England’s age of Eoin takes a step towards the end with New Zealand defeat | Barney Ronay

Captain still reigns supreme but how long can this side keep putting itself through bubble-bound punishment?

Is this the promised end? Or just a staging post along the way? Narrow defeat in a T20 World Cup semi-final is hardly a terminal reading for Eoin Morgan’s increasingly leathery band of white ball buccaneers. But perhaps something did start to shift here.

England batted first at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium and fumbled their way to a weary-looking 166, soundtracked by the familiar empty echoes - the cries, the shrieks - of T20 cricket in the time of plague.

It has been a strange, winding journey over those six years of transformation. From the rebirth-series against New Zealand in 2015, to the unbound ecstasies of New Zealand at Lord’s, to the more deathly notes here, the Morgan Supremacy has measured itself out against these Black Caps. This was a first really significant defeat.

England didn’t lie down. They looked like they were winning this game with four overs left to bowl and New Zealand also struggling on a worn surface. At which point the game was transformed by a wonderful vengeful, redemptive piece of hitting from Jimmy Neesham, who swatted a 11-ball 21, and transformed a fighting fifty from Daryl Mitchell into a match-winning knock.

Neesham was out there batting as England took that super-over World Cup final. He remains a hugely likeable cricketer in a hugely likeable team. Only the hardest English heart could decide this wasn’t, to some degree, a happy ending. But for England there are decisions to be made.

Such is the madness of the current schedule it is still possible to pursue the grail of holding both white ball World Cups at the same time. At the end in Abu Dhabi Eoin Morgan confirmed he has zero intention of breaking up this team before then. He has a point too. Anyone can lose a game of T20 cricket. England were missing four gun players in Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jason Roy and the death bowling stylist Tymal Mills.

But these are also unusually gruelling times. England have looked tired in patches. The surfaces have look tired. The whole sport looks tired right now. The next T20 World Cup is followed by another 50-over World Cup.

At the Sheikh Zayed England’s batting order featured a 35 year old, two 34-year-olds and only one man under the age of 29. Bubble life keeps on taking pieces out of you. How long can this well-seasoned crew really hope to keep putting itself through all this? Morgan himself is as much a strategist as a batsman these days, and captaincy is a key skill in T20. But that bell has been clanging for some time now.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this defeat was the way the batting seemed to sag. This entire era has been built on hat sense of fun, arrogance, anger, of chasing the day right to the end. Here England were tense and a little careful batting first after New Zealand won the toss and sent them in.

Jonny Bairstow was out early, shovelling Tim Southee angrily to deep cover. Jos Buttler, the one England batter playing through a moment of real grace at this World cup, was lbw sweeping. New Zealand are a nagging kind of team. They look to strangle you, slowly. Time and again Dawid Malan stroked the ball out to the thrillingly mobile Glenn Philips, skittering round the cover boundary like a drop of hot oil in water.

The hundred came up at the end of the 14th over. Moeen Ali did manage to accelerate, going to 50 off 35 balls with some controlled hitting. Liam Livingstone hit one ball to the moon, then holed out, a little unfulfilled, a little wasted. England finished only four wickets down, but with four sixes hit in 20 overs. Morgan was there scuffling at the end. Did they have enough fun here? Did they swing with enough gusto? Did they chase the day?

This will bother Morgan the most. Certainly much more than a poor 17th over from Chris Jordan that effectively swung the game after a fine early spell from from Chris Woakes and a strangulation by Livingstone’s all-sorts in the middle overs. Jordan’s plan of dishing up half-volleys on Neesham’s pads proved flawed. Mitchell, an ugly, bold, effective T20 player, produced a decisive half century.

New Zealand are deserved and popular finalists. For England the wider question is how far does this defeat cut? How much further does this wonderful, transformative team still have to run? These are still brilliant players. But there is always a sense with teams that growing old together can spread that rot a little further.

Under a genuinely ruthless leadership, with a thought for building rather than protecting a legacy, their might be three or four spots opening up in this team before that next World Cup. Morgan himself has looked some way off an elite batsman at this tournament. This was his shot, a well-earned chance to keep on running past his own use-by date.

English sport is, as ever, is in thrall to personality, and to past success. But do we need to see more of this? Does it still feel like the correct way to build and nourish a team? Some reflection is required, perhaps even a voice beyond that of the captain himself. One thing is true even in defeat. It has, for now, been a blast from start to finish.

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Barney Ronay

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