Morgan plays down England’s pressure fears

Morgan plays down England’s pressure fears

- in Cricket News
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Eoin Morgan has insisted he has no doubts about his side’s ability to perform under pressure.

Morgan, the England captain, believes nerves played no part in England’s defeats at the hands of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And while those results have left his team facing a slightly more nervous final three group games than he might have preferred, he does not feel Tuesday’s match against Australia is “must win.”

“The guys have performed under pressure for a long time,” Morgan said. “They have performed as favourites in series, both home and away, for the last two years. I’ve no questions of us performing under pressure.

“I don’t think nerves played a part at all in the defeats against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We’ve shown throughout the World Cup we can perform under pressure.”

Despite Morgan’s protestations, it did look as if pressure was playing its part when England’s fielders fumbled the ball at The Oval – Jason Roy’s dropping of Mohammaed Hafeez on 14 may have been the game’s pivotal moment; he went on to top-score with 84 – or when their batsmen struggled to chase that low total in Leeds. And with their qualification now looking more uncertain and the opposition looking more daunting, there is no obvious reason why the remaining games in the tournament should be any less pressurised.

For that reason, then, it is perhaps not surprising that Morgan sought to minimise the pressure going into this match. It’s not as if a World Cup encounter with Australia at Lord’s needs any extra hype, after all.

“It’s not a must-win game yet,” he said. “We don’t need to win every game to get to the semi-final. It’s another game where we have to try and produce a performance that’s worthy of playing at Lord’s against Australia.”

His calculations are correct. England can still qualify for the semi-finals if they lose on Tuesday. They might well be able to qualify even if they lose on both Tuesday and Sunday. But it will leave them looking at their final group match, against New Zealand, as a must-win encounter and susceptible both to rain and the results of other teams. Besides, it will surely be better for confidence to win such encounters.

Perhaps, though, more than the pressure of the big occasions, England’s problems have simply been the surfaces. England’s recent record – the huge scores, the quick hundreds, the record number of sixes – has been built on the back of flat tracks. Their batting line-up has often looked at its best when able to attack without compromise. Generally, only when they have come up against surfaces where they have had to take a slightly more sophisticated approach – notably at Lord’s in 2017, when they were 21-6 about half-an-hour into the match – have they faulted.

The pitches in this tournament have not, on the whole, been like that. Partially due to the weather and partially due to the early starts (World Cup matches are starting 30 minutes earlier than usual day-time ODIs in England and Wales), there has been just a little more in the surfaces for bowlers. It’s not as if the ball has swung, but it has sometimes not come on to bat with quite such the predictable nature of recent seasons. As a result, England are taking a slightly more cautious approach to their innings: batsmen are playing themselves in with the aim of keeping wickets in hand for a late acceleration. There had been talk, before the tournament, of the possibility of 500 being scored; to date, we are yet to have a 400. Only four times have teams reached 350.

The Lord’s surface on Tuesday may not be entirely straightforward for batsmen, either. With the ground needing to reuse the track on Saturday, there has been a greater covering on grass left on the surface than might be expected. Officials at the ground are confident the pitch is dry and will play less green than it looks but, at least on Monday afternoon, it appeared very much a bowl-first track. Rain is forecast over night, too, which will do nothing to change that.

It is a much-repeated myth that the ICC takes control of pitch preparation before World Cup matches. While they do have, in theory, the authority to oversee preparations, in practice they have no involvement whatsoever. The same team of groundstaff at the same venues working to the same criteria are preparing these surfaces, as has been the case for several years. But with multiple games to be played and the window for preparation narrowed by poor weather, the tracks are not exactly as England were expecting. A combination of that and the nerves of the big night appear to have discomforted them somewhat.

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