England must win their final two one-day internationals in India to avoid series defeats across all three formats but have seen the challenge become even tougher with the news that Eoin Morgan’s tour has been ended prematurely by a hand injury.
Morgan required stitches after splitting the webbing between his right thumb and index finger during Tuesday’s 66-run defeat in Pune and, after failing a fitness test, will now sit out Friday’s second game and Sunday’s finale. Jos Buttler, who has led the white-ball team on 10 previous occasions, takes over the captaincy once more.
“There’s nowhere to hide on the field in international cricket these days, especially in limited-over formats, so it didn’t require any great thought to make myself unavailable,” said Morgan, following an aborted fielding session at the MCA Stadium. “It was a freak injury and it’s extremely frustrating but there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s now just a case of letting the cut heal. I have every confidence in Jos and the rest of the squad coping without me.”
England’s casualty list does not stop with Morgan. Sam Billings sprained a collar bone joint when diving in the outfield on Tuesday and is ruled out for at least one match, meaning Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone is set to make his ODI debut. Dawid Malan, who stayed around after defeat in the Twenty20s, also comes off the reserves bench.
“I am absolutely ready,” said Livingstone, who admitted to freezing in the spotlight when winning two T20 caps against South Africa in 2017. “The first time around was very different to now and I have been waiting for this opportunity for a while. [But] this is not just any old team you are trying to get into: they are world champions.”
Livingstone, a hard-hitting right-hander who offers a spin option with the ball, has grown in confidence on the global T20 circuit, most notably during a recent spell with Perth Scorchers. Malan, who has only one ODI cap, gets another chance to soak up Indian conditions before the T20 World Cup later this year.
England’s one-day team have found themselves drinking in the last-chance saloon before their current 1-0 deficit, most notably during the (ultimately victorious) 2019 World Cup when failed run chases against Sri Lanka and Australia left them needing to win their final two group games in order to progress to the semi-finals.
The stakes are not nearly so high here but, having lost on three fronts during their previous visit to India in 2016-17, they will want at least one trophy to show from two draining months up against Virat Kohli’s side. Suffer a 3-0 defeat and it would drop them to No 2 in the ODI rankings after three years at the top.
“We look at it from a series point of view and we’d be bitterly disappointed to lose it,” said Ben Stokes. “We deserve to be No 1 because of our results and it’s obviously a fantastic thing to have next to your name as a team, but it’s not our driving force. Our driving force is the way we go about it and our attitude towards playing the game.
“We know we’re a much better team than [Tuesday], but one thing we’ve been very good at is putting previous games to bed quickly, whether that be a successful game or a poor game.”
A fresh pitch awaits both bowling attacks and, in light of the injuries, England must decide whether now is the time to introduce Reece Topley, the Surrey left-armer, and the Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson. Morgan, who will remain with the squad, has said broadening out the pool of white-ball players is more important than results, but that was before his side were plunged into this must-win scenario.
India must make at least one change also. Shreyas Iyer has been ruled out with a dislocated shoulder, meaning either Rishabh Pant or Suryakumar Yadav will come into the middle order. Kohli’s men are on a roll at present, not only chalking up three wins on the bounce since going 2-1 down in the T20s but doing so against the toss each time.
Central to the comeback has been Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s wonderful ability to get the white ball swinging both ways and this must be overcome, so too the growing bubble fatigue that Stokes admitted has seen him lose track of what day it is. At the very least, the equation facing England with two to play is pretty straightforward.