From club to country for captain Morgan
The refrain that England's stars have become disconnected from the county game is a familiar one. The start of the season has been a welcome exception and, before England return to the international treadmill, their stars will help to launch the NatWest T20 Blast.
And in the shortest format no current England player rivals Eoin Morgan for star quality. He will lead Middlesex when their T20 season begins against Essex at Lord's on Saturday - and then do the same against Sussex a few hours later. It is the first such double header in county history. "Saturday for us is going to be quite a huge event - not only for ourselves but for English cricket," Morgan said. "I know Middlesex are having a huge push."
The challenge of back-to-back games will be an unusual one, including quickly moving onto the next contest whatever the result of the first. "Going into the second game, we'll already have had a chance to have a bat and a bowl. But does that equalise the fact that we might be a little bit tired? We don't know."
But while Middlesex's T20 campaigns will begin rapidly, the tournament is a slow-burning affair: finals day takes place exactly 100 days after the matches begin. "The idea of the format this year is to get more bums on seats throughout the whole summer, as opposed to it being sporadic," Morgan said.
Other T20 leagues take a very different approach, being completed in a much tighter block and which has left others, including England, playing catch-up. "You could say that the IPL and Big Bash have taken the initiative and sort of raced ahead of most other countries in franchise cricket and they've reaped the rewards for it."
This year, though, the IPL is far from Morgan's mind: it is the first time he has begun the county season in England since 2009. And his county have given him the responsibility of captaining, when England commitments allow, in all limited-overs cricket.
The development feels significant, with uncertainty over the captaincy of the national side in both limited-overs formats - and a shortage of viable successors to Alastair Cook in Tests. Morgan's initial forays into captaincy have been marked by serenity and unusual tactical imagination, perhaps reflecting that he is an essentially self-taught cricketer. Few would argue with Morgan's assessment of his own captaincy: "calm" and capable of "making good decisions under pressure".
With Stuart Broad injured, Morgan will be able to showcase those attributes in the T20 international against Sri Lanka next week having previously led England five times. "The opportunity to captain the side is one that I'm looking forward to."
The expectation is that Morgan could imminently succeed Broad on a permanent basis, whose role is in doubt after disappointing performances in the World T20 tournaments. Morgan says only that "it'll be something that I think of" if offered, while, tellingly, admitting that he "was interested" in the job when Paul Collingwood's reign ended three years ago.
"It's something that I've enjoyed because I've had something to offer," Morgan said, speaking like the unusually self-assured 27-year-old that is. "Guys like Ben Stokes who have come in - I was captain when he debuted and then to watch him come through and play in the Ashes series from afar was awesome to see. You take great pride in awarding someone that - although you only play a minor part you're still involved in it."
For all the bluster about England's "new era", uncertainty provides the backdrop for the international summer ahead. Mushtaq Ahmed and Graham Gooch have already lost their jobs, and the make-up of the new set-up is in flux. "We still haven't got exact clarity on what's going on or who's doing what," Morgan admitted. "The sooner that happens the better, and the calmer and the quicker things can move on."
In limited-overs cricket, Morgan's blend of calculation and panache make him immune from selectorial uncertainty. But in Tests the picture is rather more complicated. It is clear England have him in mind - Morgan would not have withdrawn from this year's IPL otherwise - and a century against Lancashire was "timely".
Whether that is enough to merit inclusion against Sri Lanka at Lord's on June 12 is a thorny question. Based strictly on first-class pedigree - Morgan averages under 35, and his previous first-class hundred came in August 2011 - he should not even be under consideration. Yet the notion of Morgan replicating his limited-overs brilliance in Tests evidently retains an allure for the selectors.
It has been 830 days since Morgan last played Test cricket. His 16 Tests, thus far, did not end happily: he mustered only 82 runs in six innings against Pakistan in the UAE before beginning ignominiously dumped. "It's professional sport - you're out of form or you're not performing you get dropped." With a middling career average of 30, Morgan did not have enough credit to fall back onto with the selectors: "I don't think it was harsh, looking back on it."
"If I played the series again I might have played a little bit differently. I could have been a lot smarter about how I played," he said. "Since I've played my last Test I'm a better cricketer for the fact that I've played more games and I've made more mistakes." He evidently believes that class transfers between formats, suggesting that Ian Bell could replicate Mahela Jayawardene's success in the shortest format if he returns to England's T20 side.
But it is an Australian that Morgan cites to show that cricketers can thrive in Test matches despite games that seem more suited to the short formats. "David Warner is your typical example - he started in T20, got into the one-day side and then broke into the Test team. And the shots he was playing in the Test matches were unbelievable."
If Morgan is able to imitate Warner's success dovetailing the demands of the three formats of the game, it will leave Ireland lamenting once more that they could have retained his talents. In theory, the ICC's new Test Challenge should help prevent a future Morgan from making the same decision. The reality, with a lack of scheduling space for any new Test nation, may be rather different. "Given the aspirations that I had as a kid, I'd probably still make the move."
Eoin Morgan was speaking at the launch of Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week. On 2-6 June thousands of Chance to Shine schools all over the country will enjoy a week of cricket-themed activities in the classroom and playground. Visit www.chancetoshine.org to find out more.