It will take more than an exploding oven to put off England’s young braves at the start of a new era under Eoin Morgan.
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Overheating chillies were thought to be the culprits in the Edgbaston kitchen on the eve of the one-day series. But whatever the details of a minor fire in the media centre stand, Morgan – who has unified the one-day international and Twenty20 captaincy – confirmed the drama yesterday had minimal impact on England’s preparations.
As he seeks to put last winter’s embarrassing early World Cup exit behind him, he has made it clear a new England will not be too proud either to copy the methods of their conquerors.
They must start the process, with a squad comprising six who failed at the World Cup and eight new or recycled faces, against New Zealand – who trounced them by eight wickets in Wellington four months ago, in less than half the scheduled playing time, on their way to the final of the global tournament.
One saving grace, as England urgently seek to demonstrate they are far better than they appeared that February day, may be the absence today of Tim Southee – who took seven for 33 as Morgan’s men were shot out for a hapless 123.
Southee will be given a little time to rest sore limbs after back-to-back Tests in a drawn series which finished last week.
As for England, radically changed and featuring a clutch of names unfamiliar to a wider audience as they try to reinvent themselves, Morgan makes no secret of the plan to ditch previous conservatism and adopt the aggressive template which underpinned both New Zealand and champions Australia’s World Cup success.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) June 8, 2015
“We watched New Zealand get to the final, playing the sort of cricket that has driven one-day cricket forward,” Morgan said. “You don’t have to look further than both finalists of the World Cup – that is the brand we want to play.”
As rising stars such as Jason Roy and David Willey practised their skills on a chilly but bright morning in the Edgbaston nets, the temperature was rising inside.
Fire alarms would soon be set off, and several kitchen staff had to be checked over for smoke inhalation. But aside from having to move his press conference 200 yards or so, to the indoor school, Morgan and his team were unaffected.
“Most of the boys were finished by the time the fire alarm kicked off,” he said.
England’s steel-eyed captain will not be distracted from the mission, despite his association with previous failings.
The plan has been signed off under new England and Wales Cricket Board director Andrew Strauss and will be inherited by recently-appointed but yet-to-arrive Australian coach Trevor Bayliss, following the sacking of Peter Moores.
Morgan, who will work initially alongside caretaker coach Paul Farbrace, said: “It’s great to have that backing. Andrew is on the same page as me, Farby and Trevor over the direction we want to take this team and the brand of cricket we want to play.
“We want to be unclouded in the way we play and put opposition sides under pressure as much as we can. For a long time now, we’ve been behind the eight-ball in one-day cricket.
“We’ve fallen behind by a long way, and it’s time for a catch-up.”
Five ODIs and then a Twenty20 against New Zealand will be a tough initial test.
“We hope it’s going to be a very exciting series for us,” added Morgan.
“After the World Cup, we’ve come back and said we need to change the way we play – and the proof of that is the selections we have made.
“We’ve selected guys who play a different brand of cricket – and we don’t want that to change once they put the England shirt on.”
Pakistan head coach Waqar Younis had been under fire for his failure to deliver in one-day cricket. Before the home series against Zimbabwe at the end of last month, which Pakistan won 2-0, they had suffered defeats in five straight series, losing to New Zealand (twice), Australia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
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The 3-0 capitulation in Bangladesh was the lowest point of that miserable run but Younis is banking on the upcoming series against Sri Lanka to help restore confidence for ninth-placed Pakistan to rise up the rankings and be in contention for a place in the 2017 Champions Trophy to be played in England, with the world’s top eight teams making the cut.
On the eve of the tour where they will be playing three Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20 games, Younis told Sport360° how injuries to key players have hampered the team’s progress and why the return of international cricket in Pakistan after six years, with the ODI series against Zimbabwe, has injected a fresh purpose in his side.
Q. What are your hopes for the tour of Sri Lanka?
A. There are high hopes and hopefully it will be a good tour for us. We will play to our potential and we will try to produce good results.
Q. Pakistan has done well in the Test format but it has not been the same in the ODIs. How hopeful are you that Pakistan will qualify for the Champions Trophy?
A. I admit that we have not been playing well in ODIs but we have to understand the drawbacks Pakistan has suffered in the last 12 months. The suspensions of Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, and then injuries to Mohammad Irfan, Sohail Khan and others. It would be difficult for me to count if I was to name all of the injured players. Unfortunately, every team goes through such torrid times when there are injuries, but I’m optimistic that phase has finished now and the team will develop better in the near future.
Q. Critics say that there are no match-winners in your team's bowling department. How do you respond to that?
A. In my opinion there are match-winners but we’re facing a number of injures at present. We do have bowlers with the X-factor like Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali, but due to the absence of Ajmal, there has been a big vacuum created. He has been winning matches for Pakistan for over four years now and continues to look effective. He was doing well in middle-overs and towards the end, so that has been the biggest drawback but we’ve got to live without him.
Q. How will the team cope without Ajmal?
A. It was a big jolt to lose Ajmal initially, but we are trying to indulge new players to fill that void. We suffered on the tour of Bangladesh and then we did not win as convincingly against Zimbabwe as we wanted to, but there are new players who will be given the opportunity to improve the balance of the team.
Q. Will the absence of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena from Sri Lanka's ODI ranks help Pakistan’s cause?
A. It is important for us to win and we’ll try to win at least three matches in the five-match [ODI] series. Sri Lanka is facing the problem of not having experienced players in their ranks as their two most important players are not available. We’ll do well in the one-dayers and we’ll try to win more than three matches.
Q. Will the victories over Zimbabwe help going into the series against Sri Lanka?
A. Cricket has returned to Pakistan and this is the most heartening thing for us. The setback of not playing home series' has ended and we will be able to play more at home going forward. It was a good morale booster for us to win in Lahore but we’ve got to get over the win and concentrate on the next challenge. We cannot take Sri Lanka lightly at all.
Q. You were a great fast-bowler in your time, but the team’s pace battery has struggled. What is the reason for this and, secondly, why are fast-bowlers tending to prefer the short ball instead of yorkers in one-day cricket?
A. In my last tenure, fast-bowlers did well but the injuries this time around have not helped the cause. The laws of cricket have changed a lot and have become batting friendly. Five fielders inside the circle, flat pitches, and two new balls from both ends have prompted bowlers to try short-pitched stuff. However, I still feel that Yorkers are the best option to outwit the batsmen who are trying to play big shots.
Q. What will be Pakistan’s strength on the tour of Sri Lanka?
A. Pakistan’s strength has been the batting in the Test format, especially as our bowling is comparatively weak. We’ve Misbah-ul Haq, Younis Khan, Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez doing well in the Test format, which is why I feel that our Test team is much more solid compared to our ODI and T20 sides.
Q. What can we expect from the Pakistan team with quite a few series lined-up over the next 12 months?
A. We felt really good playing at home and everyone witnessed good youngsters coming through and hopefully there will be more new faces in the squad. When you are building a new team it takes time. Series wins are important but you cannot distract yourself from the vision of blooding youngsters into the squad.
Q. What is the future for Umar Akmal in the team as he now seems limited to the T20 squad?
A. The future is in the hands of Umar Akmal. How he performs in the future will determine his future. There are different disciplines for different formats and he needs to understand those dynamics to play for Pakistan.
England and Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell has little doubt in his mind about how well a domestic franchise-based Twenty20 competition would work in the country.
Bell is one of many big names in favour of the format, with the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Tim Bresnan previously adding their voices.
Even England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman Colin Graves had insisted “we can’t ignore” the merits of a tournament that ends up mirroring the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League.
— NatWest T20 Blast (@NatWestT20Blast) June 7, 2015
Coincidentally, Bell smashed 90 off 65 deliveries in his return to the domestic scene this summer, as defending champions Birmingham Bears beat Durham Jets by seven wickets in the NatWest T20 Blast on Saturday.
The Blast is England’s premier T20 tournament, but when asked if franchises could be the way forward, Bell said: “Obviously, it needs to be looked at doesn’t it?
“The quality, the window of opportunity to have a brilliant Twenty20 in this country. If you see the success of the Big Bash, the success of the IPL, there’s no doubt that it could work unbelievably well in this country – no doubt.”
In what will be a gruelling Ashes summer, T20 may well provide a helping hand for Bell at the moment, as his innings for the Bears – the highest in the format for the county – came following a dip in form with England.
The 33-year-old clocked a century against West Indies in the first Test in Antigua, but followed it up with single figure scores, including a pair in Barbados, and then scored just 43 over four innings against New Zealand in the recent series.