England mull over Dawson debut
Liam Dawson, the Hampshire slow left-armer, could make his international debut against Afghanistan on Wednesday after Eoin Morgan admitted England were considering the option of three spinners in a vital Group 1 clash in Delhi
England would take a significant stride towards the World T20 semi-finals if they avoid an upset on Wednesday. Their frontline spin pairing, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, have demonstrated their value in the tournament so far, and Morgan said that any decision over the make-up of the team would be deferred until the management had had a good final look at the wicket.
"I expected a dryer pitch," Morgan admitted. "There's still a lot of grass on it but I don't know what it's going to do. We'll have to leave it as late as possible to select the side, and see what conditions are going to be like. If it's another hot day like today, [the groundsman] might leave grass on it rather than take it off.
"Since we've arrive here we've had one net session in the nets and they have turned a considerable amount, but I don't think it will turn as much. We can be as open minded as we can, we can talk about it and we can use other players and our backroom staff as a sounding board."
If Dawson did play, it would be quite a turnaround for a player who spent part of last season loaned by Hampshire to Essex to rediscover his form. He achieved that so markedly that he won a call up to the England Lions in the UAE where he impressed the coach, Andy Flower, not just for his spin bowling but his ability to hit a long ball.
Dawson was nevertheless a surprise selection for England's 15-man squad, after beating Stephen Parry to the third spinner's role on account of his greater allround versatility. Morgan expressed absolute faith in his ability to front up on an important occasion, and stressed that Joe Root, who bowled briefly in the victory over South Africa, was not being considered as a front-line option.
"Rooty can be a viable option for a third spinner, but Liam Dawson adds a lot more with the ball than Joe would, and he would come into consideration if the grass comes off the pitch," Morgan said.
"Is he ready? Yeah, absolutely. He's trained really hard since he's come into the side and has been great around the group. He's really upbeat and, like everybody, he's really keen to get involved."
England's recent record against Associate nations at the World T20 leaves plenty to be desired, with defeats to the Netherlands in 2009 and 2014 staining their overall record. But Morgan said that England would be going into the Afghanistan game with their eyes wide open, and with their thoughts trained solely on victory.
"They're a dangerous side," he said. "They have played a really exciting brand of cricket. Ten years ago we might not have known much about them, but now that is the nature of modern sport. We know a lot about them and that is quite comforting - the fact that there's no stone that's left unturned.
"We watched the early stages of the tournament and they played some really good cricket. We watched both games, against Sri Lanka and South Africa in different circumstances, and it's been nice for us to see what they're about as a side."
Afghanistan's reputation for maverick tendencies is best expressed in the wild batting of Mohammad Shahzad, whose 44 from 19 balls was the highlight of their run-chase against South Africa. But Morgan said that they would be wary of all of their opponents, and not merely the man at the top of the order who has captured the recent headlines.
"I think he is a good batsman but I think it would be rude of me to single out any one of their players," he said. "I think as a side they can be quite strong and destructive.
"If we target one player in particular, it can give an opportunity to another player to come out and have their own day, so it is important we treat each player as we do Shahzad.
"I wouldn't say it is nervy to have a bit of unpredictability there, but I would say in any T20 game up against any team then unpredictability can be a strong point. We have lacked consistency as a T20 side in recent times and there is an element of that to our game."
With Sri Lanka looming as England's final contest of a potentially tight group, the prospect of net run rate could yet come into play as a deciding factor in which team goes through to the knock-outs. But Morgan dismissed any such thoughts from his mind, insisting that victory was England's sole focus, no matter how fast or slow their route.
"Our priority is on winning. Tomorrow is a big game and we are certainly not taking Afghanistan for granted, so first and foremost we need to go into that game with the right mindset," he said.
"I think focusing on anything else at the moment, given that there is two group games left, would be a little bit naïve, actually stupid, so tomorrow is very important and getting a win under our belt is key."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket