It is now or never for Eoin Morgan and his brilliant England one-day team as they launch the World Cup with a golden chance of going all the way
- England have the best opportunity to end 44 years of hurt this summer
- They may never get this chance again to win a 50-over World Cup
- Eoin Morgan’s side have done everything to arrive in the best possible shape
So, this is it then. All that planning, hard work and prioritising of white-ball cricket over the last four years under the Andrew Strauss masterplan comes down to this.
It comes down to the best opportunity England will have to end 44 years of hurt and finally win a 50-over World Cup. It has to be now. They may never get this chance again.
England are certainly ready. The team that runs out behind captain Eoin Morgan to face South Africa at the Oval on Thursday for the World Cup opener have done everything in their power to arrive at this moment in the best possible shape.
Eoin Morgan speaks at a press-conference at the Oval ahead of Thursday’s opening game
Eoin Morgan’s side have done everything to arrive at the World Cup in the best possible shape
They are the best 50-over side ever to represent England, the fearless and dynamic culmination of a white-ball revolution that transformed them from the laughing stocks of Australia and New Zealand four years ago to firm favourites now.
It is apt they will be wearing retro kit in the style of Graham Gooch’s runners-up of 1992 because that was the best of the three England sides who have lost in World Cup finals and really should have beaten Pakistan in Melbourne.
But Morgan’s vintage can go one better at Lord’s on July 14. They really can.
Now or never? Well, for once that might not be an exaggeration. For this home World Cup, a golden opportunity for cricket to seize national awareness over the next six weeks comes at a time when the ECB, in their wisdom, are changing their white-ball focus.
Once this tournament is over it will be all about Twenty20, internationally and domestically, and the launch next year of the controversial new Hundred competition that could make or break the game’s future.
Domestic 50-overs will be all about ‘development.’
Morgan’s 2019 vintage can go one better than Graham Gooch’s runners-up of 1992
Sadly, 50-over cricket is about to be marginalised in the UK at a time when it has never been healthier worldwide and, with the next World Cup in India, it is hard to see how England can ever reach these one-day international heights again. No pressure, then.
Not that Morgan sees it that way. ‘I wouldn’t say it’s now or never,’ insisted the England captain at the Oval.
‘That’s just not something that crosses my mind. We’ve made a huge amount of progress and cricket at home is thriving.
‘Women’s cricket is thriving and the impact of their World Cup two years ago was amazing. This World Cup might not have as big an impact if we don’t go a long way but it will still make a big impression on everyone.
‘We got knocked out of the 1999 World Cup at an early stage, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.
‘But I accept we will have to win a trophy at some stage.
‘Our transformation has been brilliant and we have to find a way of sustaining that for however long 50-over World Cups are played. We’d like to get to the stage where we’re in this position consistently.’
Morgan has been the driving force of this England side since retaining the captaincy in 2015
The ill-fated 1999 tournament may have been a debacle but at least it captured the imagination of that Dublin teenager who has gone on to become the key figure behind England’s arrival at the Oval on Thursday brimming with exciting talents and possibilities.
For Trevor Bayliss, recruited by former team director Strauss specifically for his white-ball coaching prowess, and Paul Farbrace, the original coaching architect of this England team who is sadly absent as he will be with his new Warwickshire charges, have played big parts in this success. But Morgan has been the driving force.
This is absolutely the team of this singular, inscrutable Irishman who has insisted from the start of the revolution in the home summer of 2015 that England must stick to their attacking guns whatever happened and would receive his full backing.
Morgan has been loyal to the players who have been on this journey with him — guaranteeing them whole series without the fear of the chop after a couple of failures — and they have always been fiercely loyal to him in return.
The captain was asked about the stubborn streak that has seen him in the past refuse to sing the national anthem of both England and Ireland — he does now — and once infamously opt out of leading his side in Bangladesh.
The inscrutable Irishman has insisted from the start England must stick to their attacking guns
‘It’s one of the stronger sides of my personality,’ he said. ‘It’s something I use quite a lot. But I never dreamed I would be in this position.
‘I dreamed as a kid about scoring a Test hundred and hitting the winning runs in a World Cup final but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would captain the home side at a World Cup.’
Twice Morgan has feared the axe from that white-ball captaincy before the culmination of his dreams.
Firstly when Strauss rang him in the wake of the disastrous 2015 World Cup and secondly when that stubborn streak saw him abandon his side in Bangladesh even though highly regarded security advisor Reg Dickason insisted it was safe.
Both times the ECB stuck with him and both times they have been proved indisputably right.
Now it comes down to this. Morgan, who looks set to hand Liam Plunkett the final bowling place in his otherwise settled first choice line-up ahead of the fit-again Mark Wood, gave an insight into the help given him by Gareth Southgate when the England football manager paid a visit to the cricketing camp earlier this month.
Morgan knows now that a semi-final is the very least of expectations for this World Cup
‘It was brilliant,’ said Morgan. ‘He talked about his journey to and around their World Cup and how they dealt with bigger expectations and became more together as a group. Everyone in the room recognised we started where they did.
‘They recognised what happened in their past, drew a line under it and tried to do things differently.
‘Then they got to the semi-finals of the World Cup and everybody said they were great. We got to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy two years ago and everybody said we were crap!’
It was said with a smile but Morgan knows a semi-final now is the very least of expectations.
Nothing but a win in the final will do. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the captain and his players.
Then Morgan, at 32, would have the chance to ‘do an Alastair Cook’ and walk off into the sunset with the perfect retirement behind him.
England and Morgan have to take it. And I think they will.
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