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Cricket news - Favourites tag a huge compliment - Morgan
In the days prior to the 2015 World Cup, England were already nursing wounds. Alastair Cook had been sacked and Eoin Morgan given the mother of all hospital passes. His first order of business on the field was the small matter of a three-team round-robin against Australia and India.
"Australia beat us up and down in Australia," remembered Morgan at the press conference after their final warm-up match against Afghanistan, which they won by nine wickets. "We beat India which got us through to the final where we were beaten. We were constantly trying to find a formula that might work in the group stages. So we were having a lot of meetings about how we could get better."
Whatever plans made during those weeks and meetings - such as batting James Taylor at number three and opening the bowling with Chris Woakes - were binned when the tournament proper got underway. England failed to get out of their group, losing four of their six matches.
Compare and contrast the cluttered minds then to the clarity now. More specifically, what Morgan will be doing on Tuesday, two days out from the hosts' 2019 World Cup opener against South Africa: "I am playing a lot of golf."
What a difference four years make.
Others will join Morgan on the course. A handful will run some errands in London. Some may even come to the Oval to do a spot of training, though nothing official is in the schedule. This side trusts the work they have put in so far and are not desperately raring to go.
The trivial nature of these warm-up matches were heightened by England's six ODIs in the lead-up against Ireland and Pakistan. Whatever fine-tuning needed to be done, such as determining the squad of 15, were sorted even halfway through that programme. As such, defeat to Australia and Monday's win over Afghanistan were relatively moot barring a handful of injuries picked up through the former and a professional demolition job in the former.
"We have felt ready the last week or so," said Morgan. "If we didn't play these warm up games, we still would have been in a position where we felt confident going into that first game.
"The only thing we missed today was the opening bowlers probably would have liked to bowl a little bit more but such was the game." Indeed, bowling Afghanistan out for 160 inside 39 overs came with cons. Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes bowled just 10.4 overs between them, with Archer the pick of the two with three for 32, while Woakes conceded just 10 runs from his five overs. "They are fully prepared. Today as whole I was very happy with the preparation."
As for those injuries, well they have all but cleared up now. Morgan was passed fit after dislocating his finger and played in this match as a batsman only, though was not required. He was netting immediately after his press conference, making use of the indoor nets at the Oval but is satiated by his three innings and 164 runs during the Pakistan series.
Scans on Mark Wood's calf came back all clear and he is available for selection on Thursday. Adil Rashid's shoulder issue is under control, with the leg spinner believing he can play all nine group matches with minimal fuss. What causes for concern there were 24 hours ago are now seemingly rectified, but Morgan does not believe these are the last physical issues this side will encounter.
"At some stage (over the World Cup) we will have injuries, so we are going to have to deal with that as and when. The level of intensity of the 50 over game somebody is going to get injured."
Finally, their focus can shift to official World Cup matters. The press engagements will be done and dusted on Wednesday and, at 10:30am BST on Thursday, they begin what they have been building towards for the last four years.
Preparations against this South Africa side has already begun and part of that will be quelling emotions within the camp after such a prolonged build-up. The players are being encouraged to embrace the excitement and anticipation. As for the pressure as one of the favourites, Morgan wants England to wear it well.
"It's a huge compliment. I would much rather be going in as favourites than not even considered as contenders."
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