Bevan or Vaughan
|Will Eoin Morgan's methods work in the longest version? © Getty Images|
The headlines said that Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad are being “rested” from England's first Test against Bangladesh later this week. True enough, if they aren't in the squad, they won't be playing, but it's a funny old defintion of “rest” which means that Broad will be pumping iron pretty intensively in the gym to build his strength up while Collingwood does rehab on his shoulder. The basic message is that 90% fit is not fit enough: they would rather have eleven fully-fit players than the eleven theoretically-best with a couple of them unable to perform to their maximum.
It takes a bit of getting used to, but it is the logical result of year-round international cricket. The old-timers would have raised a stink rather than an eyebrow at “resting” a first-choice player from a home Test, but in their day a player who was getting jaded would take the winter off to get recharged after too much cricket: the only tour it was impermissible to sit out voluntarily was an Ashes. (Well, you could sit it out if you chose, but it would put a big blackmark in the selectors' notebooks.)
The immediate consequence is that Eoin Morgan is set to make his England debut in the long form of the game, which will be fascinating.
Since I tipped him for success a year ago, Morgan has amply demonstrated that he is one of the most exciting limited-over players in the world, but picking him for Tests represents quite a leap of faith by the selectors.
Morgan's first-class record is pretty modest. His career amounts to 2500 runs at 36, including 6 centuries, one of them a not-out double. Not exactly screaming for Test selection. Nor has he been distinguishing himself in the first half of this year's championship: what with the ODIs against Australia, the IPL and the World Twenty20, he last played a first-class match last August, when he scored 16 and 17 against the might of Glamorgan.
And it's a well-known fact that there are players who are geniuses against a white ball but rather less than overwhelming when it comes to Tests. Michael Bevan was known as the greatest finisher of them all in ODIs – and left-handed rocket power at the end of an innings is also what Morgan is good at – but he never established himself as a Test player. Despite having played the format for seven years, Yuvraj Singh has yet to really convince as a Test player while being one of the game's most dangerous one-day batsmen.
England will be hoping that he does not follow in their footsteps but instead treads the path marked out by Michael Vaughan, who had a similarly uninspiring first-class record when picked for England but blossomed into (briefly) the number one ranked Test batsman in the world.
Morgan could not be much further from Vaughan in terms of style. Vaughan was perhaps England's most classical batsman since Peter May while Morgan's range of shots has yet to be fully documented by researchers into new species. But what both of them have is extraordinary phlegm: one of Morgan's more impressive traits is his obvious calm at the crease whatever the situation – a coolness which Vaughan was required to show on his Test debut, finding himself standing there with the responsibility of digging England out of the hole of being 2-4.
It has to be said that it will be a major surprise if Morgan faces anything similar when he walks out to bat against Bangladesh. Nor is he all that likely to have to do the job with which Collingwood, whom he nominally replaces, has become most associated - that of remaining strokeless for hours trying to stave off almost inevitable defeat.
The suspicion is that if the scoreboard isn't clicking up the runs at a regular rate, Morgan will become frustrated and start playing silly shots and get out. With Morgan, of course, one has to be quite careful when describing a shot as “silly” because what is unconventional and unorthodox for a Vaughanesque batsman may be one of Morgan's most well-practiced strokes – but that probably won't stop people labelling a safe-looking backward flip which is impossibly caught by a salmon-leaping fielder as irresponsible.
Whether Morgan is a Bevan or a Vaughan is the question the selectors are appointed to estimate the answer to. And it can only be their best estimate: the beauty of this sport is that none of us, not even Morgan himself, can possibly know how he will fare until he goes out and tries.