Eoin Morgan bristled on Monday as he tried to allay fears that England are feeling the heat of a home World Cup just when they need to keep their cool.
The shock defeat by Sri Lanka has left England looking over their shoulders when they should be sauntering towards a semi-final spot, and has made Tuesday’s clash with Australia – of all teams – their biggest 50-over match since the last disastrous World Cup.
And that has cranked up the pressure on an England side who would have been expected to chase Sri Lanka’s 232 at Headingley on Friday with ease, had it been in any other circumstances than a home World Cup they are strongly fancied to win.
England captain Eoin Morgan says that Tuesday’s match against Australia is a not ‘must-win’
So, do England have to prove against the old enemy that they really can win when the pressure is at its most intense?
‘No,’ said Morgan firmly at Lord’s on Monday. ‘We’ve done that through the World Cup already.
‘Guys have performed under pressure for a very long time. They have performed under the pressure of being favourites for the last two years in series that we’ve played in, home and away, and we have no question marks about our ability under pressure.
‘Naturally guys are upset we lost against Sri Lanka but they are excited about getting back on the park to try to produce something that everybody is used to seeing from us. And if that wins the game, then great.’
But surely this is a must-win game?
Surely England cannot afford a third defeat now against an Australia side who would love to rain on their old rival’s home parade and leave them desperate for wins in their remaining games against India and New Zealand?
‘No, it’s not must-win yet,’ insisted Morgan.
‘We don’t need to win every game to get to the semi-finals. It’s another game where we try to produce a performance that’s worthy of defeating Australia at Lord’s. We’re not a side who go up and down like a yo-yo.’
It should be said England are invariably at their most dangerous after a bad defeat and have repeatedly bounced back under Morgan but, goodness, do they need to on Tuesday.
England have already provided many of the highlights of this World Cup — from Ben Stokes’s catch against South Africa to Jofra Archer’s 95mph bowling against Bangladesh to Morgan’s 17 sixes against Afghanistan.
England bowler Jofra Archer has impressed at this World Cup but will need a big performance
Ben Stokes, likewise, will be expected to find his best form for the crunch meeting at Lord’s
But if they somehow contrive to miss out on the semi-finals after all the spectacular cricket of the last four years, then it would be a bigger debacle even than the last World Cup. Crikey, it would be a bigger cock-up even than the 1999 home tournament. And that really is saying something.
We may still be some way off that nightmare scenario but keep an eye on the cornered tigers of Pakistan. If they win their last three matches against New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – and they are capable of that – then England would need to win two of their last three games. And that really would bring pressure.
England’s problems, of course, are nothing that a spanking of Australia – to go with their 5-0 one-day series victory over them last year – would not solve. Then it would be business as usual and back on track for a last-four berth.
But they will again have to do it without Jason Roy, who has been officially ruled out of Tuesday’s match even though he had a 20-minute net session, and the latest scan on his torn hamstring showed progress is being made.
It was intriguing to hear Alec Stewart, Roy’s director of cricket at Surrey, on the BBC over the weekend cautioning against a return for his man before the semi-finals, and there is no guarantee Roy’s targeted comeback against India on Sunday will materialise. For now, England really do need James Vince to deliver.
Morgan and Co will have to do without Jason Roy despite his net work on Monday afternoon
That will mean England will need to see a big performance from a struggling James Vince
‘He’s Jason Roy. Of course he’s a big loss,’ said Morgan.
‘He’s an outstanding performer and epitomises the way we play. But James Vince is an extremely talented, gifted player. You can see that from watching him.’ It would help if Vince showed it at Lord’s on Tuesday.
Morgan confirmed on Monday that if Roy suffers any setbacks and cannot play any further part, then the door really is closed on Alex Hales. ‘I’ve spoken to Ed Smith about this and the pecking order of replacements hasn’t changed,’ said the England captain.
One man who is available is Liam Plunkett, who is pushing for a return after missing the last two games and could play ahead of a spinner on Tuesday.
Both England defeats in this tournament have come when Plunkett has been missing and Morgan said on Monday there was a ‘chance’ of an extra seamer playing.
The sight of an unusually green Lord’s pitch on Monday and the chance of rain overnight and on Tuesday perhaps increases Plunkett’s chances, but it also brings back uncomfortable memories of a similar surface here against South Africa in 2017.
Liam Plunkett continues to push for a return to the side and he could come in on Tuesday
Morgan reiterated that pressure of a home World Cup is not weighing England players down
England crashed to the small matter of 21 for six in that match before Morgan condemned the pitch as unfit for a one-day international, and that will surely play on the captain’s mind if he wins the toss on Tuesday.
Both England’s World Cup defeats have come when they have chased and their instinct will be to bat first for the rest of this tournament, but Mitchell Starc on a green pitch against Vince at 10.30am with a humid atmosphere is a prospect that would seriously test England’s nerve.
If they can cope with that, then they really do have the mentality of champions.