LONDON: Eoin Morgan is hoping the return of three key players from the Indian Premier League will help England defeat top-ranked South Africa in their upcoming one-day international series.
A three-match contest between the sides starts with a day/nighter at Headingley on Wednesday, with the series given added spice by the fact it acts as a warm-up for next week’s Champions Trophy tournament in England and Wales.
That competition will see England trying to end their 42-year wait for a maiden major International Cricket Council ODI trophy, with the 2010 World Twenty their lone global short-format title.
All-rounders Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, together with wicket-keeper Jos Buttler, were all given permission to miss England’s opening two ODIs this season against Morgan’s native Ireland and instead extend their IPL stints.
Stokes and Buttler, who played for Rising Pune Supergiant and Mumbai Indians respectively, might have been in opposition in Sunday’s final had they not been recalled to an England training camp in Spain.
Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen told Sky Sports the decision was “an absolute shambles”.
“What are they going to Spain for? To field a couple of balls? They should be playing in the IPL,” he said.
Stokes — paid a record $2.16 million to play the eight-week IPL season — was instrumental in Pune reaching the knockout phase after a brilliant debut campaign in the lucrative Twenty20 competition.
The 25-year-old left-handed batsman and right-handed pace bowler scored 316 runs in 12 matches, with a highest of 103 not out, and took 12 wickets.
Nasser Hussain, like Pietersen a former England captain, defended Stokes’s recall to national training duty by saying: “The reason he got an IPL deal was because of how wonderful he has been for England.
“When they tell you to turn up to a training camp you turn up to a training camp to prepare for a tournament that we have underachieved in for 20-30 years.”
Morgan, himself an IPL player, was simply delighted to have several key men back on board.
“It’s a huge benefit having three match-winners come back into the team having watched them contribute so much to the IPL,” Morgan told reporters at Headingley on Tuesday.
“Ben Stokes comes back as the competition’s MVP (most valuable player) and it’s great to see him performing so well in what is the biggest domestic tournament in the world.
“Jos is one of the best in the world as well and Chris has been an important part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ road to the final stages.”
Stokes found himself playing in the same IPL side as Australia captain Steve Smith, who’ll be a determined opponent when England travel ‘Down Under’ later this year in defence of the Ashes.
“I remember doing a batting session with some power hitting towards the end where the guy who I will actually be playing against in the Ashes (Smith) was helping me, which is something that you would never be able to fathom when you are playing against each other,” said Stokes.
“It was really good actually.”
While Stokes returns to bolster England, the fact South Africans such as Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw, Dane Vilas, Stiaan van Zyl and David Wiese have all cut short their international careers in favour of the financial security of county contracts has been brought into even greater focus now the Proteas are in England.
“It’s part and parcel of what we are confronted with in recent times,” said South Africa captain AB de Villiers at Headingley on Tuesday.
“We can’t stop guys from going where they want to and playing where they want to play.”
De Villiers added, however: “We’ve no reason not to be confident.
“We’ve beaten Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand recently so we’re confident, we’re not harping too much on what we’ve lost because we’d rather focus on what we’ve gained in the last few months.”