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Morgan seeks improvement on slower tracks as England aim to defend title in India

In the four year build-up to the 2019 World Cup victory, the pitches England played on in 50-over cricket at home were very often batting paradises. They regularly amassed huge scores, including three of more than 400, as they developed the fearless approach that Eoin Morgan wanted his side to embrace. Although the pitches during last summer's tournament itself were more difficult for batting, England's approach worked. They became world champions.

 

The next World Cup, in India, will be played in very different conditions, though. The pitches will generally be lower, slower and favour spinners more than those England have tended to play on at home over the past four years.

Although they adapted well enough to some difficult surfaces during last summer's World Cup, they have been caught out before on slow and low pitches which require not so much all out attack and boundary hitting as nous and touch and the rotation of strike.

That was the case in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final in Cardiff, for instance, where Pakistan outdid them on a slow pitch. Sri Lanka defeated them at Headingley during last year's World Cup on a similarly sluggish surface. It's not that England do not have the ability to adapt and succeed on those types of pitches. They have proved they can. It's just that it does not come as naturally to them as blazing away on batting shirtfronts.

Therefore, because England need to get hone a method on the lower and slower surfaces they expect in India in three years' time, Morgan wants their home pitches to replicate those conditions as much as possible between now and then. And he expects the Old Trafford pitch for the three ODIs against Australia which begin on Friday to present a similar challenge to the one his team will face in India.

"It's a huge benefit to us playing at Old Trafford, particularly if we play on the wicket I think we're going to play on which will hopefully be slow and take a lot of turn," Morgan said. "That's the sort of wicket we will be more than likely to play on in India in the World Cup of 2023 and to play on that for a period of time will expose us in different areas we need to get better at.

"Over the course of the last four and a half years we have had to wait to play at Cardiff or Old Trafford or go away on tour to experience those conditions. So hopefully a little more of that will help us get better at what we need to do on those sort of pitches."

Typically, the Old Trafford pitch is renowned as one of the quickest and truest in the country - and the recent T20Is against Pakistan there were high-scoring affairs - but Morgan does not think that will be the case against Australia, certainly for Friday's opening match. "When the sun is out, which is not that often, it can fly though and be pacey," he said. "But it's been overcast and that makes it tacky. You need it to be sunny to be hard."

While it is England's batsmen who have sometimes struggled to adapt to different sorts of pitches, Morgan actually thinks it will be his side's fast-bowlers who will have to adapt more to the slower surfaces. The batsmen, he says, have already gone through the adjustment phase, notably in last year's tournament. The bowlers have more to do. "I think going away from what we are strong at will do us good for a period of time," he said.

"It allows us to focus on things that are our weakness side, so it creates a new dynamic. It's a bigger challenge for our seamers, our batters have gone through that. If we could [play on slower, lower surfaces at home], that would be brilliant. It's logical and the planning makes sense around it, the T20 World Cup in India and then long-term the 2023 World Cup."

It is not the only area of England's game that needs improvement. Morgan highlighted the team's fielding, which cost them the final T20I against Australia on Tuesday evening, as one aspect which has to get better. He also called-out the challenge of playing the three-match series that than have been introduced as part of the World Cup Super League which don't allow teams to ease into a series as they could if there were five matches. "We'll go into every game as a knockout game," he said.

As well as embracing that sort of knock-out pressure that England have become accustomed to handling of late, Morgan was bullish about the levels of expectation on his side following their victory last summer. "I think the expectation outside of our group is higher than it has ever been and it should be," he said. "We've got an incredibly talented group of guys who have proved they are good players and collectively we're a hard team to beat.

"I'd rather go in with a weight of expectation than none at all. We've grown to be comfortable with that expectation over the last few years."

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Friday, September 11, 2020