Morgan to put Tests above IPL
While the riches on offer in the IPL may have turned the head of Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan insists he will turn his back on the most lucrative competition in world cricket if it helps him regain a place in England's Test side.
Morgan, who was dropped from the Test team after a grim series against Pakistan in the UAE, is contracted to the Kolkata Knight Riders for the 2013 IPL season, but said that international cricket will always take priority and that he would prefer to play county cricket next April and May if it helps him win back a Test place.
While Morgan would, under the terms of his England and Middlesex contract, be entitled to miss the first four or five weeks of the English domestic season in order to play in the IPL, he knows he will need to impress in first-class cricket if he is to force his way back into the Test side. Certainly Morgan's chances of impressing during the 2012 IPL season were limited as he failed to make it into the Kolkata side, though he has previously gone on record to credit the experience of training alongside players from around the world as hugely beneficial to his learning experience.
"The bigger picture for me is playing Test cricket," he said. "As a 15-year-old I came across to England to play Test cricket. It's always been my priority. I've had a little sniff of it and I've absolutely loved it. I was in the side when we became No. 1 and I was on the Ashes tour as a spare batter. Nothing can ever come close to the stuff you experience as a winning Test-match side. If it came about that I was back in the Test team during the IPL I'd be the happiest bloke in the world."
Morgan's words will delight England coach, Andy Flower. Flower has previously stated that "you're not going to learn much about Test batting in the IPL" and blamed Pietersen's desire to play the entire 2013 IPL season and maximise his earning from his £1.2 million deal with the Delhi Daredevils, as "the catalyst" in unsettling the player over recent months.
Morgan, however, feels that the opportunity to play Test cricket is more important than the money on offer in T20 leagues. While he still harbours the hope that his improved form in limited-overs cricket - he looked back to his best in scoring an unbeaten 89 in 63 balls in the ODI against Australia at Lord's in June - will win him a Test recall, he knows that if he is to convince the selectors that he is committed to regaining his Test place, he may well need to prove himself playing for Middlesex in the County Championship. And if that means missing out on the deals available in the Big Bash and the IPL it is a price he is prepared to pay.
"Is Test cricket my priority? Absolutely. I've never doubted that. If I'm involved in international cricket, it always takes priority and if I'm within one or two positions of the Test team, then I'll probably make the decision myself to come back and play county cricket. If I'm in the frame for a Test place, then things might have to change [regarding IPL availability], definitely. I looked into it a small bit this year but, because I was three or four places off the Test side I left it. I don't think I can play Big Bash. If all goes well I'll be on the Test tour, if not I'll make other plans.
"When anybody gets dropped they need to show that they're in substantial form and that they've scored enough runs to justify their position in the side. They need to show they've come back a better player. Looking back I'm a better player than I was at the start of the year. I've proven that in spurts over the summer. Hopefully again I can do that again during this ODI series against South Africa."
Morgan's first-class record is modest for a man with aspirations of playing more Test cricket. He has not scored a first-class century since the Edgbaston Test over 12 months ago and, in his seven-year career with Middlesex, averages just 32.71. His record this season is even more disappointing: he has averaged only 18.16 in the five County Championship matches he has played. While he has scored nine first-class centuries, only three of them have come in the Championship and none have been in the top division.
Morgan's next chance to impress the England selectors comes on Tuesday in the second ODI of the series against South Africa in Southampton. While he is quick to clarify that he has never had any problem with Pietersen personally, Morgan did admit that the opportunity provided to other players in Pietersen's absence might have been beneficial.
"Kevin is a world class cricketer and any team around the world would want him in their side," Morgan said. "But there are issues surrounding him at the moment and it will take time to resolve them; the quicker that happens the better. Personally I didn't find him difficult but I've not been around the Test team a lot.
"The guys who have come in have done really well. Ian Bell has come in and been amazing and maybe the extra responsibility, in Ravi Bopara's case, has helped him blossom as a cricketer. I've practised with Ravi for years and it's now that he's really showing the cricketer is capable of being and that's great.
"The focus as a side to is to progress up the rankings and build towards the World Cup and Champions Trophy next year. We're making huge steps towards bringing in match-winners who can take the game by the scruff of the neck and move forward."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo