London: Graeme Swann has never been one to mince his words, but even by his standards, the verdict the dressing-room joker delivered on England’s performance in the first Test against South Africa — and for most of the last 11 months — was excoriating.
“It was a sort of public humiliation by the end of it,” Swann said of the defeat at The Oval, in which England took two South Africa wickets in 189 overs, and lost 20 of their own in only 33 more. Moreover, the team’s record of five defeats in nine Tests since they ascended to the top of the official world rankings after last summer’s whitewash of India had been “dismal”.
Perhaps, he felt liberated to go public with such frank admissions after the playing and coaching staff had let rip themselves in a post-match debrief last Monday afternoon that was heated in more ways than one.
“Normally, you can’t wait to see the back of each other after a loss and we disperse quickly,” Swann, who failed to take a wicket in 52 overs as South Africa won by innings and 12 runs, explained. “But the two Andys [the captain Strauss and the team director Flower] were quite keen to make sure we focused on it. So we sat down and got quite a bit of honesty from the group.
“It was a horrible two hours as it was about 300 degrees in that hot, sweaty changing-room. But I think it brought the best out of the situation as there was a lot of honesty, a lot of people raising their hands saying we should have done this better and that better.”
Predicting a fightback
However, Swann backed away from blithely predicting a fightback of the type that England produced after previous heavy defeats, by Australia at Headingley three years ago and Perth on the last Ashes tour.
“I said that in the winter against Pakistan and we were beaten 3-0, so I won’t be making any grandiose comments,” he added. “But historically, we’ve played well after falling behind in a series. After one Test in this series, we’re a very long way behind because of the nature of the loss, which was certainly the biggest I’ve been involved in.
“After a few days, it doesn’t get any prettier. After the first day that went as swimmingly as it could have done, the wheels fell off the wagon — it was awful. I can’t really describe it in any other way. It was a sort of public humiliation by the end of it, fielding that long and then getting skittled afterwards.
“But I do still think we can win the series, I honestly do. I am an eternal optimist. If we viewed last week in black and white, then we’re screwed and we have got no chance. But I don’t see it like that, I see it as we can’t possibly play as badly again.
“The wicket is going to be different. As individuals, we have sat down and had a look at what we did last week and realised well, we’re not going to do that again. That meeting was very good, it brought a lot of things to the surface.”