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June 22, 2010
News : Morgan rates match-winning hundred his best
News : Another new McGrath and Morgan's ideal knock
Report : England cruise home on Morgan ton
Matches: England v Australia at Southampton
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of England and Ireland
After the innings of his life to date, Eoin Morgan faced the press with the same thousand-yard stare and monotone voice that Bob Willis produced at Headingley after his own demolition of the Aussies back in 1981. It was hardly surprising, to be fair. After gracing the Rose Bowl with a performance of Technicolor rarely witnessed in England's one-day history, he wasn't interested in furnishing his effort with any more superlatives than he'd already produced.
"I'm just doing what I practise really," he deadpanned. "It was a belting wicket. I played my percentages and took it on. It's tough playing against Australia, especially with the attack they have. They've got some good bowlers, so it was nice. I've got no trick shots on the snooker table. And I'm rubbish at golf." At 10.30pm after a sapping evening's work, that was pretty much that.
Morgan will know, however, that in a year that culminates in both an Ashes and a World Cup campaign, that was quite some manifesto to slap on the table. When he last took part in a home one-day series, in the autumnal mists last September, he was a rookie finding his feet against a vengeful Aussie outfit, who were on their way to a 6-1 thumping.
Now, nine months down the line, he's cemented a role as England's finest finisher for a generation, having played an integral role in a one-day series win in South Africa, and a maiden ICC global triumph in the Caribbean. And, as a packed and jubilant Rose Bowl crowd rose to acclaim his first hundred on home soil, it really was a case of seeing is believing for the English cricket's fanbase.
"The great thing about Morgy is he is a finisher, but he does it in an aggressive manner as well, and that puts opposition captains under pressure," said Andrew Strauss. "He's doing it consistently as well, and it was an outstanding innings today - one of the very best I've seen in an England shirt."
Coming from a man who's seen Kevin Pietersen in full flow on numerous occasions in the past five years, that was quite some statement, but Strauss was loathe to suggest that a new sheriff had ridden into KP's town. "I don't think we need to compare the two," he said. "It's not like a 'wow!' competition. He plays some outrageous shots but the great thing is he can score around the wicket against all sorts of bowling, so as an opposition captain, you scratch your head and think how can we tie him down. It's proving difficult at the moment."
Morgan's intervention was audacious and emphatic. At the nadir of England's innings, they had slumped to 97 for 4 after 20 overs, a scenario almost identical to Australia's early wobble at 98 for 4 after 21.2. But, on his watch, England somehow rushed to victory with an impertinent four overs to spare. The actual margin of victory - four wickets - was more realistic as to the tussle that had taken place. But Morgan's magic ensured the final stages were a rout.
"I thought tonight was a pretty even contest, for the majority of the game it was right in the balance," said Ricky Ponting. "It was a decent game of cricket and we've got some work to do to make sure we are a bit better prepared next game. We were a long way below our best tonight and we still remained pretty competitive. If there are any positives for us at all, that's probably it out of the game."
Inevitably, Ponting played down any suggestion that England have raised their one-day game to levels never before seen in his career - ("Maybe they are getting a few more results now, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's been a change in attitude ..."), while Strauss maintained the admirable calm that has been England's stock reaction to their recent efforts by pointing out that this was just one match out of five. But in the same week that Sachin Tendulkar suggested that Australia are as vulnerable as they've been for 20 years, the collective confidence of England's cricket was almost as striking as Morgan's individual effort.
"It's the first game, but we've done a lot of things right," said Strauss. "The bowlers did a good job to restrict Australia to 267 and at the halfway mark I think we felt we were in front. But Australia being Australia they'll come back at us hard in the next game, so let's not pat ourselves on the back too much in this game. Ultimately it's a very satisfying victory."
The more Morgan's game develops, the more the comparisons with a certain MG Bevan will start to flood in, and Strauss didn't pretend he hadn't noticed the similarities between two left-handed icemen with an uncanny knack for producing a crucial boundary in some undefendable corner of the field.
"We've been looking for a Michael Bevan-type character for quite a long time, and Morgs has shown a few times in both 50-over and 20-over cricket that he can play in a similar fashion, and perhaps a bit more aggressively than Bevan. We can't rely on one person, we need to get contributions from 1 to 9 in the batting order, which is why it was good that Luke Wright came in and did a good job at No. 6 and Tim Bresnan at No. 7."
But ultimately, the first ODI was all about one man, and Ponting is already plotting to stop him. "He did everything right tonight, there's no doubt about that. He didn't offer us a chance, did he? He hit the ball very, very well.
"The difference in those situations is how much pressure you can build up and how much you can put on them to hit a boundary. We didn't do that tonight. He got his boundaries too easily, which allowed them to stay in front in the game. We have to make it harder for good players like him to find the boundary in those middle overs.
"Against the slower guys he is unorthodox. You saw that tonight when [Nathan] Hauritz first came on. The way he reverse-sweeps makes it difficult to set fields for. But the way our quicks and our medium-pacers bowled to him tonight, we just gave him too many easy boundary options. There's not too many guys in international cricket if you bowl them a half-volley they won't put it away.
"He hit a lot of cover-drives for four. We have to address that, and address it pretty quickly for the next game."
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