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England’s rigid mantra exposed on the biggest stage

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Expert
26th June, 2019
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After losing to Sri Lanka on Friday, a frustrated Eoin Morgan was curt in his response to press questions.

“When we get beaten, we tend to come back quite strong,” the England skipper said, eyes fixed. “We tend to resort to aggressive, smart, positive cricket.”

In the days leading up to Tuesday night’s anticipated clash against Australia, he was equally assured of his side’s overriding philosophy, staying similarly on-brand. “Our strengths with the bat have been being aggressive, positive, but playing smart cricket along the way.”

It’s been England’s mantra since the last World Cup; aggression, on top of aggression.

‘Positivity’ trumping all. The philosophy hasn’t just worked in theory, but delivered stunning results on the field.

Before this World Cup, the hosts had won 13 of their last 15 bilateral series. There was no stopping the England machine prior to this World Cup and with that pre-tournament column inches pondered whether England could in fact post 500.

How the game moves on.

England's captain Eoin Morgan bats

Eoin Morgan (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Two exceedingly poor performances with the bat have called into question England’s seemingly unwavering dogma. Bowled out for for 221 and 212 in their last two innings, they’ve proven incapable of changing with the conditions.

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First, on a tacky surface in Headingley, they crumbled when patience was needed. At 3/127 chasing just 232, Morgan’s side stuck by the aggression-at-all-costs mantra and failed spectacularly.

Then at Leeds on Tuesday, they would abide by only 50 per cent of the ‘aggressive, smart’ philosophy. Having witnessed Australia bat first on a spinning wicket – grinding out early overs and reaping rewards – they failed to weather the inevitable early storm.

Morgan, by stark contrast with his opposing skipper Aaron Finch, wanted to hit his side out of a rut when arriving at the crease at 2/15. Early in his innings he gave himself room, exposed all three stumps and flailed wildly at a Starc delivery outside off, missing.

Surely then, at that moment, the mantra could have been shelved? In a vital World Cup clash, the inflexible philosophy could be discarded in favour of, well, digging in?

To hell with that, Morgan thought, attacking a Starc bouncer only to be caught at fine-leg the very next over. It left his side at 3/26 and essentially out of the game.

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It’s not the first time England has struggled on a big stage when the wickets offer bowler assistance. In the 2017 Champions Trophy they cruised through the group stages with two scores of 300-plus, then 240 in 40 overs against Australia in a rain-affected clash.

Then, in the semi-final, they were rolled by Pakistan for 211 on a pitch that offered assistance to the spinners. Morgan lamented the pitch post-game rather than looking inward. “I don’t think there was any home advantage,” he said, a comment which garnered criticism.

He would similarly deflect on Tuesday evening after the loss to Australia. “Of course he did”, he replied bluntly when told Jason Behrendorff suggested England might have bowled too short.

But the thing is, they had. The beehive graphic unequivocally proved it. “Thanks mate, nice”, he sarcastically finished when answering a question about England’s World Cup record against Australia.

Jason Roy for the England ODI side

Will Jason Roy make a difference? (David Davies/PA via AP)

Morgan’s insistence that panic hasn’t set in is starting to look dubious.

Understandably, the England skipper is frustrated. So accustomed to things going their way in recent years, it’s crumbling at the only moment that truly matters.

Amongst all the doom and gloom, however, England are far from out of it at the World Cup. They’re simply the party host who’s gone missing for an hour.

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While the steadfast Morgan maintains their destiny is currently in their own hands, that is true only if they win both of their last two games against India and New Zealand who, along with Australia, represent the two toughest assignments at the World Cup.

If they claim just one win, it will rely on certain results going against Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. If they don’t claim one, well, it’s see ya later.

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I’m still expecting them to progress to the semi-finals, where they’ll still be a dangerous prospect. Years of dominance don’t go out the window in two games. But if the pitch isn’t flat, England’s rather rigid tactics shifts them from strong favourite to outsider.

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