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24 May 2018, Edition - 1045, Thursday

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Sports

England prepare for new challenge in New Zealand after Australian long haul

theguardian.com

Two tri-series games follow five months in Australia

Captain Eoin Morgan expected to be fit for Tuesday’s ODI

“Is the Test tour still going on?” asked a passenger buckling into his seat on a flight from Melbourne to Hobart, having seen the flood of England tracksuits filing on to the plane. “No,” said Tom Curran, who had joined halfway through it, “it’s the Twenty20s.”

“Wow,” said the man, now doing the arithmetic in his head, before giving up and offering: “That’s some holiday you’ve been on.” Curran sighed: “It’s not been much of a holiday.”

After a series of delays on Sunday because of the weather in New Zealand, where the trans-Tasman T20 tri‑series continues, England finally left Australia after five months. In 2018 alone they have taken 11 flights, visited eight cities, two countries, lost an urn, won a bilateral series and carried over a midnight curfew.

“You just have to be back in the hotel at midnight,” joked Chris Woakes the morning after he helped put his side 3-0 up in Sydney to guarantee one‑day international success in the five-match series. Those celebrations in the team room on the night of 21 January seem a long way away, especially after a couple of defeats to a BBL-savvy Australia in the Twenty20 format.

Those opening tri-series defeats leave England arriving in Wellington needing to win their two remaining games against New Zealand to reach the final. Never mind that this leg marks the beginning of a new tour – the climax of this series is followed by five ODIs and two Tests – the hangovers of an ultimately tumultuous time in Australia will jar if Eoin Morgan’s men come up short in the next week.

Morgan’s absence from the MCG match may not have mattered too much with the bat, given his questionable form, but his stock as a captain has never been higher. While Jos Buttler deputised admirably, as he has done in the past there is a reluctance to burden England’s most outlandish batsman with leadership, for now.

“Morgs has been a class act for England for many years and he’s a big miss,” said Adil Rashid, who expects Morgan to be fit on Tuesday. “Hopefully he’ll be back in a couple of days playing. He’s a leader, he’s our captain and he has been for the past three years. He’s done a tremendous job and hopefully he’ll carry on doing that. He gives us input on and off the field and yesterday was there with information, where needed.”

The scheduling of the tri-series to ensure attendance numbers puts England at somewhat of a disadvantage. While their lineup will be licking their lips at the shorter boundaries of the Westpac Arena and Seddon Park, New Zealand are looking to further their cause as a T20 force.

In Colin Munro they have the only T20 batsman to score three international centuries. Coupled with the experienced batting of Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor and the captain, Kane Williamson, along with Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi – ranked No 1 and No 3 in the world, respectively – England and Rashid appreciate success will be hard to come by.

“They’re a very well-gelled T20 side. There isn’t one individual where we say ‘this is the man’. We’re going to go through their team and come up with some plans. New Zealand are a strong side and we have to look at them as a whole.”

Jake Ball has not travelled to New Zealand with the squad. Originally not part of the T20 squad, he acted as cover for Liam Plunkett who sustained a hamstring injury during the third ODI. His release suggests a return for Plunkett may be imminent.