England star relishes Rose Bowl Test

George Bailey is bowled for a duck against Essex. Picture: Neil Marshall

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It was fitting he was at the Rose Bowl to promote a brand of beer and play a few games of darts.

Because speaking to England Test star Graeme Swann is like having a chat to your mate down the pub.

There are no airs and graces you might normally associate with someone who can claim to be world cricket’s leading spinner.

Relaxed and light-heartedly moaning about a wet cushion that had been left in the stands, Swann is a normal bloke who just happens to be a very good cricketer.

While other sportsmen – who have achieved nothing like his success – make it obvious they would rather be anywhere else than chatting to the media or trot out the clichés at a rate of knots, the 32-year-old’s jovial nature has been untouched by fame.

And as England’s undisputed king of banter, it’s not long before he’s ripping into what is about to become the country’s newest Test venue.

Swann chuckled: ‘I can safely say that everyone in the England team hated the Rose Bowl until these new stands were built.

‘When those temporary stands were there, I used to think it looked awful.

‘With the roof stuck on, it just looked like a fake Lord’s with temporary stands everywhere.

‘But in the past couple of years, it has really come on in leaps and bounds.

‘It’s a magnificent ground now and I’m excited to play here.

‘When it was first built, the pitches at the Rose Bowl were renowned for being awful.

‘At any new ground, the wickets just don’t bed in quickly enough – Durham was the same.

‘But the groundsman has done an unbelievable job here because in a very short space of time, it’s turned into a very good wicket.

‘It’s testament to how hard people have worked here.

‘And the pavilion actually suits the ground now.’

But even when he’s dishing out praise, there’s a light-hearted dig at the end of it for Rose Bowl chairman Rod Bransgrove

Casting his eye over the seats Swann added: ‘As soon as Uncle Rod gets around to changing the lower tier of seats to white instead of those awful beige ones at the moment, it will be one of the nicest grounds in England.’

Hopes are high that the colour of the seats will not be visible when the venue gets its first taste of Test cricket as England host Sri Lanka tomorrow, although tickets are still available.

Swann said: ‘You never really know until you play there.

‘Durham didn’t seem like a Test venue until we played there and then we walked out in front of a full house and it all made sense.

‘Cardiff was the same so, hopefully, it will be like that here as well.

‘I have played only one-day games here recently.

‘But in four-day cricket, I remember playing at the Rose Bowl after Notts had won the Championship in 2005 and John Crawley got 300 against us.

‘It was possibly the worst-ever display by a county team. Well, it was certainly the most hungover display I have ever seen by a county team.’

Some of the more traditional cricket enthusiasts may not appreciate Swann’s laid-back approach and may wonder if he is getting everything he can from his ability without being a stern character who lives and breathes the game.

But he’s the proof that a dedicated sportsman with a huge talent can take his job seriously without becoming a lifeless android.

Swann said: ‘I believe that if a team has a laugh and gets on well, you are in a good place to play good cricket.

‘Nobody is afraid to laugh at each other and themselves, which is important in a team.

‘Finny (Steve Finn) is the butt of everything, bless him.

‘He is the most boring man alive but thinks he’s hilarious.

‘He gets it all the time. He goes on about my chin so I have to point out he’s got the biggest nose since the Romans left.

‘Bres (Tim Bresnan) gets it in the neck from Jimmy (Anderson), but I jump on that bandwagon every now and again.

‘But the mood and the banter is really good. It’s a changing room where everyone likes each other and gets on well and that can only help.’

Graeme Swann is a brand ambassador for Kingfisher Beer.