Morgan demands rapid response
England must learn quickly how to compete with the best on good pitches - if they are to avoid treading water in one-day international cricket, according to Eoin Morgan.
The ongoing NatWest Series has already seen England close to their best, in a 110-run victory at the Kia Oval, and then apparently regressing to a 69-run defeat at Headingley Carnegie yesterday.
Lord’s beckons tomorrow, with England and Sri Lanka 1-1 and three to play, with the prospect of fine weather and another run-laden surface.
Under cloud cover and between long rain breaks at the Oval, they out-batted and bowled the tourists. But when the sun shone in Leeds, there was a Colombo-like gulf in favour of Sri Lanka.
World Twenty20 champions England have occasionally fared well abroad in the shorter formats, but they acknowledge the challenge of achieving much greater consistency when venues serve up a level playing field.
Number five batsman Morgan, who has proved himself adept in most conditions, said: “We struggled in the World Cup on flat wickets, particularly in being that extra-bit positive with the bat.
“In effect it [yesterday’s defeat] was a small step back towards where we were. Realising that is half the process of learning from it.
“We have been here before and we need to learn from it, and do something about it quickly. Otherwise we could run into problems.”
Mahela Jayawardene’s ODI-best 144 in Sri Lanka’s 309 for five was the most telling difference at Headingley.
But spinners Suraj Randiv and Jeevan Mendis also took five wickets for 74 runs as England failed to stay competitive in pursuit of what would have been their highest successful chase. Morgan fared best with 52 off 40 balls, before he too fell to Randiv.
“Spin seems to tie us down, so that is something we have to improve - recognising we have to make that improvement as a unit rather than one or two guys going hell for leather,” he said.
“It has always been a problem for England, particularly in major tournaments. Think of the last few World Cups.
“It is almost a given really when you look at county cricket that you won’t see any unbelievable players of spin.
“The Indians are masters. They take the positive approach of whacking it out of the ground, between milking it around.
“We need to have a similar attitude to that, because we have shown when we have positive attitudes we normally win.”
He points out, though, that it is not as if England have never conquered their difficulties against spin.
Morgan believes they did so to beat Australia at home last summer, but not when they lost 6-1 against the same opponents Down Under at the start of this year.
“When we went through a spell of playing very good one-day cricket that is the area we capitalised on - particularly against Australia, when we played (Nathan) Hauritz particularly well and then took the same approach when (Steven) Smith came on,” he said.
“Our playing of spin dictates how we do - because when we went to Australia this year, we didn’t play their spinners well.”
The rarity of England’s ODI hundreds is a statistic cited by their critics - and new captain Alastair Cook agreed they badly needed one in Leeds. Morgan sees things differently.
“It is not an inability to score hundreds [that is losing games],” he said. “Over the past year or so, a few of the guys have got hundreds - but 80 off 75 balls will win you games.
“We have had people playing match-winning knocks, and it is not a major problem. It is not a massive thing in one-day cricket that you go out and score a hundred.
“Scoring hundreds is not something I primarily think of, playing one-day cricket.”
Morgan has already proved himself a match-winner, as well as a limited-overs centurion, for his adopted country.
He believes his position at number five is ideal, and appears resistant to any suggestion he could be England’s ‘finisher’ one spot lower down.
“I batted at six for a while, and it didn’t really work out,” he said. “Where I score runs, and win games, is at five. That is where I have spent most of my career. My stats at six are terrible.
“I like that familiarity of looking up at the scoreboard with us three down, with a couple of guys still to come. That gives me confidence in the game I play, rather than being cautious or in any way negative. Batting at five complements my game. It gives me extra licence.”