Driving without due care and attention? England’s top order fed the slip cordon © Getty Images
Eoin Morgan largely exonerated his batsmen despite a record-breaking collapse at the start of the third ODI against South Africa.
England were 20 for 6 after 30 deliveries – the first time in history a side has lost six wickets in the first five overs of an ODI – as they struggled against a fine attack in conditions offering assistance to bowlers. While Jonny Bairstow engineered a partial recovery, he could not prevent England slipping to their first defeat in nine ODIs.
Suggesting the pitch was not suitable for ODI cricket, Morgan hinted that the toss – which was won by South Africa’s captain, AB de Villiers – was disproportionately important and went a long way towards deciding the game.
“I’d be disappointed if we did come across surfaces like that in the ICC Champions Trophy,” Morgan said. “To win or lose the game on the toss in a major tournament is hard to take. Any side batting first has the potential to lose the game.
“I don’t think it was an ODI wicket. It makes it one-sided which I don’t think is good for anybody. There was a lot of live, green grass on the wicket.
“We saw the shots they played when they batted. We couldn’t play shots like that early this morning.
“But South Africa bowled beautifully. They did not give us anything to hit and if they did we managed to nick it. Credit goes to South Africa, they came back really well.”
While Morgan did accept that England might do well to reflect on the platform they built at the start of their innings in the second ODI in Southampton – they were 42 for 1 at the end of the first 10-over Powerplay- he did not think his batsmen had taken an overly aggressive approach in conditions that might have necessitated a more calculated game plan.
“You earn the right to play positive cricket,” he said. “And we do need to keep our feet on the ground. But we didn’t play too aggressively. A lot of our shots were defensive shots. When it moves around like that, you nick the half-volleys.”
The good news for England is that they can expect much more batting-friendly conditions on the grounds used for their Champions Trophy game. But there may be some disquiet in the camp if they find themselves inserted on an overcast morning on a pitch showing any sign of moisture.
Still, Morgan is unlikely to admit any such fears at this stage – his team has been built on a commitment to attacking cricket that will only be inhibited by doubts – and will instead hope his batsmen can put this reverse out of their mind and continue to play the fearless cricket that has served them so well in recent months.
Morgan also hinted that England will keep faith with Jason Roy in their Champions Trophy side.
Roy endured a miserable series against South Africa, scoring just 13 runs in three innings. And with Bairstow continuing his fine run of form with another half-century – his third in his four most recent ODI innings – there might be a temptation to bring him into the side in place of Roy.
But despite admitting telling Bairstow he was not selected was “the hardest thing,” Morgan remains committed to selecting Roy for the start of the Champions Trophy and agreed that last minute changes to the side – something of a characteristic of England going into global tournaments in recent times – might send out an unhelpful message.
“It’s the hardest thing telling Jonny he’s not playing when he’s done nothing wrong and he scores a huge amount of runs,” Morgan said. “I’m very, very impressed by him. He never lets us down. Whenever he comes in he scores runs and he continues to bang on the door.
“But as regards selection, Jason is the No.1 pick at the moment. Him and Alex Hales have been our 1 and 2 for quite a long time. They have had ups and downs but ultimately they have played in the fashion that we have played as a team and they have been very important to that.”
England remain confident that all the first choice players who missed this match will be fit for Thursday’s opening Champions Trophy encounter against Bangladesh. Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes could, according to Morgan, have played on Monday if required, while the seamers, Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett, were just rested to ensure they remain fresh. Chris Woakes, too, was said to have “pulled up really well” with Morgan anticipating he will be “fully fit for Thursday.”
Whether, in the case of Stokes, that means as an allrounder or a specialist batsman remains to be seen. Such is his long-term importance to England, they will be loathe to risk his fitness.
“He can run around in the field like a mad man,” the coach, Trevor Bayliss, told Sky Sports. “And when he got his hundred over the weekend, he didn’t even feel it. I’s just when he’s bowling at full tilt. Hopefully that means it’s not much and hopefully an extra day or two and it’ll come good.
He’s a very important part of the team. He brings energy to the team. And, as we saw, he can hold his position in the team as a batter as well, so I’m sure he’ll be there on Thursday.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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