Eoin Morgan waits for his turn to bat in the nets on the eve of England’s World T20 opener © Getty Images
Eoin Morgan is a man who revels in inscrutability, but as he strode from the nets at the Wankhede Stadium, it was possible to detect a glint of satisfaction in his eyes. The project of which he has been at the helm for little over a year now embarks on its acid test at 7.30pm on Wednesday evening. Whatever the outcome, few doubt that England, finally, are ready to fizz.
On his way to the changing rooms, Morgan paused to pose with a giant England flag bearing a range of good luck messages from fans who sense that something is changing in their country’s attitude to limited-overs cricket. The misery of England’s eviction from the 2015 World Cup is a sufficiently recent memory that few would dare to get too carried away. And yet, there’s no doubt that something is stirring. And, clearly, not before time.
“I think this feels different because we’ve a different group of players,” Morgan said. “It’s a new energy, it’s an exciting time for English cricket given the talent that we have in our group, and the attitude in taking the game to the opposition. It certainly feels different in that regard.”
The most fundamental shift, Morgan added, is that his post-World Cup England team has offloaded the reticence of the former regime and is now brave enough to “play with no consequences”. It’s an attitude that, as he has previously intimated, could go some way to surmounting their lack of experience in Indian conditions. And to that end, he insists that defeat against a hugely experienced West Indies team would not be the “be-all and end-all”.
“Going into any tournament, it’s not about getting out of the traps early and playing your best game first up,” he said. “It’s about pacing yourself and picking up confidence and putting in performances when they really matter. [But] the first game is a tough game – I do agree with that.”
West Indies, with wearying familiarity, come into the World T20 to a back-beat of politics and infighting, and yet, with the exception of the injured Kieron Pollard and the blacklisted Sunil Narine, all of their big guns are back out in force for one last tilt at a title that they won in some style only two editions ago.
No fewer than eight of the West Indies squad are IPL veterans (compared to the solitary figure of Morgan in England’s camp), and in Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, West Indies possess two of the most established matchwinners the format has ever known. That is sufficient reason for Morgan to embrace the role of the underdog, and his dead-batted lack of interest in his opponents’ recent issues merely reinforced that position.
“They have a number of dangerous players,” Morgan said. “West Indies have been a strong side in the past. They have a number of individual players who are very strong. It’s important for us as a young talented side to focus on what we do best and execute that as part of anything. There are plans in place, but ultimately it’s how we execute them.”
Those plans, on what for the moment remains a green-tinged Mumbai surface, look set to revolve around a four-pronged pace attack, with the allrounder Ben Stokes creating wriggle-room in England’s bowling options. Reece Topley is sure to take the new ball and Chris Jordan is set to continue his death-bowling duties following the success of his Yorkers in England’s warm-up matches. Which leaves a toss-up between the height and pace of Liam Plunkett or the left-arm wiles of David Willey for England’s final slot.
“You can keep guessing,” Morgan joked. “If you could guess me a few winners at Cheltenham today that’d be great as well.”
Of the two, it is Willey who has had the more impact in the course of England’s preparations. His hat-trick while playing for the opposition down the road at the Brabourne Stadium on Monday provided a late varnish to figures that had been somewhat dented at the top of the innings. Plunkett, by contrast, has bowled four overs in two games, and was dumped for 19 in his solitary effort against New Zealand, although his hostility could be vital if the Wankhede pitch has any sort of pace and carry.
“Wills swings it up front, comes back into middle and bowls change-ups,” Morgan added. “He has a canny knack of taking wickets, which is something that we’ve struggled doing for a while. But given the circumstances of any pitch, whether it’s two-paced or quick, [Plunkett] is an important player in the squad, with his extra bit of height and different trajectory to everyone else.”
If there is one area in which England appear to have an edge over their opponents, it is in the skill and confidence of their legspinner Adil Rashid. His huge development at Adelaide Strikers during the Big Bash is both a boon to England’s prospects of going deep into the tournament, but also a warning that all too few of their players have been similarly exposed in franchise tournaments. But, with Narine’s career in turmoil following the ICC’s clampdown on illegal actions, Rashid’s mystery in the middle overs could prove vital.
“It’s a very touchy subject,” said Morgan, a former team-mate of Narine’s at Kolkata Knight Riders. “I know Sunil and I’m not pleased to see what he’s going through, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. He’s bowled the same way since he was 15-16 years old, and the fact that he’s got to this stage of his career and it’s only being looked at now is probably disappointing from his point of view. But there are set rules in place that are being deployed.”
As for Rashid, Morgan was happy to back his man to continue his impressive form, but warned that his most significant role might come later in the campaign. “Adil’s come a long way in the last couple of years,” he said. “I know in the nets we find him very hard to pick, let alone play, and I think given the conditions, he and Moeen [Ali] can play a big part, though here I’m not quite sure. It might not turn as much as it does in Delhi.
“It’s normally a pretty good batting surface here. Again, it’s another challenge for the bowlers to try to emphasise taking wickets and halting momentum throughout the innings. It’s a challenge we’ve come up against in the past, and will continue to do so in Twenty20 cricket.”
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo