England are hoping Eoin Morgan’s extra responsibility as captain, in place of the banned Alastair Cook, may somehow help the Irishman rediscover his form with the bat.
Cook’s suspension from the fourth one-day international, after his team bowled their overs so slowly on the way to victory over Sri Lanka in Hambantota, leaves England’s management with plenty to ponder before the series resumes back in Colombo on Sunday.
They have already confirmed the first and most important decision, that Morgan will be in charge as they seek to level up at 2-2. Other quandaries, such as whether to deploy Alex Hales alongside Moeen Ali in an experimental opening partnership or to recall experienced, utility top-four batsman Ian Bell, will test the tactical nous of captain and coach Peter Moores.
Before those calls are made, Moores has suggested a return to leadership duties may help Morgan arrest his slump.
Since his prolific series in Australia last winter, the middle-order linchpin has made just 207 ODI runs in 13 attempts over nine months. It is a jarring shortfall, with an average of under 16 compared to his career output of more than 37.
“He will be frustrated... very disappointed that he hasn’t yet managed to impact on the series,” said Moores, who nonetheless does not find it difficult to keep faith in the 28-year-old’s abilities.
“He’s a really top-flight one-day player, a real key for us. It will be interesting next game, as captain. Maybe that is a nice catalyst for him. He’s getting fully stuck in, and working at it. With four games to go, if he catches fire, he might end up top runscorer.
“The captaincy may be a healthy distraction.”
Coincidentally, perhaps, Morgan’s highest score in that sorry sequence since early March – albeit only 40 – came when he was last needed to lead the team in place of Cook, who was unavailable because of back trouble and sat out a hapless performance in a 157-run defeat against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street.
England prevailed by five wickets on Wednesday night to reduce the deficit here with four to play, but Morgan had little to do with it.
He made his way down to number six on the list, below Ravi Bopara, at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium – and contributed only a single before Jos Buttler and Joe Root clinched the match.
But Moores said of Morgan: “He’s a good player, crikey.
“He’ll have been through periods when he’s not quite hitting it (as he’d like). But he’s the sort of player we’re very excited about.
“The key is to believe in yourself, and go out and play – and Eoin will do that, I’m sure.”