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Morgan wants England's smiling assassins to offer Australia no mercy

England are in the unusual position of entering an ODI match against Australia as favourites. But their upsurge owes much to a common adversary

Alex Hales started with intent as England batted under cloudy skies, England v New Zealand, Champions Trophy 2017, Cardiff, June 6, 2017

Alex Hales is one of a raft of attacking England batsmen who have taken their cue from Brendon McCullum  •  Getty Images

It tells you much about the confidence around the England team at present that, on the eve of a match against a foe that has caused them much pain over the years, they were asked about the danger of complacency.
It is a remarkable state of affairs for a side without a global tournament victory in their history in the format, ranked No. 5 in ODIs, and playing an Australia team ranked No. 3. And it is true that it possibly says more about the hubris that haunts some aspects of England as much as it does anything else.
There shouldn't be even a hint of complacency from this England side. They are too hungry for that. Too hurt from the World Cup, too, in several cases. They know they have, as yet, achieved relatively little and that to be regarded as the best in the world, they have to be winning these games and these tournaments. Until they do, complacency should be the last of their worries. As Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach, put it on Thursday: "Our motivation is purely on keeping momentum going and playing well. We're still learning."
Equally, there is no danger that England will feel any sympathy for Australia's issues with their contractual dispute with their cricket board - "We'll have a whip round," Eoin Morgan joked - or their travails at the hands of the weather. Not once they get out on the pitch, anyway.
There's certainly no delighting in either predicament ("Of course you have sympathy for them," Farbrace said in relation to the rain issue. "If the boot was on the other foot and it was us, you'd feel it was pretty tough, really.") but the idea that England will in any way go soft on Australia was met by Morgan with the same look of incomprehension as a lion when asked if it had sympathy for the antelope whose neck it has in its jaws: blank eyes; a stare; maybe just the hint of a growl. England and Australia games, like India and Pakistan games, don't need context. That this one has some is a bonus.
But all the talk of complacency and sympathy does, perhaps, reflect the progress England have made since they were humbled at the World Cup. Farbrace had talked in some detail about the shock that caused to the team the previous day. Today, it was Morgan's time to reflect upon it.
In particular, Morgan spoke of the huge influence Brendon McCullum and his New Zealand team had on him and the way England played.
It wasn't just that they New Zealand were good at the World Cup. It was they showed that a team could be good, could play hard cricket - ferociously hard in the case of McCullum - could be attractive to watch, positive in their approach, accessible to their supporters and still enjoy success. And, not least, that they could do all that and not strut and posture and sneer and snarl at their opposition.
If that sounds obvious, it's worth thinking back to the England team of three or four years ago. Think of the ugly saga that followed the alleged incident during the Trent Bridge Test against India in 2014; think how Sri Lanka turned on England after being riled by backchat during their series win earlier in the summer; think of the endless public washing of the team's dirty laundry with the KP debacle and the way that magnificent team's legacy was tainted. England were arguably the least popular side in world cricket. And while that might not matter and many might not much care, it didn't make them the most attractive proposition when trying to sell the sport to a new generation of supporters.
Compare that to the England team we see now. A team playing, arguably, the most exciting cricket in the world; a team who make time for every selfie, every autograph and just about every interview request. A team who have enjoyed improbable success and revived interest in their sport. A team who have put the smile back on the face of England cricket. These are not minor things for a game fighting for its place in the public consciousness.
"Brendon has certainly been an inspiration for me," Morgan said. "I had three years at Kolkata Knight Riders with him, in which we grew pretty close, and I learned a lot from him.
"I watched him lead within a group and saw his tactical cricket brain and how he goes about things. He always has an alternative view regardless of whether it's right or wrong, which makes things really interesting when you chat to him about cricket."
It wasn't just New Zealand who played a different style of cricket to England at the World Cup, of course. It was, as Morgan said, the four semi-finalists (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India) who showed England the direction in which they must travel.
"I always mention the top four teams that got to the semis in Australia and New Zealand," Morgan said. "The brand of cricket they played was completely different to everybody else. They were aggressive. They could score 350 if needed and they always went for an attacking bowling line-up. Nothing they ever did was a step backwards."
But it was the sight of McCullum thrashing Steven Finn around Wellington, or hurling himself around in the field, or posting another slip fielder just as other captains would be removing one, that lingered longest from that World Cup. And, while other teams might have taken the opportunity to put the boot into a wounded opponent - think of David Warner talking about Jonathan Trott during the 2013-14 Ashes - McCullum went the other way when asked about Morgan mid-way through the tournament. "Tough times don't last," he said. "Tough blokes do. He's a champion player."
Morgan, Farbrace, Andrew Strauss and Trevor Bayliss all deserve credit for the resurgence in England's limited-overs cricket. Many others, too. But you could argue that the McCullimization of England cricket is as relevant as anything. If England win on Saturday, if they go on to win this tournament, it will be in part because of the deep impression he made upon them.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo