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Eoin Morgan and England preparing for off-road action against Australia | Sport


After four years spent manhandling teams on flat pitches en route to last year’s World Cup win Eoin Morgan is hoping for a switch to more challenging conditions as he plots the next phase of England’s 50-over evolution.

Starting on Friday at 1pm, three ODIs against Australia round off the summer for England’s men and a glance down the list of players expected to pull on the canary yellow suggests anything but a straightforward end to a season behind closed doors that has returned four series wins and one draw.

But with next year’s T20 World Cup and a 50-over title defence in 2023 hosted by India, Morgan does not want to simply rely on established strengths and invoked Doc Brown’s sign-off at the end of Back to the Future – “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” – when asked about surfaces he would like to see in Manchester.

“It’s a huge benefit to us playing at Old Trafford, particularly if we play on the wicket I think we’re going to play on, which will hopefully be slow and take a lot of turn,” said Morgan, celebrating his 34th birthday and fit again after a dislocated finger. “That’s the sort of wicket we will be more than likely to play on in India in 2023. To play on that for a period of time will expose different areas we need to get better at.”

Ben Stokes is on compassionate leave and Liam Plunkett has been rather clinically moved on but otherwise Morgan can call on eight fellow World Cup-winners – plus Moeen Ali, who played in seven group games – after using ODIs to blood newcomers and rest seniors over the past 12 months.

Jason Roy returns after a side strain, Jos Buttler from a short break, while Joe Root and Chris Woakes, overlooked for the 2-1 win in the Twenty20 series, slot back in after a busy Test schedule. The two 90mph men, Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, also play their first ODI cricket since the World Cup and, close to full strength, the chief question is how England manage without Stokes.

They have overcome this before, most notably when winning away in Australia in 2017 while Stokes was occupied by the Bristol affair and did so by playing the extra batsman. Training days remain inaccessible but, 24 hours out, the sense was that Sam Billings, not Sam Curran, will get the nod.

It places some additional pressure on the attack but conditions may well suit Adil Rashid. The Yorkshireman’s googly continues to be misread by Australia’s batsmen such that Morgan, not typically prone to hyperbole, was happy to talk up his charms and field questions about a possible Test recall.

Morgan said: “He’s the No 1 variation bowler in the world at the moment. The span of pace that he bowls has expanded this summer and as regards Test cricket the ball is in his court; whether the drive and the ambition is still there. Only he can answer that but he’s been in as fine form as I’ve seen him.”

Morgan welcomed the expectation that comes with being world champions and his opposite number, Aaron Finch, only added to this, calling England the benchmark and adding “there’s no part in a T20 or ODI where you can take your foot off the gas against them because someone will take the game away from you”.

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Finch, the latest in a summer of impressive touring captains, claimed his ODI side was “still searching for the right formula”, but at his disposal is a raft of players that suggests it cannot be far off. Steve Smith, with more time to bat, will be a different beast to the T20 series, while Marnus Labuschagne, overlooked for the first half of the tour, has begun his 50-over career in similar fashion to Test cricket.

Players such as Mitchell Marsh and Alex Carey are perhaps the ones still striving to make their mark but in Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, sustained hostility is expected with the ball.

England played the perfect game when the two sides last met in 50-over cricket for the World Cup semi-final but during the group stage – on the kind of low-scoring surface that Morgan now craves – it was the Australia attack that prevailed.

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