England have match-winners but lack T20 experience, says Eoin Morgan

• ‘We’ve got to be realistic but T20 World Cup is unpredictable’ says captain
• England ‘very close’ to knowing their best World Cup T20 team

The focus now switches to the shortest form of the game for the next six weeks. England have two Twenty20 matches against South Africa on Friday and Sunday, much anticipated here, then two more practice games in India before they take on West Indies in their first World Cup match in Mumbai on 16 March.

Everything is now geared to that and the greatest challenge for Eoin Morgan and his team is to play with the freedom and zest they have often demonstrated since the last 50-over World Cup. In recent times England have developed the nasty habit of tensing up horribly whenever an ICC tournament comes along, the solitary exception being the 2010 World T20 in the Caribbean when, against the odds, they walked off with the trophy.

The odds do not favour England this time, according to Morgan, which may help his young side. “We’ve got to be realistic about things. We do have a number of match-winners but we are light on experience. The beauty of a T20 World Cup is that it is unpredictable. Anything can happen. We’ve seen top teams knocked out quickly and sides who’ve scraped through the group stages go on to win it.”

Unlike the last World Cup in Australasia a year ago England at least appear to have a rough idea of where they are going. Barring injury there will be no last-gasp switch of captain, for example. “We’re very close to selecting our best team or at least having a really good idea of what it is,” Morgan said, “which is good considering how close the World Cup is.

“But there is still a couple of options we might be able to take given the pitches we might come up against.”

The top seven are expected to be the same as in the ODIs which means the batsmen James Vince and Sam Billings are likely to be on the bench when the tournament starts.

“We’re allowed to bat deep because of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali and we will continue to do that,” Morgan said.

The bottom half of the order will be dependent on fitness (Steven Finn’s recovery will be monitored eagerly), the prevailing conditions (whether the ball is likely to swing or turn excessively), the odd selectorial hunch and, as Morgan reaffirmed, the need to ensure England’s fielding is up to scratch.

He said: “One thing we’re quite big on, and I know TB [Trevor Bayliss] is very keen on, is being one of the best fielding sides. You can save five to 10 runs in the field or take an outstanding catch. These are areas we’ll look to excel in. Clearly we can improve.

“In recent series it’s been a strength of our game but in this series [the recent ODIs] it hasn’t and we need to fix that as soon as possible.”

This emphasis on fielding may be reflected in a couple of the selections. Chris Jordan does not have a compelling record with bat or ball in this format but he may have won one of the last places in the squad because of the excellence of his fielding, and this may even win him a place in the starting side.

At the very least expect Jordan to replace anyone indisposed in India as an eager substitute fielder. This factor may also have influenced the selection of Liam Dawson, who is likely to be a peripheral member of the squad. He is not obviously a better batsman or bowler than Samit Patel but he is more nimble in the field.

Morgan would naturally like to build up to the World Cup with victories against a side who are in their group in India, the experienced South Africa team led by Faf du Plessis and heartened by their comeback in the 50-over series.

“Nobody will be rested in the next two games,” he said. “They are matches we really want to win. T20 cricket is very funny in this regard – when momentum is with you it can be very kind but if you’re struggling to gain it, it can be brutal.”

So Morgan wants to win without imposing undue pressure on his team, a balance that often encapsulates the art of successful management at international level. So he hedges a little: “Good performances here against South Africa will not be crucial but they would be a huge bonus going into the World Cup.”


Vic Marks in Cape Town

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