Champions Trophy: Can Eoin Morgan steer England out of ODI batting mire?

 

Since being duffed up by Australia four years ago, England have become formidable at home. They have lost the odd match but not one of the eight series, and although they have occasionally performed indifferently they have recovered.

This will have occurred to them and indeed offered them succour after their particularly moderate batting display against New Zealand at Lord's. They will expect to atone fully today at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, where they have won six of their nine matches.

Although they were missing two of their vaunted bowling attack, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn, who may yet struggle to make the Champions Trophy if the latest bulletins prove founded, this did not create their troubles on Friday. It was the batting that let them down so badly in the first of this series of three matches, which may have full one-day international status but is effectively a prolonged warm-up for the Champions Trophy. It is usually the batting.

England were careless in how they played their shots, a habit they have largely overcome since Australia beat them 6-1 in 2009. It is as well this is mostly out of the way now, though if it should continue even remotely, the absence of Kevin Pietersen will be felt still more keenly.

The key batsman in the next month as one-day cricket is given its head may be Eoin Morgan. He is long now on experience and skill, and in full, frisky flow is a sight to behold. He has had a quiet time lately, with one fifty in his past 14 innings, two in his past 20. The gambles that used to come off so charmingly are failing for the moment. His perky start in the Indian Premier League this season tailed off, and in his only innings for Middlesex last week he suffered a first-ball duck.

As a confident, contained individual, Morgan will not be worrying yet, and if he was he would not be showing it. But he has to grab England's middle order by the scruff in the next few days and propel it to the places it will take to win this series and the Champions Trophy which follows immediately.

England generally know what they are about. They have found that the regulation decreeing two new balls at the start of each innings suits them. It enables them to pick five specialist bowlers, three of whom preferably know one end of the bat from the other.

In addition and particularly at home, it allows orthodoxy at the top of the order, which is where Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott come in. But solid starts are only worth the candle if they are built on. That is why Morgan is so significant, because he is surrounded by the relatively callow Joe Root and Jos Buttler, who have to become swiftly surer of when they can play their delightful tricks.

After today, England have one more match against the Kiwis, at Trent Bridge on Thursday and then on Saturday begins the Champions Trophy, with the first of at least 26 matches of different hues against Australia lasting until next February: 10 Tests, 11 one-dayers, five Twenty20s. They could do with turning up for it with New Zealand safely dispatched, which will now be a much trickier proposition.

The alliance of Cook as captain and Ashley Giles as limited-overs coach will be closely scrutinised from now on. This is the first time they have been together at home. Cook was noticeably busier at Lord's on Friday than he had been at Headingley.

Perhaps this was because England had to chase the game after being restricted to a total of 227 for 9, perhaps he feels more freedom in the one-day arena, but it was hugely encouraging. Sometimes Cook does not seem like an instinctive cricketer or captain, but he has the enviable gift of learning quickly.

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