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England faces critical test in World Cup match v New Zealand

February 19, 2015

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The reckoning has come early for England at the Cricket World Cup. Out of form and down on confidence, Eoin Morgan’s England squad needs a strong showing in Friday’s Pool A match against New Zealand to restore some belief in its campaign.

A 111-run loss to Australia in its opening match delivered a blow to team morale which was already low after its heavy loss to the Australians in the preceding limited-overs tri-series.

It now faces co-host New Zealand, which has won its first two matches and which is buoyant if a little chastened after a narrow win over Scotland.

Another win — its third in seven days — would put New Zealand in a powerful in the group with an eight-day break before its subsequent match against Afghanistan.

A loss to New Zealand wouldn’t be an irreversible setback for England: with matches remaining against Afghanistan, Scotland and Bangladesh it should still progress comfortably to the next round. But the effect of another defeat on already brittle confidence might be more severe.

Morgan has inherited the captaincy after Alastair Cook was fired amid the team’s inconsistent form. His tenure hasn’t yet been transformative: while England has won individual one-day internationals against India and Sri Lanka, it struggles to win series or consistently beat top sides.

One reason is that is, in the absence of Kevin Pietersen, it appears to lack an x-factor player, one of the proven match-winners New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum says will shape the outcome of matches at this tournament.

McCullum insists England does have players of that caliber and lists Morgan among them.

“They’ve got match-winners and I’ve said right from the start of this tournament that the wickets we play on allow match winners to come into play,” McCullum said Thursday. “So, even though the England team may not have been firing of late they’re still a dangerous proposition and we’re respectful of that.”

Morgan “is a definite match-winner with his uncanny ability to hit different areas and seize opportunities. I think Jos Buttler is a very dangerous player.”

Morgan is out of form, making four ducks in his last five innings and averaging only 18 over his last 22 turns at bat. His run drought has impacted directly on England’s overall performance but not yet on his self-belief.

“I’d love you to explain it to me because I don’t understand it,” he said of his recent batting slump. “You don’t look any further than what’s in front of you and I’ve done that but it hasn’t worked. I believe it will work and when it does hopefully I can cash in on it and either make a match-winning performance or build on somebody else’s.”

McCullum believes Morgan’s slump won’t last.

Morgan “is a champion player and he’s probably one of my better mates from around the world,” McCullum said. “He’s obviously going through a bit of a tough time at the moment but tough times don’t last, tough blokes do. So hopefully at some point he’ll come out of it but hopefully tomorrow we’re able to keep him quiet.”

England batting coach Mark Ramprakash also voted confidence in Morgan’s ability.

“He’s aware of the fact that he wants more runs and it’s important for the team that he plays his part,” Ramprakash said. “But in terms of handling the tournament, the pressures of it, you couldn’t really ask for better character to be able to handle that.”

New Zealand will take an unchanged lineup into the match at Wellington’s Regional Stadium, where it has won nine of its last 11 ODIs.

“We’ve played a bit of cricket on this wicket recently and we expect it to be the same,” McCullum said. “The guys have performed well so far and we want to give them that same opportunity again and we think the balance of the team will suit us well on this ground.”

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