Cricket World Cup: Eoin Morgan sticks to simple refrain to change sorry record against Sri Lanka

England take on Sri Lanka in Pool A clash on Saturday night

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The Independent Online

England have spent much of the past year apologising. Or if not apologising then trying to explain why it all went so badly wrong. Sometimes, they might simply have put the great Brenda Lee tear-jerker on the speaker system and everyone could have gone home happier.

Perhaps the hiring of Little Miss Dynamite as part of the back-room staff to sing “I’m Sorry” on cue after matches might be included in the England and Wales Cricket Board discussion paper currently doing the rounds. Since the start of the last English summer, which followed, as if anyone could forget, a dreadful winter, England have played 26 games of cricket.

Of those they have won 11, but of the five series those matches embrace – a series being two or more – they have won only one. This World Cup is similarly following that disturbing pattern and England’s fourth match in pool A, against Sri Lanka tonight, may go some way to determining whether they are here once again essentially to make up the numbers.

The sides have encountered each other 12 times lately in series at home and away, and Sri Lanka have prevailed in both, 3-2 in England and 5-2 at home. Eoin Morgan, the England captain, on Friday offered the familiar mantra.

“I think we underperformed massively against Sri Lanka, who are very difficult to beat in their own conditions,” he said. “The skill level has to be really high and really simple against these guys.


“When you’re playing against such an experienced group, of batters in particular, it’s about producing your skill and not getting too confused about what’s around you. There are a huge amount of pre-conceived ideas that float around really good players, but if you nail your basics you usually ask enough questions.”

England will need to ask more questions, say, of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, all of whom have now made hundreds in this tournament, than they did of Brendon McCullum at the stadium known as the Cake Tin. It is difficult to imagine any of that trio, formidable achievers though they are, doing what McCullum did to England last week but as Morgan observed – and it almost sent shivers down the spine – their enviable longevity makes most things possible.

What England would seek most of all is to make a match of it. What rankled in their opening fixtures was not that they were beaten – Australia and New Zealand had come into the competition at a perfect level – but the fact that they were so easily swept aside. It made a nonsense of their much vaunted solitary focus on one-day cricket for eight long months and the natural consequence was to invite scrutiny of those in charge.

If Sri Lanka make mincemeat of England, it will still not mean elimination. Wins against Bangladesh and Afghanistan would likely still see them qualify for the quarter-finals in fourth place in Pool A and then anything can happen, which is probably, in truth, the scenario on which they seem to have been pinning their hopes all along.

But it would be handy for everyone’s state of mind if any defeat were to be narrow, handier still for there to be a deserved victory. England are veering towards keeping the same XI for the fourth successive match, and since the line-up lost the first two and won the third it would seem perverse to change now.

Morgan said they wanted to see the pitch before deciding, though since England will not be going to the Cake Tin until this evening that is a little late to be telling players whether they are or are not playing. Gary Ballance is the player most under threat after failing in all three innings, his lack of footwork and depth in the crease both making life difficult.

But Ballance is a class act and, having made the call, England will be loath to jettison him now, unlucky though that might be on both Alex Hales, who has been given such scant opportunity, and Ravi Bopara. Hales’ non-selection still somehow seems part of that whole historical mistrust of maverick talent which has pervaded all English sport.

Morgan offered unqualified support for Ballance, seeing him as unlucky so far and as “a fantastic cricketer with a huge amount of potential”. He also sees England’s return to the Cake Tin, despite what happened eight days ago against New Zealand, as being in their favour. They learnt valuable lessons.

Sri Lanka exude familiarity. Their batsmen seem to have been around, however, and the return of Lasith Malinga, who has played a mere 180 matches, adds an extra dimension to their bowling. Malinga is still feeling the effects of a long-term ankle injury, and England have repelled him before, but he remains a distinctive threat.

England’s lack of a genuine sixth bowler – if only one who can be called on regularly for six or seven overs – looks likely in the medium to long term to influence the course of events. As long as nobody has to come into tonight with Brenda Lee on their shoulder.