Eoin Morgan says his eyes are set firmly on the bigger picture after England’s 3-2 series defeat in the T20Is against India, with the opportunity to develop consistency and grow his team’s pool of available players being his primary motivation going into the three-match ODI leg of the tour in Pune on Tuesday.
Despite their crowning glory at Lord’s in 2019, Morgan acknowledged that England’s record in ODIs since the World Cup final has been “average”, but insists that this week’s series is not merely a “consolation prize” for the tourists after their losses in both the T20Is and the Tests that preceded it.
In September, Australia condemned Morgan’s 50-over team to their first bilateral series loss since their last tour of India in 2016-17, and in August, Ireland chased a record 329 to seal a memorable seven-wicket win at the Ageas Bowl. In all, England have won four and lost four of their completed ODIs since 2019, and had their most recent series, in South Africa before Christmas, cancelled without a ball being bowled.
In mitigation, England have not been able to call upon their first-choice XI in ODIs since the World Cup, with the constraints of Covid on the one hand and the prioritisation of the forthcoming T20 World Cup on the other leaving the 50-over team as more of a developmental squad. Ben Stokes, for example, has not featured in an ODI since his Player-of-the-Match performance in the World Cup final.
This week’s squad will be weakened by the absence of Jofra Archer, whose troublesome right elbow is undergoing further treatment, while neither Joe Root nor Chris Woakes – two other integral members of the World Cup-winning XI – are currently involved in the 50-over squad due to the ECB’s rest-and-rotation policy.
And as consequence, Morgan called on the fringe members of his squad, in particular, to embrace the learning opportunities in “alien conditions”, both to push their names forward for the T20 World Cup in October, but also for England’s long-term goal of defending the 50-over crown in India in 2023.
“We’ll see guys given opportunities, more so than the T20 series,” Morgan said. “It’s going to be exciting, three games at the same ground against a very strong Indian side is a huge opportunity for everyone to get back out there, in the frame of mind and the pace of 50-over cricket, and for guys who want to make their case in both formats.
“With a World Cup around the corner, playing any cricket is a huge opportunity for guys who have been here on the fringes and not made selection so far. When you score runs or take wickets away from home, there is always a huge incentive to try and push your case forward.”
The one player in England’s set-up with the most to prove in the coming days is arguably Moeen Ali. He sat out the entire T20I series, despite having missed the final two Tests last month to prepare for the white-ball campaign, and has taken a solitary wicket in ODI appearances since losing his place in the starting XI during the 2019 World Cup.
Though Morgan was unable to confirm whether he would be a guaranteed starter in Tuesday’s first match, he insisted that Moeen remains an integral member of England’s white-ball set-up, and that the set-backs that he has endured this winter – including a positive Covid diagnosis in January that undermined his comeback to the Test team in Sri Lanka – had not reduced his importance to the team.
“He takes them in his stride,” Morgan said. “The little period Mo spent at home before this series has done him the world of good. He has come back refreshed and with plenty of energy. He is a very relaxed guy who always has a reasonable perspective on life and sport and the role that it plays within society. So he is travelling really well.
“Anybody who is an all-rounder and makes the squad is extremely valuable to our side,” he added. “I know he has not played but that’s been circumstantial. The pitches we played on just haven’t turned and that obviously limits the contribution a finger-spinner might make in the game.”
Reece Topley, who made his ODI comeback against Ireland last summer, is another player who may be able to advance his case for October, having also been a non-playing member of the T20 squad this week, while Liam Livingstone – with his versatility as a spin-bowling allrounder – could come into contention for a middle-order berth, four years after his last England appearances.
“We see the 50-over format between the two T20 World Cups as a building block for our squad,” Morgan said. “And that’s not compromising performance at all. We feel we have an extremely strong squad outside of our final XI regardless of format, so it will present opportunities for guys like that.
“Trying to envisage where 50-over cricket will be in three years ‘time is quite difficult,” he added, of the challenge of planning ahead to 2023. “So the challenge for us is always trying to explore and push the limits as much as we can, given the conditions.
“In conditions that are a little bit alien to us, like India, it’s nice to get out of your comfort zone and learn more about your team and your players, to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Reflecting on the disappointing end to England’s T20I campaign – in which India overturned a 2-1 deficit with back-to-back victories in the final two games – Morgan said that the experience had still been invaluable for his side’s development, and that the urge to avenge that loss was not really a motivation for his team in the coming days.
“Even though we didn’t pick up the trophy, we learned a huge amount,” Morgan said. “It has been an extremely productive tour so far in white-ball cricket, the biggest picture always being the World Cup in both white-ball formats. You don’t always have to win every series in order to win a World Cup. You continuously need to get better, need to be tested as a side, need to fail in order to learn. That involves losing, which isn’t fun but it is part of the journey.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket