England captain Eoin Morgan is wary of going into their showdown against Australia with predetermined ideas about which bowlers to target as he braces himself for a stern examination of their T20 World Cup aspirations.
The old rivals will go head-to-head on Saturday as the only sides in their Super 12s group to win both their opening fixtures, with Australia joining England on four points after a commanding seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka.
It came despite Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell conceding an eyewatering 51 runs from a combined four overs as they shared the fifth bowler’s spot, a ploy team-mate Pat Cummins hinted Australia will continue with in Dubai.
Fast bowlers Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, and leg-spinner Adam Zampa, present a formidable challenge for any batting side but Morgan is adamant England cannot place an emphasis on taking down Australia’s all-rounders.
“It’s probably going to be one of our most difficult games,” said Morgan, who has long-regarded India as the team to beat in this tournament. “Australia are a very strong side and have started well.
“Coming into the tournament, they would probably be considered joint-second favourites, along with us. They’re a side that we know pretty well, we’ve played against them a lot over a number of years.
“From what I watched, Sri Lanka played pretty hard against all of Australia’s bowlers, I don’t think it was a conscious effort to go after one or two.
“On any given day if you go in with a pre-emptive view on targeting somebody, it normally doesn’t allow you to take in information during the game on how people are bowling in reality as opposed to just a pre-conceived idea.”
Mark Wood is unlikely to return, with the express pace bowler sitting out the emphatic wins over the West Indies and Bangladesh after having an injection in his left ankle, while seamer Tom Curran has an ongoing knee injury.
However, the swift turnaround in fixtures – England play Sri Lanka in Sharjah 48 hours after their contest against Australia in Dubai – could lead them to shuffle their pack, with Wood a more promising option to feature on Monday.
“They’re progressing really well,” said Morgan of Wood and Curran. “Where we were before the first game, they’ve come on a long way.”
When asked whether this weekend’s match can have a psychological impact ahead of this winter’s Ashes, Morgan replied “none whatsoever”, reasoning there is a “day and night” shift currently between red and white-ball formats.
Morgan hopes England can continue stamping their authority on this clash from the outset, as they have done in their first two games, but he believes they can never be counted out at any stage.
“Early momentum in any game can go a long way to winning,” he said. “But like we’ve witnessed over the last couple of years, if we don’t manage to gain that momentum, we have guys that can either wrestle it back or counter-punch.
“That’s probably what makes us a difficult side to play against. We always have a hand or a trick to play regardless of the situation that we’re in.”
England seem poised to continue taking the knee after the International Cricket Council’s strict kit regulations during global events prohibited them from wearing their ‘Moment of Unity’ t-shirts.
The tops, bearing slogans against all forms of discriminations, were introduced in their home internationals over the summer, one year after they received criticism for quietly abandoning the practice of taking the knee.
They followed the Windies and Bangladesh in the anti-racism gesture before the start of their matches, having decided to take a reciprocal approach pre-tournament, but that position could now change.
“If we’re not allowed to take our stance against all discriminations, we need to try to find something else that makes a difference,” added Morgan. “There’s a chance (carrying on taking the knee) might happen.
“We’ll speak as a team and try and come up with something that we can do. One thing that we’ve always talked about when we talk about the collective message being more powerful is that everybody agrees to what we’re buying into.”