that’s the way I play’ can be an unexploded bomb best given a wide berth, most times! True enough, Swann was ‘our’ arrogant tosser whereas ‘South African born’ KP was something else. I have to say I do miss ‘attitude’ no matter the origin.
About the two books – apart from the fairly minor point of Swann ratting on Samit Patel with his armful of Bounty Bars, I can’t recall him trashing any of his teammates. KP on the other hand did a hatchet job on Prior. That did not sit easily with me.
Bugger 1p + £2.85 postage just spent on Amazon….(groaning from shelves and boxes…not another one?)
Myself, I’m just re-reading ‘Absolutely Foxed’ – the mental health story is something I’ve shared, the parts about County/TCCB/MCC/ECB management of all areas just confirms thoughts shared here…
I’ve been all over the secondhand book stuff. Amazon may be the spawn of the devil but they do grant access to things I’d never find. I bought the Yallop book on the back of Simon’s recommendation. Bought the Brearley books on the Ashes of the 1970s and 80s. Also nabbed some of the more recent books super cheap because if you think I’m paying full whack for a mid-career pulling of punches, then you have another thing coming.
Don’t get too excited about the Swann book. He’ll piss you off, no doubt. But also, there are more nuggets to find, I’m sure. For example, how Harmison didn’t show up to his wedding got more coverage than why Darren Gough was so enraged he felt the need to clop him one. A major character, like KP, flits in and out like a ghost – there’s a super bit about I didn’t really notice KP in the famous tour game against England and six lines laters recounts the full stats of the knock he didn’t remember.
Bit of praise to the ghost writer – Richard Gibson. They must be garbage jobs, but they pay the bills and he did this one well.
I have a mate in the media world who can barely contain his anger when I mention Swann. We are definitely not on our own.
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Really good review that. I want to remember Swann for his deeds as a player rather than being a complete tit off it (also see Flintoff, A and Vaughan, M). But bloody hell he has been god awful in the commentary box this summer. I think he has got worse if anything. Do they not give them any media training? He is the best bowler of his type I have seen in England colours so I will try and cling to that. Ramble iver
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My fear is that he is on BT Sport’s comms team with the Shiny Toy. I hope so. No shortage of material.
I read Absolutely Foxed in the summer, and then got Fox on the Run from Amazon for 1p.
30 years apart but both outstanding books and a real insight into mental health. Fox on the run is heartbreaking at times.
Currently reading Steve Waugh’s autobiography, which I brought back from oz a few years back and cost a lot more than a penny. At 700+ pages I may be on it for a while.
Talking of Amazon, Wisden 2017 is showing no signs of being reduced, its actually gone up by a fiver this week,
The Book People. £10.
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When death loses its sting. When Freddie, Savage and Syed looks attractive in comparison.
AB (on previous thread) was so right. Quality TV can go hang. Embrace debate. Watch ESPN/Fox Sports in the US to see how this ends. Skip Bayless and Screamin’ A Smith. It’s not debate. It’s shouting. A lot.
#21 commenting on England openers etc. Not paying for the pleasure so I get just the first three paragraphs.
Apparently Hameed has broken his finger again, so that eliminates part of the competition for the opener spot. Although “competition” feels like the wrong word when it seems to be more about who’s the least worst option.
Finn’s eight-for in the same match has got him back in contention.
That Lovejoy review in WSC…..
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