England are crossing their fingers over the fitness of captain Eoin Morgan after swapping Australia for New Zealand, where they will hope to relocate their Twenty20 mojo.
The tourists finally ended their winter-long stay in Australia on Sunday, a trip that saw them lose the Ashes 4-0 and then gain a measure of revenge with a 4-1 success in the 50-over campaign – though batsman Dawid Malan is the only player who can claim to have been present throughout.
They signed off with back-to-back defeats in the triangular T20 series and now face two games against the Black Caps with a place in the Auckland final on the line.
What role the skipper will play is uncertain after he pulled out of Saturday’s seven-wicket defeat with a groin injury sustained in training on the eve of the match.
A lengthy and disruptive travel day left him little opportunity for rest – England were delayed for five hours at the airport in Melbourne due to low-lying fog in Wellington – and he will be assessed by medical staff ahead of nets on Monday.
Morgan has been going through a lean run of form with bat in hand but is still the country’s most experienced T20 cricketer and an on-field general whose calm authority and decision-making contributed heavily to the team’s one-day success.
“Morgs has been a class act for England for many years and if he’s out he’s a big miss,” said leg-spinner Adil Rashid ahead of Tuesday’s match in Wellington.
“He’s a leader, he’s our captain and he has been for the past three years. He’s done a tremendous job and he gives us input on and off the field – even Saturday he was there with information, where needed.
“He captains really well, he’s clued into the game and he would be a big miss, so hopefully he’ll be back playing in a couple of days.”
Rashid is arguably England’s most important bowler in a format which increasingly emphasises, rather than undercuts, the effectiveness of wrist spin.
He took more wickets than any of his team-mates in the ODI series, racking up 10 scalps despite never quite settling into a groove, and assumes senior status in the absence of the rested Moeen Ali.
Yet he was barely able to make an impression against Australia, who asked England to bat first on both occasions and were left with straightforward chases of 156 and 138.
A chronic lack of scoreboard pressure left him little room for manoeuvre at the MCG and he was bullied by Glenn Maxwell to the tune of 20 runs in one over.
“It has been frustrating,” he admitted.
“Defending 130-odd when you come on to bowl is pretty hard work for the bowlers. Batsmen don’t play with any pressure when they need six or seven an over. In Twenty20 cricket that is fairly easy.”
“We set ourselves high standards but in these past two games we haven’t quite got it right.”
Rashid will be looking to win the battle of spin against fellow leggie Ish Sodhi and slow left-armer Mitchell Santner – who occupy the lofty heights of third and first in the ICC’s T20 bowling rankings.
The Yorkshireman sits 26th, with England’s highest placed bowler Chris Jordan in 15th, but is unconcerned about such matters.
“We don’t look at people’s rankings or where they are. We just look to play the ball, not the bowler,” he said.
“If they come on I’m sure we’ll have the aggressive mindset of looking to take them down, even if it is number one and number three in the world.”
In the second match of the five-game series on Sunday, it was the Zimbabweans who posted 333-5 in their 50 overs and then bowled out the Afghans for 179 to claim victory by 154 runs.
Brendan Taylor scored a majestic 125 as Zimbabwe leveled the five-match series.
Wicketkeeper Taylor led the Africans to 333-5 with his ninth ODI hundred, before Graeme Cremer took 4-41 with his leg-spin as Afghanistan slumped to 89-7 on their way to 179 all out.
Both teams are warming up for the 2019 World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe next month.
Wicketkeeper Taylor put on 135 for the fourth wicket with Sikandar Raza before being bowled by Afghan star Rashid Khan.
The 19-year-old leg-spinner returned figures of 2-36 from his 10 overs, but the Afghanistan seamers bore the brunt of Taylor and Raza’s hitting, with Dawlat Zadran and Gulbadin Naib conceding 181 runs from 17 overs between them.
All-rounder Raza’s 92 came from 74 balls with 13 boundaries including four sixes.
The Afghanistan chase never got going, with the dangerous Mohammad Shahzad dismissed for just 15 as they slipped to 36-5.
The in-form Mohammad Nabi added 53 with first-match centurion Rahmat Shah, but Zimbabwe captain Cremer took two wickets in two balls in his first over.
Dawlat Zadran put on 64 for the final wicket with 16-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rahman, hitting six towering maximums, but Zimbabwe wrapped up victory with ease.
The two sides play three more ODIs in the UAE before meeting again in Group B of World Cup qualifying on March 6.
Pakistan legend Wasim Akram has laid down the gauntlet to Jasprit Bumrah, suggesting the Indian pacer should skip April’s Indian Premier League and instead play a month’s county cricket in England to become a better bowler.
The Men in Blue will take on the Three Lions over five Tests in England this coming summer, with Akram believing a stint with the Duke ball in seaming and cold conditions in April would benefit the 24-year-old tenfold.
Akram, who claimed 414 Test wicket scalps in 104 matches for his country and is widely considered one of the greatest exponents of swing bowling, kept a close eye on Indian quicks, particularly during the 2-1 Test series defeat to the Proteas.
The 51-year-old highlighted Bumrah, specifically, as a man who could benefit from more fast bowling experience away from India if he has the desire to add plenty more Test caps to the three he has already.
“If Bumrah plays at least a month of county every year, trust me, he will be a better bowler. But then Indian board has to tell Bumrah to forego a month’s IPL and play county cricket,” Akram, who was speaking to PTI on the sidelines of the Ice Cricket match played at St. Moritz in Switzerland, said.
While the riches of Bumrah’s IPL deal with the Mumbai Indians would be difficult to give up, Akram believes fast bowlers, especially, need to look at the bigger picture in order to improve.
Indeed, the former Pakistan star agreed with the recent assessment made by West Indies pace great Michael Holding that Bumrah’s hit the deck hard policy would not work on pitches in England.
He said: “I agree with Mike that you can’t hit the deck on English surfaces but that would only come with experience. Look, the BCCI doesn’t allow the India’s main stars to play county cricket.
“If Bumrah can learn how to straighten the ball after pitching coming from wide off the crease, more often than not, it will be his wicket-taking delivery. He just needs to use a bit of wrists for that.”
Meanwhile, Akram has been impressed with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a stalwart for India in all forms, after the 28-year-old claimed 10 wickets in two Tests against South Africa at an average of 20.30.
He said: “Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been the most impressive pacer in South Africa, in Test and ODIs, as far as my assessment goes. He was getting the ball to swing both ways. He has increased pace now and has become all the more effective,”
India are slated to play five Tests, three ODIs and as many T20Is in their long tour of England starting this July.