Aggressive. Fearless. Ruthless: That’s England under captain Eoin Morgan and it’s why they can rule the world
- England take on New Zealand in the 2019 Cricket World Cup final on Sunday
- Captain Eoin Morgan has built a one-day team that are aggressive and fearless
- England have won their last three matches and will start as favourites at Lord’s
There’s a good story about Eoin Morgan not long after he had become England captain that tells you everything about his style of leadership — a style that has taken his side all the way to Sunday’s World Cup final.
His team had a meeting before the 2015 home series against New Zealand which marked the start of their white-ball revolution, and Andrew Strauss — the managing director who had stuck with Morgan after the World Cup debacle — said a few words.
Morgan got up to say his piece, but before he started he asked Strauss to leave the room. He was concerned that some of the younger players might be afraid to express themselves in front of such a respected figure. Strauss agreed — and Morgan’s captaincy was up and running.
England captain Eoin Morgan (right) and Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson will clash on Sunday
Since then, he has never looked back in his determination to allow his players the freedom to go out and do it their way. Strauss deserves huge credit for realising Morgan was that kind of guy, and for appointing Trevor Bayliss as head coach. Strauss had captained under Andy Flower, who was a more meticulous, hands-on kind of coach, but he knew Morgan would flourish under a figure who let him get on with it.
If a player gets out in the nets, the instruction is to try again and do it better. If they get out in a game, there will be no one in the dressing room sitting there shaking their head. The environment Morgan has created, with the approval of Bayliss and the encouragement of Strauss, has been central to their success.
But there’s been a lot more to it than telling the players to express themselves. I was invited by Strauss to be part of a white-ball committee looking at how English cricket needed to change its attitudes to the limited-overs formats. After the misery of walking off the field at Adelaide in the 2015 World Cup, having been eliminated by Bangladesh, Strauss wanted to avoid a repeat in 2019.
All-rounder Ben Stokes may be a key man with both bat and ball in the World Cup final at Lord’s
Basically, enough was enough. And if that meant the Test results taking a hit for a while, so be it.
England looked at the way Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc had enjoyed success in that tournament, and decided to go with another left-armer, David Willey. They also wanted leg-spin to give them wicket-taking potential in the middle overs, hence the selection of Adil Rashid.
Crucially, Morgan stuck to his mantra of aggressive cricket. He knew that every word he said would filter back to the dressing room. While the old fogeys in the commentary box were moaning when England were bowled out with five overs to spare against New Zealand at the Ageas Bowl in 2015, Morgan said that he had no problem with their approach.
He backed his men and they responded. Look at Rashid, who some England captains of the past would have given up on because of our historical mistrust of leg-spin. Morgan knew he was integral to the gameplan — and those two wickets in an over against Australia on Thursday, when Rashid dismissed Alex Carey and Marcus Stoinis, proved how right he was.Morgan can be ruthless, too. When Jofra Archer became available, he decided that his pace trumped Willey’s left-arm swing.
He is loyal to his players, but he’s not blind to what makes a successful team. No one is irreplaceable.
Jonny Bairstow scored a century when England beat New Zealand during the group stage
And he’s been able to adapt as the World Cup has progressed. After the defeats by Sri Lanka and Australia, there was a realisation that tournament play really is different from a bilateral series. But Morgan didn’t panic. Jason Roy came back from injury, which helped, and England trusted their instincts while batting first against India and New Zealand.
The flair in his team is incredible, but he also knows he needs glue and common sense. That comes from Joe Root, Jos Buttler — who has plenty of flair, too! — and Chris Woakes, who has been immense these last few games. Now they need a trophy. Yes, this is a side to be proud of, but Australia have shown down the years that it’s all about winning, and England need to complete this journey by beating New Zealand.
They face a side who play with less aggression than the team who thrashed England in their World Cup game at Wellington four years ago, but a team who play in the steady, smart, relaxed image of Kane Williamson.