By Nick Hoult cricket news correspondent
17 JULY 2019 • 12:48 PM BST
This article has an estimated read time of 35 minutes
Walk through the Connect Cafe on the third floor of the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo and you reach a small side room. This was where the England team met on the tour to Sri Lanka last year; a private space where players went to relax, pick up and drop off laundry, play table tennis, shoot the breeze and have a massage.
But in November, in the days between the one-day series and preparations for the three Test matches against Sri Lanka that would follow – a rare time when players from both formats were in the same place at the same time - the room was cleared for a very important meeting, the details of which can be revealed for the first time.
Chairs had been laid out and an overhead projector put in place by the hotel staff for a presentation by Eoin Morgan and Joe Root, England’s two captains. It was time for Morgan and Root to reveal months of secret work on a new team ethos. Driven by the events outside a Bristol nightclub in September 2017 – which shocked them into realising something had to change – Morgan and Root got down to work and did their research.
A meeting with the Manchester City team psychologist taught them the importance of a simple team culture that players from different nationalities, speaking multiple languages, could buy into.
They consulted with author James Kerr, who wrote Legacy, a book about the All Blacks and leadership. He revealed how the world’s greatest sports team teaches its players humility, the importance of the All Blacks’ history and how it relates to them, and why values on the pitch should be mirrored off it.
Morgan also took note of how the All Blacks changed their Haka, and the role all the players had in that decision.
Helped by David Young, the England team’s sports psychologist, Morgan and Root came up with their own philosophy using a simple visual reminder the players see and wear every day.
Look at the England logo, they told the group gathered in that room at the Shangri-La.
See the crown on top of three lions. That crown represents the team. A vessel owned by no single individual and to be passed on to the next generation. Treasure it for it can be easily broken.
Then Morgan and Root turned to each of the three Lions, giving them individual meanings:
- One for courage
- One for unity
- One for respect
Morgan told the players it is not about only your – or the team’s – performance. It is about representing your country; it is about how you respond to being role models and the values you portray as a team. And it is this set of values Morgan believes will drive his side on over the next seven weeks to complete a remarkable four-year rise from white-ball no-hopers to World Cup winners.
The story of England’s metamorphosis contains several key characters and a combination of small, key moments which together have enabled English cricket to throw off conservatism and embrace free-spirited cricket.
From multiple interviews conducted over a seven-month period with players, coaches, backroom staff and administrators, Telegraph Sport can reveal for the first time the crucial factors that have gone into driving England to the top of the rankings, making them World Cup favourites.
Central to it all is Morgan.
“The best captain we have ever played under,” says Moeen Ali.
Morgan is a student of leadership, one who is constantly trying to learn how to adapt lessons from the outside “real” world to cricket.
He listens avidly to podcasts on the subject. One of his current favourites is by Dave Novak, former chief executive of Yum! Brands – the owners of KFC and Pizza Hut.
Morgan particularly learned from an interview with Jack Nicklaus, golf legend, businessman and philanthropist. He has taken to heart Nicklaus’ three pieces of advice to aspiring leaders: “Do what you want to do, not what others want you to do. Give everything you have got. Be prepared for what you are doing.”
Morgan has adhered to those rules. His team play his way. In the early days when they were bowled out in under 50 overs, he stuck by his methods, ignoring those who said they should have tempered their attacking instincts.
Morgan would rather they failed while being aggressive than take the easy option and retreat after a batting collapse, only to lose anyway. He has committed his career to the job and it would not be a surprise if he resigns at the end of the World Cup, believing he has done all he can.
Preparation is everything: it took Morgan and the England management the best part of a year to write a game plan which was handed to the players in the UAE during a series against Pakistan in October 2015. It covers two sides of A4 and is simple, as well as direct.
“We worked on it for a long time before giving it to the players so they felt they owned it,” says a team source. “They had an input in what we want from individuals in a team game. The players started telling us what they wanted in the game plan so when we presented the document they felt they had delivered it.” Much like the All Blacks and the Haka.
That game plan is closely guarded, for understandable reasons, but when boiled down, it is simple.
“Essentially it is about guys up front playing strong cricket shots, the wrist spinner taking wickets in middle overs and the fielders attacking balls in the field,” says the source.
Morgan lives and breathes that game plan. “Simple thinking. That is how he plays,” says another member of the England set-up. “From nowhere he runs down the pitch and whacks a six. There is this unconventional side to him and he captains that way. He is calm under pressure. Detached from the team. His actions carry more merit than his words. He does not talk about freedom and play your way. He just lives it.”
Morgan is one of the lads. He enjoys a night out, and is close to Jos Buttler and Root. But he knows when to step back. It is a small thing, but on the team bus on tour he sits at the front with the management to show he is in charge, leaving the jokers to have a laugh at the back.
He never loses his temper, he is controlled and knows when to keep his distance. He has a natural understanding with Trevor Bayliss, the coach. They speak the same cricketing language. Keep it simple, take the pressure off. This England side never has whole team meetings. Bayliss hates meetings, he thinks they are a waste of time.
The coach wants the players to take responsibility and in Morgan he has a captain able to lead, with the senior players behind him.
“Morgan is the teacher you liked and respected at school, but you didn’t mess about with because you knew he was still the boss,” says another source close to the team. “They never sit down in a team room. There are meetings of batters and bowlers as groups, but Trevor hates big team meetings.
“It doesn’t work as well with the Test side because the players are more junior and need more guidance, but it works for the ODI side because of the captain and the experience within the side. People talk about a leadership vacuum within the Test side, but in the ODI set-up there is real direction.”
It is May 12, 2015, and Andrew Strauss is about to hold his first press conference at Lord’s as England team director. He will announce why Kevin Pietersen will not be recalled to the side following his sacking a year earlier, and explain why Peter Moores has lost his job as head coach.
Before he met the media, Strauss called Morgan, who had been captain at the World Cup where England were battered in Australia and New Zealand, and looked thoroughly miserable in the job. Morgan was licking his wounds in India playing in the IPL, and thought he was going to be sacked when Strauss’ name came up on his mobile phone.
Morgan was in Hyderabad, having breakfast at the Sunrisers team hotel, preparing for a game two days later against Bangalore. Instead of telling him he had lost his job, Strauss asked him if he wanted to stay on. It was the first of two occasions when Morgan thought he might lose his job. We will come to the second later on.
In a short phone call, Morgan and Strauss agreed there had to be wholesale change in personnel and approach. Crucially they knew they had the players and talent. They just needed unshackling.
“I came into the job with my own frustrations of playing in two World Cups when we had prepared poorly,” says Strauss now. “There was a realisation on my part that if we want to perform differently in a World Cup and take white-ball cricket more seriously then we have to do things very differently to the way we have done in the past.
“I knew Eoin well. I knew what he brought to the party. I knew the way he played his cricket and knew him as a person because I had played a lot with him for England and Middlesex. It wasn’t a case of me sounding him out. The feeling was ‘what am I looking for and who is the best guy in the team environment to role model that’. He was exactly the sort of person I was looking for.
“Eoin had only just started in the job and it would have been very harsh to blame him for what went on in the World Cup. He did not have the team he wanted and I just felt he could do something special.”
The first selection two weeks later was crucial. Bayliss had been appointed coach, but would not take over until the Ashes later that summer. Morgan went into a selection meeting at Lord’s with Strauss, James Whitaker, then chairman of selectors, Angus Fraser, Mick Newell and Paul Farbrace, who was in charge of the side until Bayliss arrived.
They talked about how everything had to change. Morgan wanted players to whom aggression came naturally, even when out of form and backed into a corner. Farbrace backed him to the hilt, playing a vital supporting role at such a crucial juncture of the team’s rebirth.
“We have a lot of pivotal players now,” Morgan tells me when looking back at that meeting. “Adil [Rashid] has been brilliant for us. Jos has been brilliant. As we go through the World Cup, different guys will have days where they are brilliant as well. We have a very strong side. That is what makes us a big threat.
“It has not been about ticks on the list. Never has been. It is a case of we can do this. It is about eliminating doubt and removing barriers that were there before to create belief.”
Bayliss wanted Jason Roy in the side having worked with him at the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash. Roy, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Buttler and Morgan would be the core of the aggressive batting order. Root the anchor.
Bayliss had spoken on the phone to Strauss and Farbrace and insisted on one thing: he wanted a spin bowler who could beat both edges of the bat.
Moeen missed the series to work on his bowling ahead of the Ashes, creating a space at seven. England chose Sam Billings to bat in that position, an important sign as far as Morgan is concerned now because it showed real intent. England could have picked a safer option; a bulwark against a batting collapse. Instead they went with another firecracker.
“Someone said at the end of the meeting we could be 70 all out with that batting line-up,” says another team source. “It was said as a joke, but was also serious too. But we stuck with it and that selection was a big statement. It was a crucial start.”
“We needed to completely reset our relationship with white-ball cricket,” says Strauss. “These opportunities come very infrequently. Once you have got an established team it is quite difficult to make wholesale changes.
You almost become committed to a bunch of players after a year or two of developing a side. But we had this opportunity at the end of the World Cup that if we want to play this way we could make it happen.
“We wanted a top seven that are all match-winners and not too many of those kind of play-maker guys who set the game up. We wanted a spinner who turned it both ways. We wanted those sort of players who scare the opposition.”
That first series against New Zealand changed everything. Witnesses say that Morgan’s team talk in the dressing room before the first game at Edgbaston was simple. Strauss was there, but left the room for Morgan to take charge. “He just said, ‘right we play how we play for our counties. Do what comes naturally. You have been picked because of the way you play’.”
Ridiculed for batting with the brakes on at the World Cup, on their first outing since England scored 408, smashing 38 fours and a record 14 sixes.
Root made a hundred, Buttler a brilliant 129 off 77 balls. Rashid hit his first ball for six and then took four for 55. A team was born.
England lost the third ODI at the Rose Bowl, bowled out for 302 in 45.2 overs chasing big hits. But for Morgan the most crucial moment came before the next match at Trent Bridge.
“This was when we could have run away and shied away from the new way,” he says. “But no. Before the next match at Trent Bridge, we agreed we had to do the same thing, but do it better.”
England chased 350 in only 44 overs and won the series.
In the final match at Chester-le-Street Morgan was out first ball attempting a six; Jonny Bairstow came in for an injured Buttler, played the same way, and won the game to prove England had depth.
Records have been smashed since then. The highest individual ODI score by an Englishman has twice been reset. First by Alex Hales, and then by Roy.
England have made more than 300 38 times. They have scored at 6.24 an over, way ahead of South Africa in second place at 5.43. The stats are endless.
But how did this come about?
For one answer you have to go back to Mumbai, November 2012. England were playing a Test series they would eventually win with Pietersen and Alastair Cook, two giants of English batting, leading their team to a famous victory.
But while they were based in Mumbai, preparing for a pivotal second Test at the Wankhede Stadium, the Lions team were there too practising at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, a suburb created by the urban sprawl of the main city.
There, Graham Thorpe, the one-day team’s batting coach for the past four years, was working with a young Buttler and Stokes.
“I was trying to get them to understand technique, but at one point they wanted to have some fun and started using a thin bat,” says Thorpe. “I just watched as they hit it in all directions. That is when you have a choice as a coach. Do you discourage it and say ‘no, no, no, don’t do that’. Or do you stand back, watch and realise there is a lot of talent required to do that, so let them have fun doing it. That is the balance in coaching. There is a time when a good technique is required and a time to let players develop naturally and let them go and enjoy it.”
To play high-tempo, high-risk cricket you need characters that do not fear failure. You also need a management group that backs them 100 per cent.
“You know everyone has your back,” says Moeen.
England use five different weighted balls in practice. Heavy ones for hitting hard, so it feels easier when batting against a real ball. Lighter ones for slip catching, different colours for swing and seam. They have recently brought in new balls, light hockey-style ones, to help slip fielders experience the wobble in the air created by the pace of Jofra Archer.
The power of the batters is such the coaches now stand behind A frames of netting. The metal stanchions in the nets are gone. Thorpe was worried about ricochets, so had them removed. He wears a helmet when throwing to all the players.
But it is not about just smashing the ball. Where there is power, there is technique.
“Hand speed is one thing they all have, but also the ability to be able to keep options open,” Thorpe explains. “Some younger players might think ‘I’m going to smash it over row Z’ and that is the only thing in their mind. But what happens if the ball is not in that position? Can the positioning of your body still allow you to hit the ball in three or four different areas. That is what a lot of these guys can do.
“They position their bodies so they have three options to every ball. They might be thinking about hitting it straight back over the sightscreen, but if it is a slower-ball bouncer they still maintain a strong position, not over-committed to the shot, so they can pull it with power over midwicket. Or they might get a wide yorker so they have to break their wrists and slice it back over point. There are lots of scenarios to each ball they will have in their head. Ultimately playing games and doing it when the pressure is on is the gauge for them.”
It does not always work. England have lost games they should have won against South Africa, Australia and, most famously, the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan in 2017, when they failed to recalibrate the aggressive approach for the conditions of the day.
They have collapsed in St Lucia, Colombo, Adelaide and at Lord’s were 20 for six against South Africa.
If it happens in a semi-final at the World Cup it will be fatal. The dream will be over. “We have to be light-footed and adaptable,” says Morgan. “We talk about it as a team, adapting to the wicket the whole time. It goes without saying that is a complete necessity. Can we position ourselves mentally to adapt to whatever is in front of us? I think we can.”
June 10, 2017, and England have just played the perfect match, knocking world champions Australia out of the Champions Trophy. It was a moment of triumph; confirmation that England were a force to be respected. But it would also be a hollow victory for the players who learned a valuable, if painful, lesson that day.
Mark Wood and Rashid, pace and mystery spin, combined beautifully to restrict Australia to 277. England were in trouble at 6 for 2, but rallied as Morgan counterattacked and a Stokes century saw them home, guaranteeing a semi-final against Pakistan four days later in Cardiff. “I think that was the one time when I thought ‘wow we are a serious side’,” says Moeen.
England celebrated hard that night, drinking in the dressing room before moving to the hotel and staying up into the early hours. Their dressing room celebrations could be heard up in the Edgbaston media centre where a few Australian journalists were filing copy for deadlines on the other side of the world. If this had been an Ashes Test they would have written about celebrating Poms, but one-day cricket just doesn’t stir the same passions.
However, it was an important moment. This was an England team getting ahead of itself again. They would lose the semi-final, succumbing painfully to Pakistan on a slow pitch.
It taught Morgan and England’s senior players a hard lesson. It is not over until it is over. Do not get ahead of yourselves.
“The Champions Trophy was bitterly disappointing, but actually what came before that semi-final was immensely encouraging,” says Strauss looking back now. “The way we played against Australia having lost early wickets, Morgan took the game to them and we showed everything you need to win a World Cup.
“Then we came up on a pitch against Pakistan that was a very tricky pitch to play on, and we did not react quickly enough. That is the evolution of the team. Against Pakistan on that pitch, in knock-out cricket, you can only control so much, but I think we have learnt from that and I would back us to beat that Pakistan team eight times out of 10 in home conditions. It just happened to be that was one of the two times when they would beat us.”
Morgan offers no excuses: “We were whacked by Pakistan. We played our best game against Australia. Perfect cricket. It was as good a game as I have ever played in. But we found out four days later it was not going to be enough.”
Crushing disappointment makes you stronger. Morgan had been there before.
Reaching the final of the World Twenty20 in April 2016 was a bonus, it came early for a developing team.
But having reached the final in Kolkata and with victory against the West Indies in their grasp, Carlos Brathwaite smashed Stokes for four sixes in the final over to win the trophy.
Morgan looked at his devastated players in the dressing room at Eden Gardens and addressed his stunned team. His speech was direct. According to a player in the room at the time he said: “Never think you have won a game.
Use moments like this to drive yourself forward to make yourself hungrier.”
Such a defeat can end careers. Previous regimes at the ECB would have blamed someone. But of the XI playing that day, only Hales will definitely not be involved in the World Cup, and that is not for cricketing reasons.
Morgan would soon have good reason to be thankful for the ECB loyalty, something that some of his predecessors were never granted.
When terrorists attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, killing 29 people, on July 1, 2016, it shocked the cricketing world. Bangladesh had always been viewed as volatile, but safer than Pakistan. The Bangladesh Premier League Twenty20 had attracted county cricketers and players from all over the world. None had ever felt unsafe.
But the events that day would put an England tour in doubt and leave Morgan believing he could lose his job as captain.
Over the course of the next two months, the Bangladesh government had to provide cast-iron assurances that England players would receive presidential-style security when they toured in October for a one-day series followed by two Test matches.
When Reg Dickason, the England team’s security expert, gave the tour the go-ahead, the ECB empowered the players to make an individual, rather than collective, decision. Hales pulled out and Morgan agreed he would not go, feeling his safety could not be guaranteed. Morgan is stubborn and makes decisions based on his own personal feelings. It happened when he played in the IPL rather than for Middlesex, but this was different.
It was a decision that brought widespread condemnation and the only time his leadership qualities have been questioned. Michael Vaughan described it as a “huge mistake”. Nasser Hussain said it would undermine his authority.
Strauss was “disappointed”, which is ECB-speak for furious.
Morgan knew what was at stake, his time as England captain could be over.
But he was saved by the backing of the players – the words of support spoken in public by Stokes and Buttler for their captain were genuine. The respect remained and the ECB sensibly realised the worst thing they could do was undermine the one-day team by sacking its popular captain less than two years before a World Cup having invested so much in turning them into potential winners. They had been down that road before.
Morgan’s decision also allowed Buttler and Stokes to emerge as leaders.
Buttler led England to victory in a fractious series against a Bangladesh side with a formidable home record. Another staging post in the development of this team had been crossed.
The England players call Nathan Leamon “numbers”. He is a Cambridge maths graduate, the builder of the Cricviz algorithm and wrote a good novel last year about a fictional England cricket captain.
His role in the side’s developing strategy has been underplayed because this team has the image of being clear-thinking, big hitters who are unencumbered by stats. It was the Moores regime that was accused of being over-reliant on data.
Leamon disagrees. He believes Moores used fewer stats than any of the three England coaches he has worked under. Instead, the statistics that were used were interpreted in a way that limited ambition, and scared players out of taking risks.
But when Strauss picked up the pieces and started his plan to rebuild one-day cricket, he needed a framework. It would be provided by Leamon and Raphael Brandon of the ECB’s data department, and is the blueprint this side still works to now.
“When Strauss first came in he wanted me to do a quite simple level of work about what equated with success in World Cups and what did not,” says Leamon. “The first thing is that being the host is a massive advantage.
Then for the two years leading in to a World Cup the important numbers are team strike rates, win-loss percentage, total caps and average caps per player (70-80). The quarter and semi-finalists of all World Cups came in the top two or three in those categories. When they didn’t come in the top two or three, they would be the host nation.”
The average of 70-80 caps per player was important. England recognised they only had 86 games between World Cups, so they had to pick players and stick by them.
A change in playing regulations after the last World Cup also meant a different approach was required. At the 2015 tournament only four fielders were allowed outside the inner ring in the final 10 overs. A second batting powerplay was available, and was normally taken between the 35-40th overs.
It meant a bonanza in boundary-hitting in the final stages of an innings.
Under the new laws that came into force in July 2015, the batting powerplay was dropped and an extra fielder allowed outside the ring in the final 10 overs. It put more emphasis on scoring against the new ball, or “taking down the new ball” as England call it.
Leamon uses a cycling analogy. He compares 50-over batting under the new regulations to a time trial. Riders gradually increase effort over the whole course, rather than canter for three-fifths and then thrash it at the end.
Under the new laws the innings gets harder as it progresses, or uphill in Leamon’s cycling speak, with fielders pushed out so you need Roy and Bairstow to attack the new ball. They have delivered. England lead the way in the world in the first 10 overs of ODIs.
The next target is the middle overs when England look to continue the run-scoring tempo. It is when spin bowlers are operating. Leamon says batsmen must look to score at a run a ball, something England players have traditionally struggled to do against slow bowling. Not anymore with Morgan, Root and Buttler all good players of spin. Against spin during overs 11-40 since the Champions Trophy in 2017, England have scored at 5.4 per over, pretty close to a run a ball.
It leaves the power hitters to attack at the end with England having a higher boundary percentage (15.23) in the final 10 overs than any other side over the past two years.
“With a high-tempo and high-risk game you have to give them the freedom to overdo it at times,” says Strauss. “There have been occasions where we have had justified criticism for going over the top. If you are not willing to go over the top then you will be self-limiting, play the percentages and try to get a score on the board. That is almost exactly what the opposition wants you to do. The group had to be very strong and say you can play that way and if it goes wrong, keep doing it and we will get better at it over time.”
Leamon provides data-based scouting reports on opposing players for Morgan and Bayliss.
The players have footage they can view on their iPads, clipped together to show an opponent’s weaknesses against certain deliveries, or where he likes to score.
A more detailed set of information is given to the captain and coach. It includes a batsman’s record against right-arm seam, left-arm seam, off-spin, leg-spin and left-arm spin with an average performance against each.
If he is better than his career average against that type of bowling he is given a plus score, minus is worse, and nought is the same as his career average. It also highlights his strong and weak scoring areas, and a brief 30-word summary of his game.
Morgan is instinctive as a captain and Bayliss is not a numbers man. Morgan goes off script, but has become more interested by data analysis over the past year.
“It is worth remembering that in international cricket the stakes are high and it is very easy for people to become risk averse over time because they do not want to be criticised for doing something wrong,” says Strauss. “I think that feeling of pioneering has helped. That feeling we are trying to do something that has not been done before is obviously very motivating. It drives people to continually try and get better and we have seen that over the last two years or so.”
England know their weakness is bowling. They lack a Mitchell Starc, a world-class bowler who wins global tournaments for his team, or a Jasprit Bumrah who can bowl killer slower-ball yorkers in the final overs.
The attack, though, is not built around pace or seam, surely a first for an English team. It is Rashid who holds the key and was one of the first players Bayliss and Morgan identified when they ripped up the team. He has taken 129 wickets at 29.68 since the last World Cup, more than any other bowler in the world. When he plays Test cricket, Rashid looks timid and lacking in self-belief. But put him in the blue of England’s one-day team and he is transformed. The boundary protection and nature of ODI cricket suits him of course, but the confidence is down to more than that.
“As a spinner you need backing and the biggest thing is if you do get hit for a couple of fours, the captain does not take his cap off, throw it down on the floor and kick it,” says his great friend Moeen. “You need the captain to say ‘come back the next over’ and Morgy does that. There are also times when you are bowling well, getting hit and it feels like the batter is lining you up and he takes you off. You never question that. I have had times when I’ve been bowling well and Morgy has come up to me and said you are not playing this game because we want one spinner and we are picking Rash. It has been the other way round too, and I have played ahead of Rash but you know what Morgs is doing is for the best of the team. You, as a player, accept that.”
Rashid has been reassured by Morgan that runs do not matter. Wickets are his commodity. If he goes for 80 runs but takes four wickets, then he has had a good day.
“Rashid has been phenomenal. He has quietly contributed while some of the bigger names have taken the plaudits,” says Strauss. “Some of the success we have had over the last three or four years has been down to an incredibly strong batting line-up, they have outperformed everyone else in the world by a long way, but then our ability to keep taking wickets in the middle overs has been vital and a lot of that has been down to Adil, who did it quite quietly for a while but then more recently has become more obvious what he brings to the team.
“In the old days, even when we had a bowler as good as Graeme Swann bowling in the middle overs, we found it very hard to apply pressure, especially when there were two set batsmen. We were not asking them searching questions. Adil asks a lot of questions and has grown massively in terms of stature and confidence. He has real clarity about the role he is playing in the team.”
Teamwork has to go beyond what happens on the field. If you watch an England net session you will often see Moeen and Rashid working with Buttler and Morgan; swapping ideas and tricks.
Morgan and Buttler bat together in the nets, helping with each other’s game. But when facing the spinners they share knowledge. Buttler and Morgan tell the spinners where they are looking to score, how they would try and manipulate the ball when facing them, giving Moeen and Rashid insight they can use in a match. Likewise, Moeen and Rashid highlight any weaknesses they would exploit, how the spinner is trying to get them out, and little variations they would use to try and blunt Morgan and Buttler’s attacking play.
While Rashid has the googly, Moeen, as an off-spinner, relies on changes of pace and flight. “In one-day cricket your stock ball at pace is your main thing as a finger spinner because you don’t have the googly or doosra. With my bowling it is more about trying to think what the batter is going to do next and trying to second guess him. I just try to bowl a good over so the guys like Plunkett can really attack and use their skills. I try to control the game in that middle bit, controlling the run rate.”
Morgan keeps a diary, noting down his thoughts, future ideas and reasons for taking certain decisions. It is record-keeping that he believes helps him avoid repeating mistakes and the act of committing thoughts to paper can also be an outlet to relieve stress.
He recently re-read his entries from the 2015 World Cup and sees he was not himself. He did not recognise the Eoin Morgan staring back at him from the pages of his four-year-old diary because he was not trusting his inner-instincts and listening too much to outside information. That has gone.
Inevitably there have been clashes with management and players. Bayliss challenges them when they are bowled out in under 50 overs. He asks were they committed to playing aggressive cricket, were you trying to sit in and defend or did you just execute shots poorly? The players have pushed back at management too.
Morgan describes Buttler as a “racehorse” who only keeps getting better. He led one example of player power.
Buttler is a quietly spoken cricketer, which fools some into believing he is the boy next door type, a nice guy who avoids confrontation.
That was shattered in Bangladesh when he was quick to stand up to provocative sledging in Dhaka and, more importantly, at home during a series against Pakistan when he decided England’s fielding had to improve.
As England prepared for a one-day international against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in August, Buttler decided he had enough. He was fed up of watching England take the attacking option with bat and ball, but not in the field.
The coaches were hitting balls along the ground to the boundary fielders, telling them to take a moment to steady their body and be balanced before throwing the ball back to the middle.
Buttler told the coaches they had to match the intent with the bat and ball in the field too. Instead of taking that extra moment to be balanced, players should learn to pick up one handed and throw in as quickly as possible to the keeper.
“Jos’s attitude was don’t be safe throwing the ball. The batters take risks, the bowlers look for wickets, so match that same intent with fielding,” says an England source.
Since then England’s ground fielding has improved markedly, only New Zealand and Australia are as good or better. It is all about intent with Morgan and Buttler. No let up.
The pressure does mean players let go and Morgan knows the culture of the team started to drift after the Champions Trophy. Bristol, September 2017, was when it all went too far. The events that night have been well documented, but the long-term impact was to cast Hales out from the rest of his team. There was sympathy for Stokes, surprisingly, given his actions, but less so for Hales. The management were incensed that the morning after Stokes’s arrest, he did not tell the coach or captain what had happened.
The relationship between Hales and Stokes remained cordial, but grew distant as the case wore on and particularly after the trial at Bristol Crown Court.
Hales was seen by his team-mates as someone who had failed to learn from what happened, as proved by his subsequent drug ban and dropping from the England side. None stood up for him when consulted about whether he should be dropped.
Morgan was unequivocal. Having introduced his team philosophy in the Shangri-La in November, there was no way Hales could stay in the side. He had failed to protect the team and uphold the values of courage, unity and respect.
Stokes has changed. He trains harder than ever before, too hard in some cases, and feels he has to be the perfect role model all the time. During the tour to Sri Lanka last year, some of the England players watched a rugby international between New Zealand and England in the Cheers pub, down in the basement of the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo. It was a rowdy night, but Stokes went home halfway through the game, feeling uncomfortable.
He is more aware of his surroundings and takes himself out of potentially dodgy situations.
He has thrown himself into fitness work. When he suffered cramp during a hammering in the fifth ODI in Colombo last year having trained for three hours the night before, Morgan told the team after the match they had nothing to prove. “He told the lads, ‘let’s be smart, we are working our arses off. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. We trust each other’,” says a source. The message was aimed at Stokes.
Reaching No1 in the world in May 2018 came early for Morgan. He pinpoints the series wins in Australia and New Zealand leading into that summer as high points because matches were won by bowlers, not necessarily the batsmen. “The bowlers put down a marker to say that we are containing to get better and were the strong point of the winter. That made us a more rounded side,” says Morgan.
Wood bowled quickly having not played in the Ashes, Woakes was Man of the Series against New Zealand, and Curran won the final ODI in Perth.
The Connect Cafe at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo is a floor above the Table One restaurant where a suicide bomber detonated an explosive, killing guests as they queued up for breakfast on April 21.
Eleven days later Morgan is sat outside the lounge bar at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, having agreed to talk to Telegraph Sport about the summer ahead, but thoughts quickly flicker back to the Shangri-La.
England spent 41 days in the Shangri-La hotel on that tour, the players loved the Table One restaurant so much they even squeezed in an extra night there breaking up the journey between Galle and Kandy after the first Test.
The conversation with Morgan moves on from the terrorist attack to the summer ahead, for cricket is a refuge from the realities of the modern world, more so in a place like Sri Lanka after such a shocking, bloody event.
Morgan is relaxed and exudes the confidence of a man in charge who knows his business and how to maximise its returns. “We are in the best possible position we could be,” he says when I ask him about winning the World Cup.
“We have covered every base in the lead-in to this summer. We have planned a lot, we have had a great time playing the way we have and probably the two things we are most proud of is the growth of the team, but also the performances we have put in home and away.
“It has established a lot of leaders within the group and it makes this summer more exciting. One of our goals in order to be competing in the 2019 World Cup was to be ranked in the top three in the world. We have been No1 since last year. There has been no drop off. When we became No1, which was not a particular goal, we spoke about how we should not train like the best side in the world, we should train like the second or third best side in the world looking to continually get better, train better and continually trying to add value to the side. That is a really healthy place to be.”
What would it mean to win the World Cup? “It would mean a huge amount. It would mean that everything we have done in the lead-in has worked. To do it at home would mean so much to everybody in the country. It would be something special.”
Can they do it? “Teams that win World Cups in any sport deep down believe they can win it,” says Strauss. “Very occasionally you get a team that has a great run and shocks everyone including themselves, but by and large it is the big teams who know they can win it, who think they are the best, who come through. These guys know they can win the World Cup. I don’t think any England team has known that before. Yes, they have hoped, but they have not known it like this team.”
Look at the England badge during the World Cup. It is one final reminder to the players they are special, and very lucky to play for their country.
Courage, unity and respect. Now is the time to add World Cup winners to that list of traits.