England skipper Eoin Morgan says Monday’s seven-wicket defeat to South Africa was a timely reminder that his team need to keep their feet on the ground ahead of their opening Champions Trophy fixture.
England have been keen to downplay any suggestion of being favourites going into the tournament and careful to avoid any complacency. Even so a collapse to 20-6 within five overs, the first such occurrence in ODI history, came as a surprise given the transformation in England’s white ball cricket over the past two years.
That reversal in England’s fortunes since the disastrous 2015 ICC World Cup has come about in part due to an emphasis on playing a positive brand of cricket, something coach Trevor Bayliss said would continue going into the Champions Trophy.
“I thought we did look a bit tentative,” said Bayliss, “that we weren’t quite in our minds positive enough. That can come defending well and just getting that extra couple of inches into the ball and that can happen on wickets that are doing a bit, you’re always a little bit tentative and they got the ball in the right areas as well. It was one of those days where we nicked them.”
Indeed, in extremely helpful overhead conditions, on a noticeably grassy surface, the first three England wickets all fell to decent deliveries that did a bit. Morgan and Jason Roy pushed at balls which moved away and caught the edge, while Joe Root was undone by a booming in-swinger. By contrast the next three batsmen drew criticism for going on the attack from the get-go, Alex Hales, Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid all driving expansively and nicking to slip.
If the situation they faced was perilous, the approach was the same way England have played – largely successfully – for the past two years. Bayliss insists the message won’t change ahead of the Champions Trophy.
Reflecting on Monday’s defeat, Morgan said: “I’d like to think it doesn’t dent our confidence ahead of the Champions Trophy. Obviously, what cost us was the first hour. A lot of live, green grass on the wicket.
“Ultimately South Africa bowled beautifully. They didn’t give us anything to hit and if we did, we managed to nick it. We didn’t play too aggressively; a lot of our shots were defensive shots. So, a lot of credit goes to South Africa, I thought they came back really well.
“I don’t think it was an international wicket to be honest. I’d be disappointed if we came up against any surfaces like that in the tournament because any side that bats first has the potential to lose the game. To win or lose a game on a toss in a major tournament is hard to take and it makes it one-sided, which I don’t think is good for anyone.”
Morgan added: “Lord’s has never been a prolific ground for us batting wise and in the grounds we’re playing at during Champions Trophy we have had good success, particularly with the bat in the past, so it’s quite easy in that regard to draw a line under it.”
England had Jonny Bairstow, the man still unable to command a regular place, and some solid contributions from the tail to thank for eventually managing to post 153 before South Africa wrapped up the innings inside 32 overs. After a brisk start, the visitors knocked off the runs they needed to win with 21 overs to spare.
“We had a lot of time to speak about it as a batting unit,” said Morgan, “sitting in the changing room and watching our bowlers bat, which shouldn’t be the case that at all.
“Watching South Africa bat and playing the shots that they did; we couldn’t play shots like that earlier in the morning, so on quiet reflection it’s a nice reminder that we need to keep our feet on the ground, but again earn the right to play positive cricket. At the Rose Bowl last Saturday [in the second ODI] we were 37-1 after 10 overs; still posted above 300. We’ll use that as a template and go on from there if circumstances dictate.”
For Bayliss, playing bold, attacking cricket is the only way to be successful in global tournaments: “We’ve won over the last two years because we play that way. Yes, we have lost games because we’ve played that way also. When it doesn’t come off, it can look ordinary, but the one thing his team has done really well over the last couple of years, if we’ve had a few sessions where we’ve lost wickets in heaps and everyone’s said you’re going to be struggling from now on, but the boys will come out the next game and just play like they did two games before and make 300 plus. That’s one of the strengths of this team.”
“I haven’t seen a team win a global tournament that has played defensively. It’s always a team that backs itself and plays bold cricket. You’ve got to take the good with the bad, you’ve got to be a little bit flexible and maybe a little bit better than we were today on these types of wicket and play in a little bit different fashion.
“You can still have a good positive mind even on wickets like this, you need a good positive mind to leave well and defend well and pick the right ball to hit, so from that point of view, the message won’t change. I don’t think you’ll see too many of these wickets [like the one at Lord’s], but you never know, so you’ve got to be smart enough to work it out.”
Regarding England’s chances in the Champions Trophy, Bayliss added: “I’m not saying we’ve got an outright chance and we’re absolute favourites. There are four or five teams that on their day can beat anyone. You hope that days like today [against South Africa] don’t happen in the next four, five games. We’ve shown that we can beat anyone on our day, so we’re a chance. I’m always a bit reluctant to say we’re the favourites when there are four or five other good teams.”