England v Australia - England must embrace World Cup ‘dream’
Eoin Morgan wants his England side to embrace their “dream” World Cup semi-final against Australia and prove their recent defeat to the old enemy was nothing but a bump in the road.
The rivals will go head to head at Edgbaston today, fighting for the right to take on a New Zealand side who shocked India yesterday to seal their place in the Lord’s showpiece.
It is England’s biggest knockout match in a generation and the stakes could scarcely be higher but Morgan hopes they can enjoy their moment in the sun.
“I think sometimes you can lose sight of the position that you’re in and the fact you’re living your dream. Sometimes, I’m guilty of it,” he said.
“I don’t think it is impossible to play with a smile on your face. I think excitement probably should be the dominant (emotion). It’s the semi-final of a World Cup.
“The support we have had throughout the tournament has been unbelievable and certainly something I have never experienced in my life. The amount of good faith and goodwill going around is fantastic, so we sense the support that’s with us, but also the opportunity as well.”
Rewind just a couple of weeks and England’s prospects were looking vastly different, with Australia’s 64-run win at Lord’s forcing the hosts to the brink of elimination.
Faced with a ‘fight or flight’ moment, the hosts recovered their fighting spirit in dominant victories over India and the Black Caps and Morgan warned Australia they would not have it so easy again.
“I think we’re probably more confident than we were three games ago. We are probably a different team,” he said. “For a while getting through to this stage looked unlikely, or was called into question, and I think that makes it more exciting for us. It feels like we’re back to the team we are.”
Morgan will also get the chance to settle a personal score if and when he comes up against the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, left-arm quick Mitchell Starc.
Morgan’s former team-mate Kevin Pietersen sent an incendiary tweet about their match-up at Lord’s, accusing the England skipper of backing away and showing “weakness” – cricket code for being scared of pace.
Morgan told BBC Sport: “When Kevin Pietersen comes out with a comment, it’s very similar to comments I address from Geoffrey Boycott. They are not ones that are considered good for the team environment and don’t take the best interests of the team or the player at heart.
“Guys are trying their heart out to do well for their country, trying to learn, trying to get better. We have critics being critics. They need to do that, that’s their job, so let them be.”
England have utilised the services of two left-arm ‘dog throwers’ in the nets – Ant Botha and Donovan Miller – but that is not to say Starc has them spooked.
“We are not over-targeting or overanalysing anybody. We’ve played against him a lot before,” added Morgan.
“There’s only so much practice you can do. (It’s about) producing it in the game and facing that bowler, whoever he is. The more you face him, the easier it gets. He’s a good bowler but they have quite a few fine bowlers.”
England would only contemplate changing a winning side if the pitch in Birmingham looks extremely receptive to spin, bringing Moeen Ali back into the equation.
Fitting him in might mean sacrificing Liam Plunkett, though, a bold call given the team’s three tournament defeats have come when he has missed out.
“It’s always a tough call when we leave him out. He’s never let us down,” said Morgan.
“He’s not lost a game yet which is obviously a good sign. But, if it we feel it is going to turn we will lean towards a spinner.”
Aaron Finch played down the relevance of Glenn Maxwell’s absence at his team’s final net session but Australia are still pondering a huge selection gamble.
It was an optional workout, and the 30-year-old was not the only player to sit out, but it fuelled suggestions that Australia were preparing to axe him in favour of Matthew Wade.
The International Cricket Council only confirmed Wade’s place in the squad as an injury replacement for Usman Khawaja less than 24 hours before the match but he is reportedly under consideration for a first cap since October 2017.
That would represent a massive risk but Maxwell is vulnerable after managing just 155 runs in nine innings at the competition.
“It’s a purely optional training session. You’re reading a bit too much into it,” said Australia captain Finch.
“Maxi is someone who probably 50 per cent of the time comes down to optional sessions. Most of the bowlers aren’t here, Davey (Warner) isn’t here. We’ll name our side tomorrow at the toss, as usual.”
Justin Langer broke with that practice on Tuesday though, guaranteeing another injury replacement - Peter Handscomb - would take over from Khawaja.