Chris Stocks turns his attention to England’s looming one-day battle with Sri Lanka
England’s upcoming five-match series against Sri Lanka will begin a run of 30 ODIs for the side between now and the start of next summer’s Champions Trophy on home soil.
For Eoin Morgan, England’s limited-overs captain, the next year is crucial as the big picture of the 2019 World Cup – also at home – draws ever closer.
The development of Morgan’s team since the last tournament in Australia and New Zealand 15 months ago has been dramatic.
There is the need then to continue that forward momentum leading into the Champions Trophy, which will be the real acid test of how far England have really come in 50-over cricket.
Asked if that tournament, which pits England in a group with Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand, will act as a dry run for the World Cup in England two years later, Morgan admitted: “Yes, definitely.
“It will be great for us having to come up against different opposition to see where we’re at under tournament conditions and what changes we need to make looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup.
“Hopefully, we’ll continue our development so we do build a little bit of extra pressure and have all the expectations going into it in order for it to really take effect.
“I think performances build pressure. It won’t come out of nowhere. I think certainly if we keep developing the way we are and are able to keep this squad of players together, we should be a strong side by then.”
England come into this next series against Sri Lanka, which starts at Trent Bridge on Tuesday, off the back of a 3-2 defeat in South Africa earlier this year.
That was a series which saw Morgan’s side throw away a 2-0 lead following wins in the first two games in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth, the pressure of being frontrunners taking its toll, especially in the fourth game in Johannesburg when Adil Rashid dropped a simple, series-winning chance to dismiss Chris Morris.
The South African went on to score 62 from 38 balls as the hosts chased down 263 before AB De Villiers’ side completed a stunning series comeback with victory in the decider at Cape Town.
“South Africa for us was certainly character building, and a different experience,” said Morgan.
“Starting off with a bang at the beginning of the series put us in a position we hadn’t been in before – it was the first time we’d gone 1-0 up in a series [since the World Cup] so it was completely different.
“Going from there it did tail off despite winning the next game. We had opportunities to win the series, but again it throws different challenges to you and coming into a major tournament or a home series with a huge amount of expectation I think is good.”
Sri Lanka will present England with perhaps their easiest challenge in 50-over cricket since the World Cup, given they will be missing not only retired batting greats Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, but also injured stars in Tillakaratne Dilshan and Lasith Malinga.
“They’re still tough opponents,” said Morgan. “I think anybody who comes off the back of losing a Test series is going to be quite dangerous. “There’s a few unknowns with Sri Lanka as well. They’ve a young developing side, guys trying to make it, so that creates a different challenge in itself.”
There will be expectation too. There was little of that before the first ODI of last summer at Edgbaston, when centuries from Joe Root and Jos Buttler helped England post their first 400-plus score in 50-over history.
It was an innings that not only set up a comprehensive win against the World Cup finalists, but also lit the blue touch paper on England’s limited-overs revival.
“Literally, there was a little bit of direction about how we were going to play and what we were going to do,” Morgan says of the build-up to that match in Birmingham. “But everyone was given the freedom to put pressure on whoever we played against, and they grabbed that opportunity.”
Buttler, of course, returns to keep wicket for England having lost his place as the Test keeper to Jonny Bairstow over the winter.
Bairstow is in the squad for this upcoming series, too, as a specialist batsman but it is Buttler, the highest-profile English player in this year’s Indian Premier League, who is his team’s match-winner in one-day cricket.
Morgan believes Buttler’s time in the IPL with Mumbai Indians will have benefitted him hugely.
“I think it was a great experience,” he said. “If you watched the way he played and the role he played it was a little bit different from the one he plays for England.
“He had the gloves maybe three games and the rest of them he didn’t. They held him back a bit more, whereas we’re trying to get him up the order.
“For him it creates a tactical challenge because it takes him out of his comfort zone of just being the best player in the team as when he comes in for Mumbai, Rohit Sharma or Kieron Pollard are at the other end. So that creates different skills for him to develop.
But certainly the whole experience has been brilliant for him.”
It is Chris Jordan, though, who Morgan believes has taken the most out of playing in this year’s IPL.
Jordan was called into the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad as a replacement for the injured Mitchell Starc and, sharing a dressing-room alongside the likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, went on to play a key role in their run to the final.
“The one who has benefitted the most [from the IPL] has been Chris Jordan. He came in late off some beach in Barbados, and was thrown straight in to play.
“His first two games he was a little bit rusty, then he came back and bowled brilliantly.
“And bowling at Bangalore, jeez, it’s an absolute graveyard and I think if you can bowl there you can bowl anywhere. The fact he was rubbing shoulders with Gayle, De Villiers, Kohli the whole time, I think [that] will be really good for him.”
Jordan’s emergence as a quality death bowler over the winter has also been crucial for England.
The Sussex seamer played a starring role when conceding just three runs during England’s Super Over victory against Pakistan in Sharjah last November, setting up a win that gave Morgan’s side a 3-0 series sweep of the T20s in the UAE. He continued that form in 50-over cricket, and then in India too as England came so close to World T20 glory.
“He’s been brilliant,” said Morgan. “When we sat down at the start of last summer and actually looked at the ideal set-up of the side, certainly a death bowler stands out like a sore thumb in T20 and in one-day cricket alongside, say, a left-armer and a leg-spinner.
“But I certainly believe without pigeon-holing Chris, in the last six months since the UAE series, his death bowling has been exceptional.”
That is what Morgan hopes the rest of his England side will be as well in the weeks, months and years ahead.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday June 17 2016
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