Eoin Morgan working towards England’s long game before Australia ODI series | Vithushan Ehantharajah

Croak

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Authors: Rio Sports

On a Melbourne February morning in 2014, Eoin Morgan was perched on a bench outside the England team hotel nursing a coffee. He looked refreshed, though in that typical Morgan way, where gauging his mood would be a fool’s lot. Morgan sat, supped and watched the world go by while, within the walls behind him, English cricket was falling over itself.

The night before, England were thumped by eight wickets in a Twenty20 at the MCG – the penultimate match of the 2013-14 tour that eventually saw them register only one competitive win (the fourth ODI at Perth) in 13 attempts.

An hour after play, news filtered through that Andy Flower – who had returned home after the Test series and handed the reins to Ashley Giles, the limited-overs coach at the time – was to be sacked. The next 10 hours were as chaotic as they come for the ECB. It had announced the news to pre-empt a scoop only to expose how underprepared it was for such a bombshell.

At a sharply arranged 8am press conference in a spare hotel suite, which had to be filled with a variety of chairs by the ECB’s media manager who hadn’t slept a wink, the chairman, Giles Clarke, read from a hastily prepared statement with all the enthusiasm of a man tasked with reading a list of his partner’s former lovers. He did not refuse questions but certainly did his utmost not to answer any. The tour finished a few days later in Sydney in predictably disastrous fashion.

This time around, Morgan as ODI and T20 captain knows how important it is to separate the red and white ball portions of the tour. To avoid running the same fate as a TV series that doesn’t quite nail matters in its opening burst and quickly descends into farce by the second season, when story arcs are abandoned and characters killed off in an attempt to bring a change for the better.

Sure enough, this is what Morgan was asked to address in the lead-up to Sunday’s ODI opener at the Melbourne Cricket Ground: how will he ensure what comes next is not defined by the Ashes thrashing? But he distanced himself from the simplistic notion that avenging earlier defeats will be the main driver of one-day success. It is probably the last thing many of them want to reflect on.

Australian captain Steve Smith and Eoin Morgan pose with the one-day series trophy.
Australian captain Steve Smith and Eoin Morgan pose with the one-day series trophy. Photograph: Ellen Smith/AAP

“A lot of the guys who have come into the squad who haven’t been here a great deal or come from various places around the world bring a lot of energy to the group,” he said. “We’re trying to do two different things as a Test team and a white-ball group. I certainly think the mentality within the groups can have a different effect.”

For what it is worth, given the fluidity of the teams, England’s ODI record on Australian soil is not particularly flash. They have won only five of the last 20 ODIs played here, a period which includes the cringeworthy 2015 World Cup campaign. The overall head-to-head over the past five years is 21-14 in the hosts’ favour.

That World Cup comfortably goes down as the nadir of England’s shorter form travails. Remember when Morgan was pushed into the captaincy after Alastair Cook was pushed out on the cusp of the tournament? Or James Taylor batting No3 in the warm-ups before getting shunted down the order when the tournament began? Then defeat to Bangladesh to knock them out of the competition? There was literally a book written about how bad it all was. Then came the overhaul. And it worked.

“A line was drawn in the sand and we were given clear directives that the goal was the 2019 World Cup,” Morgan said. “To bridge the gap between where we were and, say, being in the semi-final or the final. That was the first port of the call. Bridging that gap came quicker than we ever thought it would. We’ve got a huge amount of confidence from the selectors. Andrew Strauss, our director of cricket, gave absolute clarity in what we wanted. I think, as a captain and backroom staff, we certainly thrived on that. It’s not often you get free rein and ambition to be adventurous as you like.”

With such ambition and adventure has come a few stumbles. In last year’s Champions Trophy semi-final – England’s to win, so they said – they had a dart at 400 when 300 would have been plenty on a tacky Cardiff wicket. Pakistan picked off their target of 211 with ease before taking the trophy in the final against India. Lesson learned.

“We’ve tempered our aggression with some smart cricket,” Morgan said. “Par for the course for this series will be bringing out the positive aggressive style with the bat while adapting to the wicket. We did it a little bit in India playing on very good wickets, in the West Indies we played on stodgy wickets and managed to adapt. I’m sure Australia will throw up some different wickets – they’re not all going to be as flat as a pancake.”

Preparing for an English World Cup with an Australian series might not seem like natural bedfellows. But Morgan is aware that overcoming the challenges in the next month will put his side in good stead for 2019. He has seen enough to know that leaving here without falling into disarray will go a long way.

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