England captain Eoin Morgan defended his team’s high-risk/high reward mantra in the World Cup after another display of rash batting contributed to a heavy defeat by Australia on Tuesday that left the hosts in danger of missing out on the semi-finals.
Despite being outclassed during the 64-run defeat, Morgan said the team has learned to adapt, citing their earlier win over Afghanistan as evidence.
Their third loss of the World Cup leaves them in danger missing out on a top-four finish in the standings needed to reach the semis — a situation that seemed highly unlikely when they were routinely smashing over 300 against all-comers to earn themselves the 50-over format’s number one ranking coming into the tournament.
On stickier, slower wickets than they are used to and against motivated opposition, the runs are not flowing, but England’s previously prolific batsmen have refused to abandon their high-risk approach.
On Tuesday, against some disciplined Australian bowling, it led to a succession of thrown-away wickets that left a packed Lord’s hugely deflated as they were never really in the contest.
“I think with this game and the last (defeat by Sri Lanka), we struggled with the basics of what we call our batting mantra,” a rattled Morgan told reporters.
“Strong intent, building partnerships, and doing it in our own way. I think our basics get challenged a lot more when we don’t play on batter-friendly wickets.”
Chasing Australia’s total of 285, England slumped to 26 for three – courtesy of yet more ill-judged shots by James Vince and Morgan – and when potential match-winner Jos Buttler was caught on the square leg boundary for 25 off an innocuous ball in the 28th over with more than 160 still needed, it was effectively all over.
Ben Stokes, just as he did against Sri Lanka, showed that what could be done with some more judicious decision-making as he grafted intelligently before falling for 89. But his partners came and went with a whimper as England were bowled out for 221 in the 45th over.
Asked if there had been any discussion of changing that “mantra” of relentless attack as the wickets have tumbled early, Morgan – just as he did when getting caught on the boundary for four on Tuesday – came out swinging.
“It’s always evolving – I don’t know if you’ve watched the last two years of the way that we’ve played but it’s evolved quite a lot,” he said during an increasingly tense news conference held in Lord’s Real Tennis court.
Pressed on whether it had happened during this tournament, he said: “Yeah, absolutely. I thought the way we played against Afghanistan in the first 15 overs, and probably in 2015 and ’16, would not have happened.”
Former captains Geoff Boycott and Michael Vaughan were amongst those this week to suggest that England need to find a plan B, but Stokes too said they were sticking to what took them to the top of the game after so many years in the doldrums.
“We have to really dig deep in these last couple of games here, not go back on how we know we play well,” he said. “I think that’s our mindset, that’s what’s made us so successful in the last four years.
“Two back-to-back losses can sometimes make you as a team think differently, but we are not going to go away from our method of playing. We need to adjust to situations and then conditions, but we are not for one minute going to take a backward step, especially in these last two (group) games.”
England are still fourth in the standings and may need to beat India and New Zealand in their last two matches to make the last four – though they could still advance even if they lose both. They have not beaten Australia, India or New Zealand in a World Cup game since 1992 – a total of nine defeats and a tie.
“Our chances are still strong, everything is within our control,” said Morgan, who a week ago was all smiles after smashing a world-record 17 sixes against Afghanistan as everything seemingly rosy in the garden.
“We just need to produce a performance worthy of winning one or two of those games.”