Liam Plunkett set to take on South Africa in Cricket World Cup opener

Nick Hoult
Liam Plunkett looks set to be named in England XI for the opening Cricket World Cup match against South Africa on Thursday - Getty Images Europe

Eoin Morgan appears ready to keep the faith with Liam Plunkett on Thursday, handing the final place in his XI to his most trusted bowler.

Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult are the only seam bowlers to have taken more wickets than Plunkett since the last World Cup and, despite the temptation to go with the dual pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, Morgan wants Plunkett to bowl in the crucial middle overs.

Plunkett admitted this week he was struggling to maintain his pace pushing towards 90mph and was one of the bowlers in danger of not making the World Cup squad when it became clear Archer would be available.

But Morgan is a loyal captain and appears to have chosen Plunkett over Tom Curran and Wood for the World Cup opener against South Africa at the Oval.

Morgan trusts Plunkett to take wickets when teams are looking to consolidate and build towards a sizeable total. Chris Woakes and Archer will be the new-ball bowlers, leaving ­Plunkett and Ben Stokes as back-up seamers.

Liam Plunkett is England's leading wicket-taker in ODIs since the last World Cup in 2015 Credit: Mark Kerton/PA Wire

The top seven has been set in stone for two years, ever since Jonny Bairstow replaced Alex Hales as opener, and Morgan is in the ­luxurious position for an England captain of just having one selection decision to make.

He refused to confirm the team at the Oval on Wednesday and will wait ­until the toss so he can assess overhead conditions. The pitch looked greener than expected with a day to go, but will be shaved again on Thursday morning. 

“We have no injury concerns. Everybody has a full bill of health, and excited for tomorrow,” Morgan said. “There’s a lot of belief within the room. We’re very confident within our own game.” South Africa are without Dale Steyn, a big blow for a side who ­normally go into World Cups as contenders, but who have been overlooked this time around.

“We did expect it [Steyn’s injury] when we picked the squad,” Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s ­captain, said. “He was probably about 60 per cent when the squad was picked, but a fit Dale Steyn makes our bowling attack a very, very strong one, so there will be a little bit of chopping and changing to get a balance that we think can take on England.

“There’s no point in trying to play a defensive style of cricket against England, because they have shown that they can take apart any attack on the day. So we’ll try to pick our team to be as positive in team selection as possible.”

Morgan has been building for this moment for four years. His complete overhaul of England’s one-day cricket has driven them to the top of the rankings, but will mean little if they do not prevail over the next six weeks and win their first men’s World Cup.

“It [winning the World Cup] would mean a huge amount,” he said. “The World Cup alone raises the profile of the game, and a ­platform for every young kid in this country to have a hero or inspiration to pick up a ball or a bat. To go on and win it, I couldn’t imagine what it would do.”

England go into the World Cup as hosts and favourites as they aim to win their first major 50-over trophy Credit: Action Images

Other teams are happy to build England up as favourites, knowing they struggle to live up to expectations, most recently in the 2017 Champions Trophy, when they crashed out in the semi-final. England normally like to prove a point rather than be rated ahead of the rest, but they have set the agenda in 50-over cricket for the past four years and Morgan knows what is expected. 

“I think we’ll need to win a trophy at some stage. The transformation has been brilliant,” he said. “We’d like to get to the stage where we’re in this position on a consistent basis. Look around the world, other teams have consistently ­competed for World Cups – Australia and India, it’s not by fluke. A lot of it will have to be driven by the players, but it will have to be backed by the administration.”

Morgan rarely makes big dressing-room speeches, but Thursday will be an occasion when he might need to address the players, calming nerves and reminding them to play on instinct. 

“It’s a feeling in the morning and you sum up best what’s going on. If things feel scattered and all over the place, a bit of direction never hurts. But if things feel very focused and the guys feel ready to go, you normally just guide them in the right direction.”

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