Swann lays claim to golden generation
England’s cricketers are beginning to believe their may be the real ’golden generation’ in English sport after all.
In days gone by the country was briefed to anticipate a period of lasting success on the world stage from a clutch of superstar footballers in their pomp.
That prospect has yet to be turned into reality and, after an ignominious exit from the World Cup in South Africa on Sunday, it will be at least another two years before this country can hope to savour any glory days in football.
The cricketers, meanwhile, continue to make dramatic progress - eying an unprecedented 5-0 NatWest Series whitewash of Australia, little more than a month after winning the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann has been a central player in both those successful campaigns.
He regrets England’s failure to fulfil expectations on the football field, but is hoping he and his team-mates can continue to deliver - with next winter’s Ashes and World Cup providing the opportunities they need.
“It would be nice to think that we are the golden generation rather than the footballers,” he said.
“But we all wanted England to do well in the World Cup, and that was a big let-down.”
Swann and co very nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, suffering a remarkable collapse of six wickets for 18 runs against Australia before Tim Bresnan kept his cool at Old Trafford to get them over the line by one wicket and wrap up the series 3-0 with two matches still to play.
It saved the cricketers’ blushes, and provided some consolation for millions who had just seen their football team thrashed 4-1 by their own old enemy Germany.
Andrew Strauss’ England were never going to be distracted from their own job, though.
Swann explained: “The best thing that happened was Straussy said to us, regardless of what happens in the football, I don’t want anyone watching in the dressing room - I want you all on the balcony getting behind the team.”
England’s upturn in fortunes has been remarkable, under the leadership of Strauss and team director Andy Flower.
They lost 6-1 to Australia in the corresponding series last September, but will win their 10th successive ODI match if they can keep the run going at the Brit Oval and Lord’s this week.
A summit meeting in Johannesburg last autumn is taking on the status of modern legend as the moment Flower set out the rules for team ethos and attacking, ‘fearless’ cricket to transform England’s limited-overs performances.
“The great thing Andy Flower had done is to instil a confidence in everyone to back their natural ability on the big stage, like they do in the county games,” said Swann.
“That was exemplified in the (World) Twenty20. It was the way we went out, not with carefree abandon but certainly almost a joyous approach - compared with how England teams have approached Twenty20 the previous three years.”
Swann traces England’s improvement in all formats back beyond Johannesburg to the earliest days of the Strauss-Flower axis.
“The satisfying thing for us is that we sat down 18 months ago and said we want to be number one in all formats, and asked how are we going to do it.
“We have plotted our way to this point, and everything has gone well.
“We have won the Ashes, won the World Twenty20 and won this series after just three games - which you might expect against some teams, but possibly not Australia. That is testament to the way we are playing.”
Like his captain, though, Swann is not inclined to equate 50-over success against Australia to the chances of a first Ashes win Down Under for almost a quarter-of-a-century.
“The Ashes is a different game,” he said. “When you look in our changing room there are only three, four or five players involved in the Test team.
“For us to win this series is great. But once November 25 [day one of the series] comes round, it will not matter if it is 5-0 in this series.
“When that first ball is bowled in Brisbane it is a whole new ball game.”