Cricket World Cup 2019: England’s win didn’t go to plan, but Eoin Morgan extremely pleased
Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes celebrate England's win over South Africa at The Oval. © AFP

England didn’t get anywhere near 400, Jos Buttler didn’t get going – he didn’t even hit one boundary – and three batsmen made pretty fifties only to fail to really ignite.

But there you go – England beat South Africa by 104 runs at The Oval on Thursday to get their ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 campaign off to a strong start. Few should be surprised that England won, for Eoin Morgan‘s team is something resembling an unstoppable ODI force at home.

This truly is a captivating and powerful white-ball team capable of winning the World Cup, and defeating South Africa by such a big margin underlined, if anyone had doubts, why this team is being talked of as tournament favourites. And yet, despite the result, Morgan said that it wasn’t what he had expected from The Oval.

On a sluggish surface, England were put into bat by Faf du Plessis, lost Jonny Bairstow to Imran Tahir second ball of the match – this was the first time a spinner opened the attack in an World Cup opener – and then saw Jason Roy (54), Joe Root (51) and Morgan (57) throw away solid innings.

(FULL SCORECARD: ENGLAND vs SOUTH AFRICA)

Thanks to Ben Stokes, England made 311/8 in their 50 overs and later had World Cup debutant Jofra Archer to thank in big ways as South Africa were bowled out for 207 in 39.5 overs. Victory by 104 runs is big, but Morgan said it was far from clear sailing.

“No, it didn’t, definitely didn’t. I think given the nature of the pitch and the way South Africa bowled, I think we were fighting our Plan A game with the bat for quite some time, and that probably emphasised how slow the pitch was. It never allowed you to get away, and I suppose strike the ball like we would do for our Plan A,” he said after the match.

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“You know, one of the areas of our game that we’ve improved the last two years is the way that we’ve assessed conditions and played a bit more smart cricket and building partnerships and putting a total on the board and believing that that’s enough, and then certainly at the halfway stage, we didn’t believe that we had enough, but we believed that we had in and around a par or maybe above a par score.”

The loss of Roy and Root in the span of three balls threatened to undo England, but Morgan and Stokes put on 106 for the third wicket in 17.4 overs to keep runs ticking. That aspect of England’s game was another positive for Morgan.

Jason Roy and Jofra Archer leap in celebration of Aiden Markram’s dismissal. © AFP

“It is extremely pleasing,” he said. “I would like us to lose four early and still go at least five and over. We bat all the way down. We’ve been 8-for-5 in Adelaide. We’ve been 20-for-5 and still put a reasonable score on the board, and fought right till the end and still believed we could win the game. So if we lose wickets early, which we inevitably will at some stage, that will happen. We’ll have to deal with that situation.”

England have put up big scores in ODIs with alarming regularity, but at The Oval had to make do with 311. A small total by their high standards, which is why Morgan was very pleased with the way England defended it.

“I thought we bowled well. It’s probably one of our better bowling performances,” he said. “It’s a relief to be into the tournament. I’ve said, you know, we are going to lose games throughout the tournament. If it was to happen to be the first one, it didn’t really matter. It is a relief to be off and running. It’s great to get a win. It’s even better to produce a performance like that.”

Stokes was Man of the Match for his vital 89 off 79 balls, stunning one-handed boundary catch and two wickets in two balls to put the finishing touches on England’s massive win. Archer, in his fourth ODI, struck three telling blows to rattle South Africa with pace and bounce.

For Morgan, what Stokes produced on Thursday was what the team has come to expect from him.

“He’s had a full day out, and when he did, it’s extremely entertaining and it’s great for the game,” said Morgan. “Because we see a lot of him, in training, do stuff like that all the time and you just shake your head at it because it doesn’t happen every day. And today, his all-around game was on, and that’s great for us at the start of a tournament. It shows that he’s right on top of his game.”

As for Archer, Morgan was thankful for having a quick wicket-taking option.

“I think it gives us another string to our bowl. We certainly have two quicks, two out-and-out quicks on our squad with him and Mark Wood. But for him to bowl as quick and accurately today on a slow wicket, I think shows that he’s in good form,” he said.