Kevin Pietersen knows the moment England became ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup favourites — the day they finally learned to lose.
Four years ago Eoin Morgan’s team suffered a miserable tournament, winning just two of their six games - against Scotland and Afghanistan.
But since then they’ve established themselves as a white ball powerhouse, topping the ODI world rankings as they’ve won 15 of 19 intervening series under coach Trevor Bayliss.
And it’s a change in mindset that Pietersen credits with the transformation of fortunes ahead of the hosts’ opening match with South Africa at the Oval.
“So much credit must go to Eoin Morgan, he’s cool, he’s calm and he has the backing of his players, which is the most important,” said Pietersen, as the tournament kicked off with an opening party under the shadow of Buckingham Palace.
“The players have felt energised by the positivity in which he backs them but I think the most encouraging thing about this England team is Eoin allows them to fail.
“When you are allowed to fail you can play some unbelievable sport. In all walks of life, if you are allowed to make mistakes and know you are still going to get backed, that’s empowering. That is what Morgan has done.”
Pietersen, who won the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in 2010, was established in England’s dressing room when Morgan arrived for his debut in 2009.
But he was never in any doubt what the player would achieve.
“You could see that there was something special about him,” he recalled.
“The one thing about Eoin Morgan is the ability to hit a boundary and then get off strike the next ball. I think that that takes a lot of skill.
“I didn’t have that when I was playing one-day cricket. I got myself into many an occasion where I just could not rotate strike.
“I’m not surprised what he’s done because I was sat on a train with him years ago talking about the way we need to play positive cricket.
“It’s just beautiful to see the way English players are playing now. It’s something that makes me so happy. Eoin has transformed England.”
Pietersen is backing England, India and Australia to make the semi-finals with Jason Holder’s West Indies his outsiders to play beyond their world ranking.
England’s recent success makes them the ones to beat - but Pietersen cautions against believing the trophy is already won.
“You’ve got nine games and you’ve got the comfort to maybe lose a couple but they don’t want to lose that first game against South Africa,” he said. “This is very different from a bilateral series, where you are just playing against team after team. This is big, this is real big.”
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