No backwards steps, say England, as Kevin Pietersen criticises Eoin Morgan “weakness”

Cricket

Ben Stokes has insisted England “are not, for one minute going to take a backward step” in their remaining World Cup group games, even if their former team-mate Kevin Pietersen believes that Eoin Morgan doing just that during his brief innings was a contributory factor in their 64-run defeat to Australia.

Morgan, England’s captain, dismissed a suggestion made by Pietersen on Twitter that he had backed away from Mitchell Starc. “The England captain backing to square leg when Starc bowled his first delivery to him made me think England may have a problem over the next week,” Pietersen wrote. “I hope not, but I’ve not seen a captain show such weakness for a while.”

“Really? Excellent,” said Morgan with an icy smile when asked about the comments. “It didn’t feel that way at all.”

He did, however, accept that confidence may have been dented over the last few days and conceded that his team had “struggled with the basics of what we call our batting mantra”.

Defeat at Lord’s – England’s third in seven games in this World Cup – has left them needing to win at least one and possibly both of their final two group matches against India (Sunday) and New Zealand (Wednesday) if they are to qualify for the semi-finals.

“I think both this game and the last, we struggled with the basics of what we call our batting mantra,” said Morgan. “You know, strong intent, building partnerships, and doing it in our own way. We haven’t done those things for long enough periods of the game to either chase down 230 or 280 and that’s disappointing.

“Confidence is not where it was at the start of the tournament, simply because we started really, really well. I think it’s a matter of rebuilding it. India is going to be a tough challenge on Sunday, as is New Zealand. It’s a matter of going back to our strengths.

“It probably was our disappointing performance with the bat. Again we were left short with the basics. To fail to build substantial partnerships is disappointing.”

Watch on Hotstar (India only): Highlights of England’s damaging defeat at Lord’s

Stokes, who has top-scored for England in their last two matches, believes England must stick to the aggressive approach that took them to the top of the world rankings and has called on his team-mates to “dig deep” in those remaining games.

“Two back-to-back losses can sometimes make you think differently as a team,” Stokes said. “But we are not going to go away from our method of playing. We just need to adjust to situations and conditions, but we are not for one minute going to take a backward step. Especially in these last two group games.

“We have to really dig deep in these last couple of games; not go back on how we know we play well. Everybody’s obviously disappointed in the last two games, but this is our World Cup and we are going to go about it the way we know how we play best.

“We know how much the World Cup means to fans. It means a lot to players as well. It’s one of the greatest times to be a cricketer: representing your country at a World Cup.”

While Stokes accepted that England’s performance in the last couple of games, defeated by Sri Lanka and Australia while chasing apparently modest targets, did not prove it, he suggested the side were far better at adapting to different surfaces and situations than they had been. As a result, he feels confidence will not be hit by the defeats.

“We make better decisions now,” he said. “Obviously it doesn’t look that way when we’ve bowled out quite cheaply in the last two games, but we are a very, very confident team in terms of our batting line-up and these last two games aren’t going to knock our confidence at all.”

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