Morgan’s England face their litmus test

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Eoin Morgan was all praise for New Zealand’s approach ahead of the virtual knockout © AFP

More than four years back, in their second game in the 2015 World Cup, England were up against hosts New Zealand in Wellington, with the Eoin Morgan-led side entering the game on the back of a 111-run thrashing handed to them by co-hosts Australia. If England were hoping for some respite, there wasn’t going to be any as a Tim Southee-inspired bowling performance ripped through their batting order to bowl them out for 123.

An eight-wicket loss in this game continued England’s slide, as they went on to lose to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to suffer an early exit. “It was as close to rock bottom as I’ve been. Certainly as a captain and as a player: being beaten off the park like that is humiliating,” Morgan recalled, ahead of his team’s crucial clash against New Zealand at Chester-le-Street.

As New Zealand continued from strength to strength and made it as far as the final of the 2015 edition, Morgan not only watched their growth from the sidelines, but was also inspired by the way Brendon McCullum’s side went about their campaign in a humble yet professional manner.

“The influence, throughout the whole World Cup on all the other teams around the world, was quite extreme. New Zealand proved a point that you can actually be really good humans and grow the game and play cricket in your own way and win, at the same time. Which is incredibly eye-opening for a lot of countries around the world. I thought that rubbed off on everybody at the World Cup.”

“The way his (Brendon McCullum’s) New Zealand team played, the way they did it their own way was important. It’s important for any team to get their own identity and stick with it,” said Morgan, who has played a key role in forging the identity of the current England outfit, whose brand of cricket has been a trend-setter for the ODI format.

But for all their eye-catching cricket and world domination in recent years, Morgan’s team – termed favourites by many in their home World Cup – haven’t yet sealed their passage into the final four. A victory against New Zealand on Wednesday (July 3) will assure them that, but a loss would mean that their fate would be beyond their control.

While the win against India eased some nerves in the camp, there was still a sense of frustration in the England team considering their situation and Morgan did his bit in an attempt to reinforce fresh energy into the side, holding a team meeting where he stressed on the new England way.

“The purpose was to … sensing the frustration among the guys, knowing we hadn’t played like we’d wanted to…, it was an opportunity to identify where we were at. If we didn’t realise that, I thought that frustration would carry through the tournament. That wouldn’t have been good for us, we don’t play well when we’re frustrated or desperate. The minds need to be clear. So the meeting was to talk about how we turn things around and to emphasise if our strengths had changed… or the priorities had changed.”

Come Wednesday, England will be hoping to end a five-match winning streak that New Zealand are currently enjoying against them in World Cup matches since 1987. For them to end the 32-year-old drought, Morgan’s message to the team is simple – continue positively with the bat and ball and, “even if we lose, if we play like that, we’re doing our part and doing it our own way.”

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