Eoin Morgan has his hands full at England’s press conference © AFP
A year ago to the day, during the 2015 World Cup in Adelaide, Eoin Morgan experienced what must surely rank as one of the lowest ebbs in the often moribund history of England cricket captaincy.
Defeat to Bangladesh – and a duck to boot, Morgan’s fourth in nine innings since taking over from Alastair Cook at the start of that year – condemned England to a first-round exit from a tournament specifically designed to protect the big boys from such an ignominious fate.
It was, Morgan admitted, as his side touched down in Mumbai at the start of their latest global campaign, an experience that would live with him for the rest of his career. And yet, all the signs of the past 12 months seem to indicate that England, finally, have learned the lessons that their countless short-form shortcomings have been screaming out to them for a generation. Whether they have learned them quickly enough to challenge at the World T20 in India, however, is a moot point.
“I think it will always be there,” Morgan recalled. “That World Cup in particular, not necessarily that day, but the whole trip was a huge learning curve for me. Particularly as a captain going through such a significant loss and such a down period in your career does make you enjoy any sort of success down the line. I think that’s been quite significant in the turnaround that we’ve had, the different attitude, the different group of players and, to a certain extent, the results that we have had.”
The upsurge in England’s attitude since the World Cup has been startling to behold, even if their results don’t quite tally with the intent that they have shown in the past 12 months. A flaccid finish to their recent tour of South Africa – where a 2-0 lead in the ODI series turned into a 3-2 loss, swiftly followed by a humbling finale in the two-match T20I series – undermined many of the gains made in the second half of 2015, not least a rousing limited-overs leg of their tour of the UAE in November.
Nevertheless, a steadfast commitment to youth, best exemplified by the explosive Jos Buttler and the unflappable Joe Root, has enabled Morgan to settle into an elder statesman role and build a team that might well be capable of great feats in the future. For now, however, he is happy for his young squad to fly under the radar, and embrace the learning curve that is about to get very steep very quickly.
“We are reasonably confident,” Morgan said of his team’s chances. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of match-winners, but one of the things we talked about after the [South Africa] trip was ‘are we playing in the right way?’ and ‘are we being beaten in the right manner, doing the things we said we would do?’ and we are. The attitude within the group is still a really positive mindset, and that’s very important for us coming into this major tournament.”
A gung-ho attitude is all well and good, but at some stage in this campaign – maybe as soon as next Wednesday, when they face a dangerous West Indies team in their opening match in Mumbai – England may well rue the lack of situational experience that most of the other big teams will be able to bring to bear at the crunch moments.
Morgan, with a grand total of eight international appearances in India, is the most experienced player in the England squad, and the only one so far to have sampled the hothouse environment of IPL cricket. Ten of their 15 players have never so much as set foot in India for a senior tour. But far from seeing it as an impediment, Morgan has challenged his players to embrace their naivety and turn it to their advantage.
“I think it just becomes a different challenge,” he said. “Not only have our guys not played the IPL, a lot of our guys have never been to India. But we have guys who have toured Sri Lanka quite a lot, been on a recent tour to Dubai and Abu Dhabi where we had a little bit of success.
“And I think sometimes, having experience, particularly in India – because a lot of sides come here, including Australia, and get hammered – can almost scar your perception and [style of] playing within the tournament. Having a little bit of naivety with a huge amount of talent isn’t a bad thing.”
That’s not to say, however, that England wouldn’t crave a bit more experience if it was available, and the loss of Steven Finn to a calf strain last week was a particularly grievous blow. His extra pace and aggression has provided a cutting edge on previous one-day tours of India, not least in 2011, when he was a lone shining light in a 5-0 defeat, but Morgan was confident that the recalled Liam Plunkett would prove a worthy replacement.
“Losing any fast bowler before a major tournament is a blow,” said Morgan. “I think the benefit we have in that is Liam was fit off the back of it. They seemed to be on rotation at the moment – him and Steven, which is quite a weird thing. At the back we have other guys who are out as well – Mark Wood is coming back from injury, so similar instance – but the fact that we have one fit fast bowler is a really good sign for us.”
England’s opening warm-up match takes place against New Zealand at the Wankhede on Saturday, and Morgan backed his team to launch their preparations as they mean to continue.
“It’s the most expressive we’ve been in a long time,” he said. “We have a lot of talent within the side, we encourage our players to go out and be as brash and aggressive as they can, and take the game to the opposition.”
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo