“LET’s start with Tim Bresnan,” I suggest. “Can you speak a bit about him? What sort of impact do you feel he’s had on the England team?”
Graeme Swann pauses on the other end of the phone, searching, I sense, for the killer response.
“Bres?” he says, the sound of his voice suggesting a grin. “Well, he’s our lucky mascot, isn’t he? He’s played 10 Test matches and he’s won 10 Test matches – as he’s very keen to tell the selectors every time they sit down to pick for a new game.
“I’m sure he goes up to them and says, ‘You do know I’ve won all 10 I’ve played in, don’t you? You’ve got to keep picking me, you know, you’ve got to keep picking me’.”
Swann, renowned comedian and redoubtable off-spinner, chuckles to himself before adding quickly: “No, he’s brilliant, Bres. Absolutely brilliant. He’s the butt of Jimmy Anderson’s jokes in the changing room with the whole Red Rose-White Rose debate raging all the time, but he’s a cracking lad.
“He’s just a typical Yorkshire seamer. He runs up and does everything right – and he can bat as well. He’s a very good lower-order player. He should have got a Test hundred by now but he keeps throwing it away whenever he gets near three figures, but that’s just because he’s daft.”
Swann chuckles again.
I have been granted 10 minutes with the Nottinghamshire and England man in return for publicising his new DVD Swanny in a Spin, published by Zigzag, priced £15.99.
There, that is my part of the bargain fulfilled.
“So, how good can Bresnan become?” I venture, somewhat tamely.
“Oh, I think the world is his oyster,” says Swann. “He can carry on playing for several years – well, at least until his backside gives way.
“But that’s what makes good fast bowlers, having a good rear end to keep pushing them up the hill.
“No, he’s a top-class all-rounder. His batting is certainly good enough and, in a couple of years, he could bat at six or seven for England, I reckon.
“If he keeps improving as he is, he is going to be phenomenal.
“He’s only 26, but it seems like he’s been playing for Yorkshire since he was about 12. To be fair, he probably has. Not that I’ve looked at the stats.”
Like Swann, Bresnan learned his trade playing county cricket.
That is not as customary as one might suspect.
These days, many of the best young players have little time to hone their skills before they are wrapped in the bubble of a central contract.
Swann and Bresnan came up the hard way and could both be described as late developers: Swann only flourished in his late 20s after several years out of international cricket, while Bresnan has improved significantly since he made his England debut in 2006 before sliding off the scene.
“Bres has learned his trade playing for Yorkshire and playing county cricket,” affirms Swann.
“That’s very important in my opinion.
“It (county cricket) is much maligned, although I don’t think anyone actually involved in cricket who knows anything about it actually says that.
“It obviously doesn’t draw in the crowds that it used to, but I think that’s the case for most sports these days.
“It’s very difficult getting people through the gate, especially for a midweek sport. Everyone’s got to go out and try to earn some money to afford to live in this country these days.”
Swann believes Bresnan has developed in every aspect of his game – apart from one peripheral area.
“He’s doing everything right apart from his banter, which is dreadful,” adds Swann.
“He needs to stop Tweeting like he talks, if that makes sense.
“If you write down the way you speak in a Yorkshire accent, it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. He’s got to get out of that habit.”
Another Yorkshireman who has caught Swann’s eye is Jonny Bairstow, the brilliant young batsman-wicketkeeper who made a dramatic entry into international cricket.
Bairstow led England to a six-wicket victory over India in Cardiff in September when he thrashed an unbeaten 41 from 21 balls with three sixes.
“Jonny’s one hell of a player,” says Swann. “I reckon he’s going to be brilliant, a really top cricketer.
“I’d only ever seen him bat once before that one-day game in Cardiff – and that was when he got 200 against Notts last season, so I knew he could play.
“But I was actually more impressed with that knock at Sophia Gardens; just the way he came in straight from the word go and wasn’t afraid to smack it out of the park.
“He’s got talent in abundance and is definitely good enough to play at the top level in all forms of the game.”
Bairstow has drawn comparison with Kevin Pietersen for his ability to take an attack apart but Swann says Bairstow is his own man.
“I think they’re different as players,” he says.
“Kev’s not the most technically-correct player but he’s got the best eye and the most natural talent going, whereas Jonny is what you’d call a proper batsman.
“He just hits the ball bloody hard and has got all the shots.
“I wouldn’t really compare Jonny to anyone, to be honest. He doesn’t remind me of anyone when he bats; I just see him and think ‘this bloke’s a bloody good player’.”
My 10 minutes are ticking down, so I take the opportunity to ask Swann about the Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
Tipped for great things at international level, Rashid has had a tough time of late but Swann is adamant he will come again.
“I’m a bit dismayed at some of the criticism he’s had,” says Swann.
“As a young spinner who’s been through it, I know full well that you might have seasons where it doesn’t all gel and you don’t bowl quite as well as you did the year before.
“The expectation on him is too high if people are expecting him to take 70 wickets and keep Yorkshire in the First Division.
“You’ve almost got to let spinners be when they’re young lads; they’re still discovering themselves as bowlers and players.
“If you try and quash him and stop him being himself and try to change his game, he’ll end up being half the bowler he could be for Yorkshire, so I hope that common sense prevails and he’s just encouraged to get back to what he was doing before, which was basically being himself, bowling his fast, fizzy leg-spin and enjoying himself.
“That way, he’ll be very productive in the future; otherwise, he could be a great talent wasted, although I’m sure he won’t be.”
I ask Swann about the England side in general – observations recorded on the back page – before our conversation draws to a close.
Sadly, my 10 minutes are up with the affable spinner.