Swann backs England to maintain drive
On a sunny Manchester morning, out near Old Trafford, Graeme Swann arrived wearing dark glasses. He stayed that way for a few hours, not because the area around the Trafford Sports Barn had suddenly turned tropical, but because England had celebrated their Twenty20 International victory over India a little too enthusiastically.
Swann, one of two star names at the formal launch of Streetchance, a nationwide inner-city cricket programme, may need a day to bounce back towards his usually high degrees of cheeriness, but he assured anyone listening that the England team was quite ready to launch the next phase of their ambitions.
The five-match ODI series versus India begins in Durham on Saturday, and Swann said that it would be a searching examination of England's new-found status after their 4-0 Test victory and No.1 Test ranking. "It is a great test for us - hopefully the conditions will suit us and we can pull off a victory. It's where we want to go in one-day cricket, we want to be an improving team and it's a good chance to start," the sunglassed Swann said, speaking to a handful of reporters in an indoor basketball court.
England's ascent to the world No.1 Test ranking has not been matched by a similar surge through the ICC ODI rankings. Amongst the ten Test-playing nations, England are ranked a mid-table No.5. A series victory over the current world champions India will ensure that England can both establish credentials as a more-than-competitive limited-overs team, and also ensure that they snap out of the habit of following triumphant Test series with tepid ODI performances.
England's last two Ashes victories, 2-1 at home in 2009 and 3-1 away last winter, were followed by identical 1-6 defeats in the two seven-match ODI series that followed. Victory in the ICC World T20 last year was England's first in a multi-national ICC event, after having made three of the first five World Cup finals. Swann said that the record of successful Test series tapering off into poor ODI form "was an area we need to really watch; it can often be a bit of a damp squib after a Test series and hopefully it will be a positive rather than negative end to the summer... it's not something we have discussed amongst us until now, but I'm sure we will soon. The summer has gone great for us; we are hoping to carry that on in the one-day series. It's a better feeling to be winning rather than losing."
When asked what England's ODI bug-bears of the past had been, Swann said, "I dunno... we've missed a certain X-factor in players but I think we're getting that now in Jake Dernbach and Eoin Morgan... we're starting to find those real match-winners with bat and ball."
Over the past week, Dernbach and Morgan have played key roles in England's ODI victory over Ireland and the T20I vs India in Manchester. The win over India on Wednesday night, he said, had come against "a world-class team. We are going to have to be at our absolute best to beat them and we are confident at the moment; that Twenty20 win last night has done no harm for our confidence at all."
There is much rumbling about India's performances on this tour (not least from Michael Vaughan, who predicted via Twitter a 4-1 victory for England in the ODIs) and the Twenty20 defeat came from a wobbling middle-order that couldn't score enough, despite the presence of some of India's younger and fresher batsmen.
Before he left the Manchester media, Swann was asked a few questions about local cricket and football. His preferences ran thus: City over United in football, ("I'd rather see City do it, to be honest, even if they've got gazilloons of dollars to spend, whatever") and Lancashire to win the county championship - both for the sake of history and for the sake of his former England coach Peter Moores, the man who recalled him to the fold after a seven-year international hiatus in 2007. "I wish Moorsey all the best for Lancashire and I hope they can win it for him," he said, shortly before they were routed by Worcestershire inside a day-and-a-half at New Road.
At the start of the event, Swann had been called onto stage by MC Mark Nicholas as the "representative of modern England" and took off his sun-glasses for a short instant, before revealing that he had been called Grandad on the field by the rest of the T20 squad. He is one of two players over the age of 30 in the Twenty20 team and the audience of officials, coaches, bankers, police officers, community workers, and young cricketers from six inner-city teams laughed as Swann said ruefully, "When they take their tops off, you can see they've barely started puberty."
Graeme Swann was speaking at the launch of 'StreetChance supported by Barclays Spaces for Sports' - a cricket initiative that aims to tackle youth crime and anti-social behaviour. See Streetchance.org for details
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo