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Morgan must get England to show some edge

Eoin Morgan celebrates his hundred Getty Images

Eoin Morgan is a man of substance and a cricketer of rare talent. He leads England at a good time. On the eve of the World Cup, little is expected of the team, but the players are better than their recent record. Morgan must exorcise the demons of insecurity by settling on a best XI and encouraging each member to be more than himself.

An aspect of Kevin Pietersen's omission that has been overlooked, and has hurt England, is the brazen nature of his approach - or the loss of it. In part, this comes from arrogance and in part it is his upbringing. Pietersen really didn't give a damn about the opposition, though the media eventually got to him. He cared that people embraced him as English but he did not want to be English. On the sporting field he wanted to confront and show off. Niceties were not for him, just global ovation. At his best, this made him unbeatable but the very nature of becoming unbeatable led him to become unbearable (so said the management).

A few England bowlers have had a hint of this - James Anderson and Stuart Broad are two. They treat batsmen with disdain, albeit on their terms. One suspects that Broad is a softie at heart (like Mitchell Johnson) and that Anderson has a tendency to retreat into himself. But Anderson is an important face for the team. Morgan will want that Lancastrian knee fit and well. And he will want the Burnley snarl at work. England's soon-to-be-highest Test match wicket-taker is a man for battle, especially as each battle begins with two new white balls that swing around in almost all Australian conditions.

English batsmen are not so contrary. Think David Warner or Virat Kohli as against Ian Bell, for example. All have special talent but the first two have attitude. Visibly, Warner looks the bowler in the eye and says, "I don't care about you." He might as well add "I am here to beat you to a pulp, to a submission." Kohli is not much different. To ensure the juices flow, they pick a fight. Just as Pietersen does.

Morgan cannot change the nature of man but he can do as Michael Vaughan once did. Convince his team to think: "Sod 'em." The best way to do this is to lead from the front, and the hundred Morgan made at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday afternoon was just the job. It was not quite enough to save the match but it sent a message: "We can mix it boys, get your game face on."

It was, incidentally, a magnificent hundred. Built upon the foundation of experience and calm and completed with a rare exhibition of strokeplay. Or more simply, in a dire situation, he played himself in by watching the ball with bloody-minded attention, forensically working the gaps while consolidating the middle overs, before finally parading the gifts that come so naturally to him. If he batted like this in Test matches, he would captain England one day.

At the press conference after the game, as at the toss before it, Morgan spoke with thought and honesty. Not for him the sportsman's pat, rather an Irishman's openness. He was less concerned by his own innings than the failure of his batsmen to adapt. Understanding that two wickets can quickly fall to fine swing bowling, he expressed dissatisfaction at the wickets that followed and, effectively, cost England the match long before the sun began to set.

Joe Root fell to his Achilles heal against Australia, the fast outswinger. Yes, it was a good one, but a ball to defend not push. Moeen Ali and Ravi Bopara fell to careless shots. Moeen had the Australians scattering but, with a poor moment of thought, picked out one of those scattered to the cover fence. Big mistake. Ah, you cry, a young batsman cannot have the wisdom of Worrell and the flair of Weekes. Agreed, but aspiration should be set high. Near the top of any batsman's list must be the selection of his shot. Moeen defied Sri Lanka for a whole day in a Test match at Headingley. This was his moment to defy Australia for a couple of hours in Sydney. This fellow is much, much more than a pinch-hitter. He is England's future - strong of heart, mind, stroke and spin, and representative of people who are fighting for a respected place in the Britain of the day. He can lead by both example and deed.

"Think David Warner or Virat Kohli as against Ian Bell, for example. All have special talent but the first two have attitude. Visibly, Warner looks the bowler in the eye and says "I don't care about you."

By removing Alastair Cook from the top of the order, the England selectors have set free the batting order. This is not to say it must operate without good sense. By removing Cook from the captaincy, they have allowed the thinking to go global contemporary. But there is still a place and time for the long-established basics. Among them, batting the full 50 overs on a decent enough pitch is paramount.

Defending a lowish total is increasingly difficult. This Sydney pitch had little in it, bar a feeling that the ball stuck in the surface a tad. Nowadays few one-day pitches have much grass to encourage seamers or dust to encourage spinners. The average first innings total for one-day internationals in Australia this past year is 294, up from 233 a decade ago. Bats, physical strength, shorter boundaries, T20 expressionism and besieged bowlers, along with the pitches, are the reasons.

Thus England are right to reach for the stars and Morgan will surely have encouraged his charges to do so. Equally, he is right to admonish shoddy thinking. If a sportsman is to achieve anything, he must think clearly.

The look of his side is good. Seven batsmen - one who keeps wicket and three who bowl - all offering something different, and two good reserves. Four specialist bowlers, two or three of whom bat powerfully. The ground fielding is okay and the catching safe enough. (Strangely, this is not an eye-catching era of fielding anywhere in the world.)

The minimum requirement is a World Cup semi-final place, which should not be beyond them. Morgan's example is the one to follow, for his perspective is wider than most. Then think Warner and Kohli and how difficult it is to settle against either. Imposing yourself upon the opponent is the way to get ahead. After that, it is down to who plays the best game. Just don't be browbeaten, that's all. In a nutshell, that was the secret of Ian Botham's England career. Not a bad model that Botham.