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England’s team culture is as strong as it’s ever been – Eoin Morgan

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Eoin Morgan says that the process of whittling England’s World Cup squad down to the final 15-man party was “the toughest decision I’ve ever been a part of”, but believes that he personally, and his team as a whole, have never been better equipped to make the big calls, having grown together in the four years since the 2015 campaign.

Speaking at the launch of England’s World Cup kit in East London, Morgan admitted that his team’s final approach to the tournament had not been entirely smooth – with Alex Hales’ expulsion from the squad for a second failed drugs test providing a particularly unwelcome distraction in recent weeks.

However, with England making a seamless readjustment in Hales’ absence to beat Pakistan 4-0 in another record-breaking run of batting form, Morgan feels that the team have come through a significant stress test of their culture. Looking ahead, he backs his players to find further ways to keep winning in the event of any more disruption in the course of the tournament.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been smooth, I’d say we’ve been better equipped at dealing with anything that’s cropped up, certainly as a group,” said Morgan. “For me as a captain, being more experienced, and having been through four years of being captain, our prep and planning has been excellent and the guys have responded to that by performing on a consistent basis, probably more so for last two years than first two.”

Asked if the Hales situation was the sort of crisis that would have derailed past England World Cup campaigns, Morgan admitted: “Yeah, it probably would have. It’s something I’ve never come up against before.”

However, he also explained that the team management had put in place contingency plans for similar incidents, meaning that they had not been caught entirely on the hop when the news of Hales’ indiscretions were made public.

“We hadn’t planned exactly for that, we’d planned for instances when the [team] culture had been tested or individually we’d been tested,” Morgan said. “There’s still loads of things that we’ve planned for that might continue to crop up throughout the World Cup.

“Our values as a team include the words ‘courage’, ‘respect’, and ‘unity’, symbolising the three lions on our cap, and taking that cap forward across all three formats and all squads,” he added.

ALSO READ: Dobell: Focus on fringe players shows how far England have come

“Over a period of time everyone can relate to it on and off the field. For some people it may only be words, but for us as international cricketers, travelling around all the time, the one thing that’s constant right from the beginning of your journey is your cap. It’s a gentle reminder of how much responsibility you have, and the privileged position you are constantly in to make the most of that.”

That shared journey made this week’s decision to cut Joe Denly and, especially, David Willey from England’s final 15 particularly tough to make, but having been given the casting vote in the selectors’ deliberations, Morgan was able to defend the “logic of the decision and the balance of the squad” that resulted in Jofra Archer and Liam Dawson being called up in their places.

“It was the toughest decision I’ve ever been a part of, certainly with this group,” said Morgan. “To leave two guys out, one who has been around for the last four years and been a big part of everything we’ve done on and off the field, and the other is an exceptionally talented cricketer. It’s unfortunate for those who missed out but it was the right call.”

Morgan added that he wasn’t able to feel any great sense of relief at having made the cut, given that the contributions of both players had required “the time and dedication” to do them justice. However, he was able to reiterate to both the point he made at the presentation ceremony in Headingley last week, that the nature of a six-week tournament would almost certainly throw up the possibility of an replacement being called upon.

“We had a conversation last night,” Morgan said, “explaining the fact that there are nine group-stage games and the fact that we have four fast bowlers, and one of them is likely to get injured. It happens.

“And I had the same conversation with Joe. We haven’t had many injuries in the batting department for a long time, so we need to plan for everything, given that they might come into play straightaway, so they need to be prepared for that.”

Asked if England were playing “fearless” cricket in the wake of their 4-0 series win over Pakistan, Morgan actually felt that his team had reined in some of the more overt aggression that had led to a few rare but notable mishaps in recent years.

“I wouldn’t say that we feel fearless, probably two years ago we felt more fearless, because we were quite young in our growth as a team,” he said. “We’ve had two more years’ experience on top of that, and we are better at coping and adapting to scenarios and recognising different situations throughout a game. I wouldn’t say that’s fearless.”

The team’s single biggest disappointment of the past four years, the Champions Trophy semi-final defeat against Pakistan in 2017, was an example of where England had been derailed in the recent past.

“One of the biggest learning things that came out of that was that it probably came a little bit early for us,” he said. “We probably didn’t realise how good we were and how poor we were on slow wickets. Since then, we’ve improved our play at both home and away, and on wickets that don’t necessarily suit our planning.”

Overall, however, Morgan said that he was simply itching to get started. “We are pretty close to our starting XI, barring a couple of pitch minor adjustments,” he said. “If the game was tomorrow, it would be better for us than seven or eight days’ time. Our preparation against Pakistan was as good as anything we could have hoped for. To perform like we did is extremely encouraging.”



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Bangladesh, West Indies seek to turn campaign around

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Bangladesh blanked West Indies three times in as many games during the recent tri-series in Ireland, but can they repeat a similar performance at the World Cup?



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With ‘peg in the ground’, South Africa look to begin semi-final charge

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If you thought you heard a rumbling noise coming from the Welsh valleys late on Saturday, it might just have been South Africa finally clearing their throat and announcing themselves at the World Cup. Okay, it could have been the Elton John concert taking place in Cardiff that same night, but South Africa, at the very least, are still standing in this competition.

Converting one win from five into a semi-final spot remains a task fraught with difficulty, not least because South Africa will likely have to beat the two teams currently sitting top of the table: Australia and New Zealand. It is Kane Williamson’s unbeaten Black Caps up next, in Birmingham on Wednesday.

“Today we put our peg in the ground,” captain Faf du Plessis said after Afghanistan had been brushed aside with a much-improved performance – although his team was rarely stretched by opponents low on confidence themselves. There were signs, certainly, of South Africa finding their spark with the ball, though Chris Morris, who claimed 3 for 13 from 6.1 straightjacketing overs, hinted that more improvement would be needed against New Zealand.

WATCH (India only): Highlights of Imran Tahir’s spell against Afghanistan

“They are one of the favourites, to be honest,” Morris said. “They have got a really good team. Well-balanced, well-led, and I don’t want to call them dark horses because they deserve more than that. They are a really good, world-class team. Our disciplines are going to be have to even tighter against them because there’s nowhere to hide from those guys. They are that good. They’ve got a seriously good bowling attack, a seriously good batting line-up. Destructive batting line-up. If they get going, they are difficult to stop. We are going to work quite hard in the next few days. We will have to be at our best to beat those guys.

“It’s pretty simple. We have to win. There’s no two ways about it. Faf is spot on in saying it’s a quarter-final every time. We have to win. That possibly could bring out the best in us because we know there’s nowhere to slip up. Slip up now and we are done.”

“We know we’ve lost, we haven’t played our best cricket but the vibe has never changed. The vibe has been gun. It’s a World Cup so what aren’t you happy about”

Chris Morris

The last time South Africa and New Zealand met at the World Cup, in 2015, we got one of the standout encounters of the competition, as Grant Elliott’s penultimate-ball six left Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and their team-mates bereft once again.

There is no Steyn or de Villiers this time – as anyone taking even passing notice of the first fortnight of South Africa’s World Cup would know – but there is something to build on. Andile Phehlukwayo went as far as to say that they “mentally have the upper hand” over New Zealand, having beaten them in both of their bilateral series since 2015, though it seemed more the confidence of youth rather than an attempt to ramp up the pressure (since we all know how that has tended to turn out for South Africa).

“We’ve played against New Zealand a couple of times, and I think the last time we were there we won [and] against them at home, so I think mentally we already have that upper hand,” he said. “Watching KG [Kagiso Rabada] running up and standing at mid-off and to see him bowling so well, and being unlucky at times – definitely, an unbelievable spell is coming from him. To see Bueran [Hendricks] bowl so well today was also unbelievable, coming in for Dale Steyn. Hopefully another clinical bowling performance like that comes about for us.”

South Africa’s attack could be further strengthened for the Edgbaston clash by the return of Lungi Ngidi, who has been working his way back to fitness after suffering a hamstring injury in their second match of the tournament. Rabada is also arguably yet to fire to his fullest, aside from a searing spell against India, which will likely mean trouble for someone at some stage.

Concerns around the batting haven’t entirely been dispelled, with Hashim Amla looking far from fluent in eking out 41 from 83 balls in a low-intensity run chase again Afghanistan; following his concussion after being hit by Jofra Archer in the opening game, he will doubtless find his reflexes being tested again by the rapid Lockie Ferguson. But the Protea fire was warming up again by the time Phehlukwayo set an emphatic seal on victory by thumping six into River Taff (it went like a rocket, man).

“The vibe has never changed,” Morris said. “We know we’ve lost, we haven’t played our best cricket but the vibe has never changed. The vibe has been gun. It’s a World Cup so what aren’t you happy about.”



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Live Report – India v Pakistan

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ESPNcricinfo’s live updates and analysis on India v Pakistan



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