April 18, 2013

Learning from Eoin Morgan

Did you know the secret to his great success lies in ancient Irish sports? And doesn't that make you want to try 'em all?

Hurling: so invigorating that even its Test-match version possibly involves sudden death © Michel van Oorschot

Ever taken a jumping one-handed catch on the boundary using your left hand? Me neither. Now imagine taking aforementioned catch while holding a bat with three homicidal madmen jumping at you from all angles with bats of their own, trying to take your head off. Then, once you have caught the ball, instantly swat it for a huge six. Impossible, right? No!

In Ireland this happens on a daily basis and is considered child's play. Many of you may even have enjoyed a recent sanitised version as Eoin Morgan dished out a battering to Hyderabad Sunrisers' poor unsuspecting bowlers. The legend goes that Morgan developed his hand-eye coordination and textbook-defying sweeps through playing the Irish sport of hurling as a youngster. This ancient sport consists of equipping two teams of 15 with wooden sticks/clubs, a hefty dose of rage, and then unleashing them onto a field with instructions to get the cricket-sized ball between the opposition goalposts by any means necessary.

Hurling was on the verge of extinction in the 19th century as cricket swept the towns and villages of Ireland. However, a rise in Republicanism and revulsion at British imperialism led to the formation of traditional Irish sports clubs across the country and made life very difficult for remaining pockets of foolhardy cricket-loving Irish. English imperialism creating rifts in the cricket world? Some things never change.

This strong nationalist spirit remained a defining feature of Irish sport right through to the seventies and eighties. Club members were forbidden from playing "English" sports such as rugby and soccer. As for cricket, well, you can imagine how dalliances with leather and willow would have gone down.

This all lies in the past, of course, and cricket lovers the world over can enjoy hurling's greatest exponent: Eoin Morgan.

Ever one to the jump on the bandwagon, I have started dabbling in hurling myself. Traditional methods of cricketing betterment such as nets, coaching and drinking myself into a stupor the night before a match have singularly failed to improve my game, so I have taken to hurling in an attempt to achieve Morgan-like abilities.

Without success.

Not only am I a pretty poor cricketer, it transpires that I am no more than average at hurling. I still cannot take a one-handed catch on the boundary, and I definitely cannot take a one-handed catch with three frothing Irishmen bearing down on me. Confidence has nose-dived and my tendency to try cover drives in hurling is worsted only by my inner desire to wrap my cricket bat around the bowler's head after he has bowled his delivery. Sixes continue to elude (when batting anyway).

Could it be that Morgan's abilities stem from just that: his ability? That is a bitter pill for any journey(wo)man cricketer to swallow, as it implies that no matter what we try we will always average more with the ball than with the bat, and snatch at anything hit towards us at more than snail's pace.

Perhaps it is time to realise that watching sport may be a more fruitful endeavour than playing sport, and hang up the bat and pads for good. BUT WAIT! I just reread Morgan's biography and it turns out he played Gaelic football when he was a youngster. The only conceivable explanation for my lack of cricketing improvement from hurling must be that Gaelic football is the source of his success.

Ever tried catching a ball the size and weight of your head with four homicidal madmen bearing down on you…? I will be.

Michel van Oorschot has played club cricket in Oman, Holland, Scotland and Ireland. He tweets here