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Interview: Former England cricketer Graeme Swann talks rally driving

Sports Mole talks to former England spin-bowler Graeme Swann as he prepares to get behind the wheel of a rally car.

Graeme Swann did not make a regular breakthrough into international cricket until 2008, but upon his retirement five years later, he went down as one of England's finest ever off-spinners.

However, while we are used to seeing Swann taking wickets, supporters of the 35-year-old will soon see him in a much different environment.

Motor racing fan Swann, who is now a BT Sport presenter and ambassador, has agreed to compete in the finale of this year's FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) in Wales later this month.

As his training got underway, Sports Mole caught up with the three-time Ashes winner to discuss his new venture.

You had your first practice session today. How did you find it?

"I got in my suit, got in my helmet and got out on the track. It was raining and got a bit slippy, which made me hit a fence post! It was all good, though, and great fun."

Do you have any nerves about what you're going to do? Or is it more a feeling of excitement?

"Undoubtedly there was some nerves before today, but now it has changed into complete and wild excitement. There was some nerves because beforehand I knew that rally drivers were reputed to be the most talented of drivers and having seen one in action today, it's ridiculously hard. The fact that I'm driving and in control of my own destiny, as well as knowing that there is a limit that I've got to stick to, I'll at least be safe, if not very quick.

"I've got my overalls with my name emblazoned all over them, my own Ford Fiesta with my name on it, I'm sat in the headquarters of arguably the best rally manufacturers in the country and I'm being coached by the best driver in the country. Cricket has opened this door for me and I'd be foolish not to take it and enjoy it."

Graeme Swann/BT Sport promo image 1

It sounds a bit like a boyhood dream, would that be fair?

"I won't pretend that I've always wanted to be a rally driver. I used to watch it on the television and thought that it looked too hard. Yet, anything that has ever taken my fancy and will look good on my CV, I'll snap it up. This is something that when it came up, I always go on gut instinct, so I said 'yes' before I'd even thought about it. It was only afterwards that I started thinking 'hang on a minute, this is going to be hard'."

We are used to seeing you take wickets, but what can we expect to see from Graeme Swann the rally driver?

"Hopefully you'll see me flying through the stages, impressing and surprising everyone. I might not be pushing for the podium, but hopefully people will say that I'm quicker than they thought I was going to be. However, if they say that my handbrake turns are good I'm ready to eat cardboard because right now they are, how shall we say? Wild! They are not very pinpoint. It's something I need to work on because they are bloody hard. Everyone has done it in a field as a 17-year-old in your mate's Escort or Nova, but trying to do it in a controlled way around a specific focal point is proving to be testing."

What are your main aims for the event?

"I want to get to the end in one piece! That is the overriding message from M-Sport because it's their car after all. Finishing the rally itself is probably the most important thing. The showman inside me wants to overtake people and make others go 'wow', but realistically I don't think people are going to be comparing me to Colin McRae."

Graeme Swann/BT Sport promo image 2

Have you missed the competitiveness of professional sport since your retirement from cricket? Has this given you the 'buzz' back?

"Anyone that has played professional sport misses the adrenaline rush and the buzz you get when you've finished playing. It's a void that people spend the rest of their lives trying to fill and I don't think that I'm any different. That's why I keep jumping at the chance to do anything slightly crackpot, which is what this undoubtedly is!"

Why rally driving? You're obviously a fan of motorsport, but what was tempting about rallying?

"BT Sport were covering it and I work for BT now, so it was sort of being in the right place at the right time. I was supposed to be a co-driver, but that fell flat when the opportunity to drive came up. Like I said, I'd agreed to do it before I'd thought it through, but I'm not going to back down from it. I'm going to enjoy it."

After today's session, what are your plans ahead of the race?

"I've got one more session through the forest and then as far as that is concerned, I've got to turn up at Wales and get accustomed to the track. I think I might sneakily book a few sessions before that! I'd love to turn up and do a huge donut in front of the garage to impress everyone - just like someone who has never played poker before, but turns up after an intensive course and is able to shuffle the deck like Dynamo the magician."

Graeme Swann/BT Sport promo image 4

What has been the reaction of your friends and family to you taking up this sport?

"A mixture between incredulous laughter and people saying I'm mad! My little boy thinks it's amazing, but he also thinks I'm Batman and Darth Vader! You cannot do much wrong in the eyes of a boy that is nearly four. I told him that daddy was going to be a racing driver and he didn't really get it until I showed him the car. He thinks my normal car is a race car anyway because it's small. My wife has been surprisingly supportive about it, but that's probably because of the danger element - she's just been checking my life support payments are up to date!"

And what about your former teammates? Will you be inviting any of them to watch you in action?

"I'll give you an example: Michael Lumb (Nottinghamshire and England batsman) rang me earlier about something totally unconnected to this and then he asked me what I'm doing. I told him it was my first day of training and he just laughed his head off! I'm not inviting any of them to watch. To be honest, in the team, only really Alastair Cook is into his driving - he likes it. I might see if he fancies it. But I think they will all accept that I was a far superior driver to them anyway!"

BT Sport's Graeme Swann will drive at Wales Rally GB this month, the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Swann's efforts will be broadcast by BT Sport, which also has live coverage of the Wales Rally GB. Visit BTSport.com for more info.

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Mohammed Shami of India celebrates with Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni after capturing the wicket of Alastair Cook of England during the second Royal London One-Day Series match between England and India at the SWALEC Stadium on August 27, 2014
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