Born in Northampton, he attended Sponne School in Towcester, Northamptonshire. He was primarily a right-arm offspinner, and also a capable late-order batsman with four first-class centuries, and often fielded at second slip. After initially playing for his home county Northamptonshire, for whom he made his debut in 1997, he moved to Nottinghamshire in 2005.
Swann played a single One Day International against South Africa in 2000, before losing his place in the squad. Seven years later he was chosen to accompany England on its tour of Sri Lanka as the team’s second spin bowler, alongside Monty Panesar, and subsequently cemented a regular place in England’s Test team, playing throughout England’s 2–1 victory in the 2009 Ashes. In December 2009, he became the first English spinner to take 50 wickets in a calendar year, culminating in back-to-back man of the match awards in the first two Tests of the tour of South Africa and rising to third place in the world rankings for bowlers.
In March 2010, Swann became the first English off-spinner since Jim Laker to take 10 wickets in a match when he achieved the feat in England’s victory in the first Test in Bangladesh. In May, he was named ECB Cricketer of the Year. In 2011 Swann was part of the England team that claimed the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket and between July and October, that year was the No. 1 ranked bowler in ODIs.