Eoin Morgan: England cricket’s Iceland moment inspired radical change
Eoin Morgan, England’s limited-overs captain, was in an upbeat mood before Wednesday’s fourth one-day international with Sri Lanka, happily fielding questions about the inglorious demise of the nation’s footballers the night before despite his own team sitting one win away from a series win.
Morgan, given both his Irish background and a personal preference for watching rugby, did not take in the match himself but does at least have some experience in rebuilding a team from the ruins of an abject tournament failure, with England’s current 50-over side scarcely recognisable from the one that stank out the 2015 World Cup.
Since then Morgan’s side, under the head coach, Trevor Bayliss, have impressed, combining some enterprising cricket with an upturn in results, as well a sense that the players themselves are enjoying the ride; the early signs, dare one say it, are encouraging for the Champions Trophy on home soil next summer.
“I suppose for us it was going with a new method and a new group of players,” replied the 29-year-old, politely, when asked how his national team recovered from its Iceland moment. “The learning experience we’ve had over the last 12 months has been so significant that it is almost a completely different team.”
Wednesday’s sold-out floodlit encounter in south London represents a chance for this rebooted group to claim a second home series victory in eight – a statistic that owes much to the dithering of the previous regime – sitting 1-0 up with two to play after Sunday’s washout in Bristol prevented a chase of 249 after a third impressive performance on the bounce from the bowlers.
With grass on The Oval pitch and damp conditions tipped by the forecasters Morgan was leaning towards an unchanged team and the retention of the seamer Chris Jordan in the XI ahead of the off-spinner, Moeen Ali, while admitting that the five-man attack he has been forced to juggle with this series, a result of injury to the all-rounder Ben Stokes, has sharpened the mind in the field.
The batsmen, on the other hand, have been largely frustrated thus far, with Sunday’s rain and a 10-wicket victory at Edgbaston the Friday before it deny the middle order of Joe Root, Morgan and Jonny Bairstow any time at the crease since their collective struggle during the tide opening fixture at Trent Bridge.
Bairstow is playing as a specialist batsman, of course, with the captain treading carefully when explaining that, in one-day cricket at least, Jos Buttler is considered the better behind the stumps. “Jos has played a lot more one-day cricket than Jonny. He was picked ahead of him initially, has kept his place in the side and he is world-class at it,” said Morgan.
If England are now at a tweaking stage, Sri Lanka are trying to remain in positive spirits towards the end of a tour that has so far, on English soil at least, gone winless. Having lost the Test series 2-0, after drawing both warm-up matches, the match in Nottingham last week, when Liam Plunkett’s dramatic straight last-ball six meant the spoils were shared, is as close as the tourists have come to adding to the two victories secured during a brief visit to Ireland.
In these circumstances the sight of an experienced player such as Upul Tharanga coming out to bat at No7 has been a curious one, not least because 161 of the right-hander’s 185 caps have come as an opener, where he has scored 13 one-day hundreds during an 11-year international career, one more than Marcus Trescothick’s record number by an Englishman.
Despite averaging 56 against England, his highest against any nation, Tharanga says he is happy to perform this largely unfamiliar role, with scores of 53 not out and 40 in his last two innings showing good adaptability at the age of 31. The reason, he claims, is that the management wants to give vital experience to the more youthful opening pair of Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka, as well as Kusal Mendis at No3. The trio have failed to fire to date, however, with England’s bowlers consistently picking them up cheaply to leave the captain, Angelo Mathews, and his deputy, Dinesh Chandimal, with a rebuilding job. While the pair have combined for three of their side’s four highest partnerships, neither is yet to kick on for a big score himself and lay a genuine platform for a late-innings assault by such as their converted opener.
“I came for the one-day part of the series and I think the team is in a really good shape,” said Tharanga. “But players are getting 40 or 50 and we are getting 240-250-260, so some top five need to get a big score. These pitches have been good for batting. There are still two ODIs left and we are looking forward to winning those games and winning the series. Everyone is looking forward and trying 200%.” England (possible): Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, David Willey, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid.
Sri Lanka (possible): Kusal Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Angelo Mathews (capt), Dasun Shanaka, Farveez Maharoof, Seekkuge Prasanna, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal.