EOIN MORGAN’S attacking instincts proved the game-changer for England in their Champions Trophy rout of Australia, although the captain admits it was handy having the brilliant Ben Stokes at the other end too.
England’s fourth-wicket pair turned the apparent perils of 35-3 in pursuit of 277-9 into a victory surge as their stand of 159 set up a 40-run Duckworth-Lewis victory which put Australia out of the tournament.
After Stokes hit a career-best unbeaten 102 from 109 balls, England were home and hosed by the time rain swept over Edgbaston for a second time, with a match-winning 240-4 on the board.
While Australia must head home from the wet English summer after two previous no-results, the hosts will take a short trip south for a Wednesday semi-final in Cardiff.
That outcome seemed a world away when England’s openers and Joe Root were back in the pavilion before a short initial rain break, leaving Morgan (87) and Stokes to come up with a plan to knock off an Australia total featuring three half-centuries but limited by four wickets each for Mark Wood and Adil Rashid.
Morgan’s response was clear from the moment he resumed his innings, with boundaries from the first two balls he faced against Mitchell Starc among five fours reeled off in 11 deliveries.
Asked for his memory of the chat before heading back out , Morgan said: “We just talked about how we were going to go about it. We felt that the positive way was the best way.
“It managed to work, we did it in our own way.”
Morgan’s England are renowned for staying on the attack even in adversity.
“You have to earn the right for guys to make mistakes with the ball,” he added. “So I did what I do, and obviously Ben’s very naturally aggressive and finds attacking quite easy.”
Everyone was giving Stokes rave reviews after his third one-day international hundred continued his upward curve. And Morgan believes the all-rounder has more improvement in him, especially after his successful maiden Indian Premier League campaign.
“His potential is through the roof,” said the Irishman.
“He bowled four overs in his first spell, and then to go back to him at the end with two of the hardest overs to bowl sums it up.
“He took it on his shoulders. Then his batting was exceptional - very calm at the crease, very relaxed. He was outstanding.”
Stokes is a hyperactive cricketer, and that is the way England like it.
“He’s always looking to influence the game - bat, ball, or even in the field,” added Morgan.
“A lot of guys with potential like that, when things aren’t going (their) way, back into a corner - but that’s not Ben.”
England also had good reason to be grateful to Wood (four for 33) and Rashid (four for 41) as Australia lost their way from 239 for four.
Morgan said: “We’ve proved we can peg sides back regardless of where they’re at going into the last 15 overs, which probably a couple of years ago was a bit of a car crash for us.
“That’s a huge improvement.”
England’s one worry remains Jason Roy.
Morgan has previously been adamant there is no prospect of dropping the out-of-form opener, but after his latest failure, for the first time the captain did not sound quite so convincing, meaning there could be a call-up for Yorkshire’s previously-unused Jonny Bairstow.
“It’s unfortunate that Jason didn’t get runs,” said Morgan. “We’re obviously three games into a tournament and we’ll take a couple of days to have a look at what our best team is for the semi-final, as we always do.
“We revisit it every game, everybody’s position, whether it can be changed around, can we do anything better?”
Australia have no such pressing problems because they will not be playing again for a while.
Their captain Steve Smith said: “I thought we let ourselves down a little bit. We got ourselves into a pretty good position early with the bat. But someone in the top four probably needed to go on and make a hundred.
“We lost five for 15 at one point as well, which you can’t afford to do against an opposition like England.”
They then had no answer to Morgan and Stokes.
“To get three early wickets was quite crucial, and then it seemed like there was a bit of a momentum shift after that rain delay,” added Smith. “Stokesy and Morgy came out and played very positively. We were off a bit, gave them a lot of freebies, but they did play exceptionally well.
“When you’re playing in a big tournament for your country, you need to step up and get the job done. We just didn’t turn up the way I would have liked after the (rain) break.”