Eoin Morgan challenges young players to seize chance to cement T20 World Cup roles
World Cup postponement offers fringe players chance to gain valuable experience
Eoin Morgan says that the extra months of preparation ahead of next year's postponed T20 World Cup could be crucial in getting the younger players in the England squad up to speed at international level.
However, he also warned that it would be difficult for England to be considered among the favourites in Australia next year if they continue to take the field with a "half-strength" team.
England's white-ball squad was already lacking four key members of that World Cup squad in Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jofra Archer, before the experience in their ranks was further eroded by the loss of Jason Roy to a side strain.
And speaking on the eve of the first T20I at Emirates Old Trafford - England's first outing since it was confirmed that the World Cup, originally scheduled for October and November, would be pushed back to 2021 - Morgan challenged the team's fringe players to seize their chance in the absence of those more established names.
"Given the circumstances surrounding Covid at the moment and the restrictions selection-wise, and having a priority on players' wellbeing, this is another opportunity for guys who potentially would sit outside that 15, to try and present their best case, moving forward, for winter tours and the World Cup next year," Morgan said.
"I also think that opportunities like this don't come around very often when we have our squad at full strength."
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England's triumph in last summer's 50-over World Cup was made possible by a settled squad with clearly defined roles. However, Morgan recognised that this year's unique circumstances - with England running concurrent Test and white-ball squads in a bid to fulfil their broadcast commitments after four months of lockdown - had left the development of their new-look team in a state of flux.
"One of the challenges between now and the World Cup next year is going to be getting our strongest team on the park as often as we can to define those roles," he said. "We will only know our strongest positions after we have guys achieving in those roles."
In the wake of a draining 2019 summer, England took an experimental T20 squad to New Zealand in November last year, where three of the current squad members, Tom Banton, Lewis Gregory and Saqib Mahmood, all made their debuts in a 3-2 series win, while a more experienced line-up came from behind in South Africa in February to win their three-match series 2-1.
"It was a good exercise in the winter at different stages, particularly in South Africa, when we had the majority of people available - all bar Jofra, who was injured," Morgan said. "But I don't think we can have a scenario where we can play the majority of our games with a half-strength team and then expect to go into a World Cup as contenders."
Nevertheless, Morgan was torn as to whether the postponement of the T20 World Cup was actually an advantage to England, given that they would have been one of the only teams in the world to have had any meaningful match practice in the wake of the global sporting shutdown.
"If the tournament went ahead, we would have been at an advantage over a lot of other nations given that we were already playing together," he said. "But I think a lot of sides might have been up against it and it might have added a level of unpredictability to the World Cup.
"Everybody's favoured [by the postponement], simply because they haven't been playing cricket. In a perfect-case scenario you lead into the World Cup playing good competitive cricket against sides in the conditions that you're going to play, and the side has been together for a lot of the time."
Instead, England may need their younger players to find their feet at the highest level as quickly as possible, particularly a player such as Banton, who has found himself playing out of his comfort zone in the middle order in ODI cricket, due to the wealth of top-order talent at England's disposal.
"The messaging from myself or the coach is to feel as comfortable in an England shirt as you do in a county shirt," Morgan said, "and to actually feel free enough to play the expansive game that you would at your county within international cricket.
"Our job is to get the best out of the guys who are in our squad. So, in order to achieve that, guys need to feel comfortable and free enough to take the risks that international T20 cricket demands."
Instead of the T20 World Cup, the main focus for many of England's white-ball players will be the IPL, which will be held in Dubai during the same window after being postponed from the spring, and Morgan hoped that the lessons available in that tournament, as well as Australia's Big Bash, will help to fast-track the development of players such as Banton, whom he will be playing alongside at Kolkata Knight Riders.
"A lot of the guys we have in the squad at the moment are young guys coming through, and when you're at that stage of development in your career, six to eight to 12 months is actually quite a considerable amount of time," Morgan said.
"I think the challenge for those guys is actually getting the opportunity to go away and play," he added. "The IPL is going ahead, and we have a long tour to India which actually frees up guys to play a full Big Bash and then potentially put their case forward to be selected in an IPL in the new year.
"So, trying to expose them to a lot more white-ball cricket can accelerate their development as opposed to just sitting at home, not playing anything and wondering about what next summer will look like for us."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket