Sri Lanka vs England: Time for captain Morgan to deliver

Out-of-form stand-in England skipper backs himself ahead of fourth ODI

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The Independent Online

For one match only, England will be under different management on Sunday. Eoin Morgan is charged with the small matter of trying to level the series at a ground where England have beaten Sri Lanka only once in eight attempts.

He knows that however it turns out – victory by 200 runs or 10 wickets allied to a sizzling unbeaten hundred for himself – Alastair Cook will return to the helm for the rest of the series. Cook has been banned because of England’s tardy over rate in Hambantota three days ago, his second offence of the year and alleviated by the fact that England won.

Morgan has been the unofficial vice-captain of the one-day side for two years, and despite his obvious credentials as a positive player and forward thinker, his results as captain have been mixed. England have lost three and won three, with two of the victories coming against Ireland.

“I always have enjoyed captaining the side,” he said tonight after England’s practice at a thankfully dry Premadasa Stadium. “Having not been a bowler since I was about 17 years old it gives you another sort of string to your bow and it’s something I really enjoy. The other side of it is it also takes a lot of attention from your batting thoughts throughout the game. Maybe it will contribute to me getting some runs.

“I have captained at Middlesex and have had opportunities with England. I have always done it my way, things won’t change. I will play it as I see it and if my way is different then that’s just the way it is.”

Morgan needs runs as much as Cook himself. After a reasonable time in Australia where he scored a hundred and two fifties in the five matches, he has had the leanest possible summer. His average has plummeted to a little more than 17 and Morgan has kept finding different ways to be dismissed. If the captaincy had not come along, England might have seriously had to think about giving him a breather.

“During the summer I evaluated things and during the Sri Lanka series I probably got too involved in the team side of things and lost a bit of focus where I was at,” he said. “In the India series I don’t think I was good enough. I came up against a very good side and didn’t spend enough time at the crease to get myself in.

“I have to play an aggressive type of game, it’s the way I have played since I was a kid and it works for me. There is no use in me going into my shell or not playing any of my shots. I’m a gambler and I’m due. I’ve got to stay true to myself.” It may help that he averages 73 runs in those ODIs he has captained.

England had not yet decided, or at least had not made public, how they were going to replace Cook in the order. The likelihood is that Alex Hales, who batted at  No 3 in Colombo, will move up to his more normal position of opener to partner Moeen Ali.

The next bit of team selection is whether to ask Ian Bell to bat at three or give an opportunity to James Taylor, whose end-of-season form for Nottinghamshire won him a place on this tour. Taylor scored three hundreds and a fifty in Nottinghamshire’s last four matches, three of those innings being at No 3. He has seemed in good touch so far in the nets and if England mean it when they say they must look at players before the World Cup – and they do – this is an ideal opportunity.

It is probably as well that Cook has a rest now, though England are well aware that there is a dilemma in waiting. If they win and the top order, including the first-wicket partnership, functions  perfectly, then it will beg obvious questions.

Sri Lanka will be glad to be back at the Premadasa, their spiritual one-day home. They have won almost two thirds of their 89 completed matches here. But Morgan said: “We take a lot of confidence from the last game. We probably didn’t play our best cricket but got the result we wanted. It’s a big job on our hands in the next game. We’ve made strides since coming here.”

The tourists will have to bat out of their skins to stave off a home side which sees Mahela Jayawardene return.

Therein lies another difficulty for England. Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are retiring after the World Cup (though Sangakkara may continue to play Tests). This is their last home series and they are clearly men on a mission.