Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Boyd Rankin's Ashes Diary: Good pal Graeme Swann will be big loss

Moving on: Graeme Swann announced his retirement from cricket over the weekend
Moving on: Graeme Swann announced his retirement from cricket over the weekend
In association with Foyle Food Group

The big news from Melbourne this week is the retirement from all cricket of Graeme Swann just before the fourth Test.

It was at training on Sunday morning that we were all told. I had no idea it was coming, so it was a big surprise.

I thought he would have played for a while longer, but it was going to happen at some stage and I suppose I can see where he's coming from.

He has given his reasons in terms of his body and the fact he can't do the same job as he used to. We respect his position and move on.

It's obviously not ideal because he have lost Jonathan Trott as well, so we are a couple of senior players down since the start of the tour, but all we can do is concentrate on the last two Tests of the series and try and do as best as we can.

Swanny will definitely be missed in the changing room.

He has done a lot of great things for England over the last five years and will go down as one of the all time great off-spinners.

Off the field, he was always cracking jokes – he is a funny man – and at every opportunity he would talk to me in a Northern Ireland accent; he enjoyed his banter.

He will be missed as much for his humour.

You don't get too many in a dressing room who can lighten the mood, and during the tough times he can keep everyone going.

He is also great at welcoming the new lads and made you feel really part of the squad from the off. I always enjoyed his company.

As for his future, I don't think he will struggle to get another job and I can see him going into the media. It's a new chapter for him and I wish him all the best.

Scott Borthwick, the Durham leg spinner, has been called into the squad to replace him. He has been playing grade cricket out here but Monty Panesar can take Swanny's role.

We are all waiting to see if Stuart Broad will be ready to play this week after he got hit on the foot in Perth. He didn't take part in training on Sunday but he is walking around and seems to be progressing quite well, so hopefully he will be fit for the Boxing Day Test.

Everyone had a day off yesterday, but we are back in training today and will train again on Christmas morning, so it's a still a case of waiting to see which team they go with on Thursday.

It was maybe a wee bit surprising one of the big lads didn't get a go in the last Test but, as usual, the selectors felt they had the best team to win the game.

I still think I have a good chance of playing this week, but you never get any clues. It is the best way because it means everybody trains as hard as ever and keeps competition for places strong, so we will not know anything until after training on Christmas morning.

Obviously the mood in the camp wasn't great last week when we lost that third game but we will keep fighting, even though the Ashes are lost.

We are now just concentrating on these last two games and make sure we do as well as we can, so we can take some momentum leading into the one-day series. That's important and we showed in the second innings of the last game that we will always battle.

It would also be nice to win a toss. We've lost all three so far, which hasn't helped, and if we can do that, hopefully we will be able to post a big score.

We know we have to score big runs in the first innings, we haven't done that and that's the main thing which the batters are trying to put right; to spend time in the middle, bat time and score runs. We all know what we have to do.

Ben Stokes, in Perth, showed what can be done if given your chance. He bowls quick and scores runs from No 6. It was a great second innings to score a century, especially on that wicket. There were massive cracks and when it hit one of them it was very difficult to bat on. But it's a great sign for England that he was able to step up straight away.

I got my first experience of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (the MCG) on Sunday at training. What an amazing ground. It holds nearly 100,000 and it's just about sold out for Boxing Day, so it's going to be a great atmosphere.

It will certainly be the biggest crowd I have ever played in front of, or even been a part of. The previous biggest was the World Cup game for Ireland against India in Bangalore in 2011.

That was the loudest crowd I have ever experienced, so I will see how it stands up against that, but the Boxing Day Test is always a special occasion, one of the events of the year, and I'm really looking forward to it and it would be great to be involved in the middle.

It may be Christmas day, but training is still the first thing on our priority list

Christmas morning will not be much different to any other morning for the England squad.

We will be training at the MCG and then we'll have Christmas lunch with all the players' families, girlfriends and partners, meeting up in a hotel down the road.

I suppose you don't want to eat too much before a Test match, but my excuse will be it's important to get fuel on board!

I have to wait another week to catch up with my family – mum, brothers and sister fly into Sydney on Friday – but there's a New Year's Eve party arranged for the team and they are invited to that, near Sydney Harbour Bridge, so it will be pretty spectacular.

I suppose it will be a bit strange training tomorrow, but I am used to working on the farm, back in Bready, on Christmas morning so nothing new that way for me. No presents are opened until the cattle are fed!

I got a few days off last week and spent them up in Healsville with Scott (Soupy) Campbell from Coleraine, Brian Scanlon, Johnny Heywood, Ross Campbell (Stephen's brother) and Adrian Heywood from Fox Lodge. They are all out here.

I hadn't seen Stephen or Johnny for about eight or nine years. Both are married with kids and living out here pretty close to one another. We had a barbecue on Friday night and it was great to see them all again. It was just nice to get away from this environment.

They were all playing club cricket on Saturday so I went down and watched for a couple of hours.

In club cricket in Australia, one team bats one week and bowls the next, so it's bit different from home.

The boys were batting last Saturday, although Johnny or Brian didn't get too many – think they had too many beers the previous night – but their team managed to win so it was all good.

I can't leave this week's column without mentioning the Reds – Liverpool top of the table as I write this.

It's been a great week, especially with Luis Suarez signing a new deal.

He has scored more than two goals in each of his last four games and I think that's a record.

It's always nice to wake up and see another Liverpool win and great to see them doing so well. Hopefully it can keep going.

Happy Christmas everyone.

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