England, New Zealand eye semifinal spot at Cricket World Cup
CHESTER-LE-STREET, England (AP) — Eoin Morgan hit "rock bottom" when his England team was demolished by New Zealand at the last Cricket World Cup.
Four years later, a win over the Black Caps at the tournament would leave the England captain within touching distance of the ultimate career high.
England will secure a spot in the semifinals by beating New Zealand in the northeast town of Chester-le-Street on Wednesday, ending a group-stage campaign in which the World Cup host has found itself in a perilous position.
A defeat would leave the English at the mercy of Pakistan, which would then guarantee a playoff spot with a win over Bangladesh at Lord's on Friday.
Morgan, however, is thinking only positive thoughts after Sunday's victory over India that got England back on track after successive losses to Sri Lanka then Australia.
England was back playing the positive brand of cricket — as Morgan put it on Tuesday — the team has been known for in this World Cup cycle, during which it climbed to No. 1 in the rankings largely on the back of a destructive batting lineup.
And that attacking mindset was largely inspired by New Zealand's style of play in the 2015 tournament which really hit the heights in an eight-wicket win over England that Morgan took a while to get over. Bowled out for 123, England was overhauled in 12.2 overs by the Kiwis that led to an embarrassing group-stage exit.
"It was as close to rock bottom as I've been," Morgan said. "Certainly as a captain and as a player, being beaten off the park like that is humiliating.
"The influence throughout the whole World Cup on all the other teams was quite extreme. New Zealand proved a point that you can actually be really good humans and grow the game and play cricket in your own way and win, at the same time, which is incredibly eye-opening for a lot of countries around the world. I thought that rubbed off on everybody."
New Zealand reached the final in 2015 and is on track to get back in the last four. A win against England seals a semifinal berth, while avoiding a big defeat should also mean fifth-placed Pakistan cannot overhaul the Black Caps. Pakistan is two points behind New Zealand going into the final group matches but has a much inferior net run-rate.
Such is the ebb and flow of a long group-stage campaign that England suddenly appears to be on the up after beating India, while New Zealand, which won its first five matches, might be lacking some belief after losing to Pakistan and Australia back to back.
"We definitely haven't got the momentum that we would have liked," said batsman Ross Taylor, who was talking about the team but could easily have been referring to Martin Guptill.
The opener began group play with an unbeaten 73 against Sri Lanka, but hasn't made more than 35 in his other six innings.
"He was leading run scorer in the last World Cup and he had gone into that last World Cup not scoring any runs," Taylor said.
"(But) his confidence is down. Sometimes you need a bit of luck and he certainly needs that."
More than 650 runs were scored at Chester-le-Street in the game between Sri Lanka and West Indies on Monday. With a different, fresh pitch being used on Wednesday and on the back of some decent weather in northern England, another run-fest could be on the cards.
That would suit England, which has struggled with its management of tighter, low-scoring matches in this tournament.
As would winning the toss.
England has preferred to chase during its one-day resurgence of recent years so it was notable that Morgan decided to bat first against India at Edgbaston, a decision that was rewarded with a 31-run victory.
"Just accepting that the wickets haven't been as good as they have been in the last four years has changed that," Morgan said.
"Every wicket that we've played on so far has been tougher to bat on in the second innings, regardless of whether we've won or not. Even the games I've watched on TV, it's been tougher in the second innings."
Morgan said Jason Roy was fit to start after the opener bruised his arm in the win over India at the weekend. On his return after three games out with a left hamstring injury, Roy scored 66 against India but did not field.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80