Dave Craven: Fickle beast that is sport can see heroes become zeros so quickly

Andy Murray
Andy Murray
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IT IS almost enough to make you beg for sleet and snow.

Granted, few people actively want to see such bleak weather. Aside from skiers, snowboarders and maybe anyone selling windscreen scrapers.

But the way in which this autumn has descended in terms of gaining any semblance of sporting success, you can sense how some may be craving an icy blast if only to level out the playing field once more.

We need something to turn the tide. This agonising mire cannot go on.

That summer of sporting love already seems like a distant memory.

You remember the one? Andy Murray doing the unthinkable and actually winning Wimbledon, ending 77 years of pain and torment.

England’s cricketers cutting a swathe through the Aussies in the Ashes with another dominating display, racking up a 3-0 scoreline with unusual ease.

The British Lions heading Down Under and not only emerging victorious but doing so in emphatic record-breaking style, too, recording their biggest score when triumphing 41-16 in Sydney.

Indeed, any lingering thoughts that the absence of England’s Sydney hero a decade before, Jonny Wilkinson, would be sadly rued were quickly cast aside as Wales points machine Leigh Halfpenny arrived as an international star.

It got to the stage where achieving success was almost expected, a very un-British trait.

At Merion in June, golfer Justin Rose became the first English winner of the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Furthermore, it ended the nation’s long major drought, too, stretching back 17 years to when Sir Nick Faldo won the Masters in 1996.

Throw in a Tour de France victory from Chris Froome and the world was rosy. Red rosy for all British sporting fans.

Even the autumn started well. The England football team, after some initial scares, managed to negotiate their way into next year’s World Cup at Brazil as unbeaten group leaders.

In Andros Townsend they found a dazzling player, too, who looked like he had come straight off the beaches of Rio such was his flair and elan. The whole team played with brio and panache. It was all coming together nicely.

Montenegro were dispatched 4-1 at Wembley and, a few days later, Poland were put away 2-0 to leave elated England fans booking their plane tickets for South America.

Yet it all went from feast to famine. And so quickly.

Murray’s run of four grand slam finals ended in shock fashion when he lost a US Open quarter-final in straight sets to Swiss No 2 Stanislas Wawrinka.

You could perhaps grant him that after the heights he has scaled of late.

But what of the England cricket team? Heading out to Australia, fit, healthy and supremely confident of becoming the first side to win four successive Ashes series since Victorian times.

For WG Grace, read Alastair Cook. History was about to be made.

Yet the Aussies, seemingly at odds with everything from DRP to pitch preps to how to even swing a bat when over here a few weeks ago, produced a performance that thoroughly humiliated the tourists.

The Gabba was always going to be tough for England – no visiting side had beaten the Aussies there for 25 years – but a 381-run defeat? Really?

Their embarrassing disintegration there has left many wondering if it can be put down to a one-off aberration or is a more concerning sign of things to come.

Certainly, few supporters are now actually looking forward to the second Test which starts in Adelaide on Thursday.

Suddenly, there are plenty of unanswered questions about this England side. The fear is, if they mess up again this week it could turn into the “Ashes horribilis” like 2006-07 when they suffered a 5-0 whitewash Down Under.

Surely not? Ah, sport, you fickle beast.

Speaking of which, England’s footballers were booed off after losing to Germany at Wembley just three days following a shock defeat to Chile too in London.

Admittedly, both games were only friendlies but so much of the feelgood factor elicited from October’s qualifiers seemed to be extinguished in an instant. That prospect of Copacabana beach seems a little chilly now.

Then there is the England rugby league team. In all fairness, no one really expected them to win the World Cup that, predictably, culminated with Australian success on Saturday.

But a spot in the endgame was a reasonable target, especially after producing an absolutely superb performance in a classic Wembley semi-final against New Zealand.

England were as good there as they had been in any Test since last beating the Aussies – as Great Britain – in 2006.

However, a deserved victory was snatched from them by the holders with just 20 seconds remaining as sport played its cruel hand once more.

Myriad setbacks over these last few weeks, whether it be in cricket, football, union – England’s best performance was in gallant defeat to the All Blacks – or league have left everyone feeling a little deflated.

Yet, for all the personal affliction and anguish it can cause, the beauty of sport is more often than not that it offers up a swift chance of redemption.

Players generally know their time will come again.

A week from now many of those same England cricketers vanquished in Brisbane could quite conceivably be back on track for a place in sporting immortality.

We will have to wait and see, though, and, as ever, that is the crux of the problem for any sporting fan.

But if that is too much at least the annual fail-safe of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is imminent; there, you are always guaranteed a British success come what may.