Cricket World Cup: 'Morgan was phenomenal; England must now reach last four in style'

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Cricket World Cup highlights: England beat Afghanistan

For as long as I can remember, England have treated World Cup games against the likes of Afghanistan as a potential banana skin.

Instead of thinking 'come on, let's go out and smash it', it's been 'we must not lose to these'. It wasn't the attitude of an Australia, who would deal with similar opponents with the minimum of fuss.

This a different England, though. And at Old Trafford on Tuesday, they bossed Afghanistan. There was not a hint of anxiety.

They were led, in every sense, by Eoin Morgan. His 148 from 71 balls, including a one-day international record 17 sixes, was absolutely phenomenal.

It was unbelievable that a man who could barely walk off the field on Friday because of a back spasm was able to play like that.

He was hitting his sixes either square on the leg side or straight down the ground and, at one point, when I was on commentary with Michael Vaughan, we were predicting where the next one would go.

If Afghanistan brought long-off up, he would hit the ball back down the ground. If they left a gap on the leg side, he found it.

Yes, he had the fortune of a horrible dropped catch by Dawlat Zadran, but he punished Afghanistan for that with a calculated, ruthless dismantling of their attack.

When a batsman is striking the ball like that, so cleanly and with such power, it is intimidating for a bowler.

You can talk about how a fast bowler can make a batsman fearful, but the same can be said when the batsman is standing there and looking to hit every delivery for six.

You know that if you get it slightly wrong, the ball is going to disappear. That is exactly what happened when Morgan was biffing the ball all around Manchester.

Even before his back trouble, he looked in good touch, and this knock proved what great form he is in.

For a batting captain, that is absolutely perfect. If a skipper is worried about his own game, how many runs he is getting, then that often means other parts of the job suffer.

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Watch Morgan hit record 17 sixes

Now, Morgan can devote all of his energy into leading the team through this World Cup.

In fairness, he has been leading from the front ever since he was given the job on the eve of the 2015 tournament.

Yes, things were a little chaotic for England in Australia and New Zealand but, even then, Morgan never seemed flustered.

When they came back, chastened by their first-round exit, Morgan put his stamp on the team and got them to play the way he wanted.

Now, he is totally in control. He sets the tone and has them well drilled.

When he is in the field, he seems totally at ease with everything that is going on out there. There are movements of the hand and small gestures, maybe a subtle sign to tell a bowler to get warmed up.

Morgan became the fourth England batsman to score a century at this World Cup. That is two more players than any other side and is an indication of where they are placed.

Not only are they top of the table, but a number of their players are playing well.

They move on to Headingley to play Sri Lanka on Friday knowing that victory will put them close to the semi-finals.

Sri Lanka are likely to be improved from some of their performances earlier in the tournament, but England should still expect to win.

Then comes the real business end of the group stage, with England taking on the other teams in the top four - and likely semi-finalists - Australia, India and New Zealand.

Even if we know who will make up the last four, those are three really big games for the momentum of the teams that do make the knockout stages.

You could play poorly in those games, maybe scraping into the semis in fourth place and without a great deal of belief.

Alternatively, you can get good results against the other teams vying to lift the World Cup and enter the semis full of confidence and devoid of doubt.

With the rain around, it has been a stop-start tournament, but now we can see how it will build to an exciting finale.

From England's point of view, it is now not just about qualifying for the semi-finals, it's about doing it in style.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Stephan Shemilt.

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Two quickfire sixes from Moeen give England the record for most sixes is an ODI innings