Switching colours, switching hits
Eoin Morgan has already played in a World Cup and has 23 ODIs under his belt, but the next international match he plays will be the one that shows he has really hit the big time. After a career with Ireland, he has switched allegiance across the Irish Sea and his chance for a second debut is now that little bit more imminent after Kevin Pietersen's Achilles injury.
Never mind the convoluted route he has taken, Morgan's call-up comes at an opportune time. England have been striving to find batsmen capable of innovating in one-day cricket who also having the power to clear the boundaries. A couple of weeks ago, in front of the television cameras, he scored a breathtaking 161 in the Friends Provident Trophy against Kent. He showed an astonishing array of shots, with the ability to change his mind at the last minute, depending on how the bowler responded, with a shot he calls the "change up".
He sweeps powerfully in the conventional style, but also paddles and scoops in a way that certainly won't be found in any MCC coaching manual. He has also tried the switch hit. "I've only played it once and it did go for six, but it's not in my locker at the moment," he said.
With the swapping of international colours Morgan is following in the footstep of Ed Joyce, his former Middlesex team-mate, who played 17 ODIs for England between 2006 and 2007. "Ed's a very good friend of mine and I have spoken to him a lot since I was given the nod," Morgan said. "He's wished me well and said, 'Go out do your own thing.'"
Being his own man won't be a problem for Morgan. It is what has brought him to the selectors' attention. There is a confidence about him that belies his 22 years. "I certainly look to express myself and have done that throughout my career, especially in one-day and Twenty20, and it's something I'll look to continue doing."
Although ultimately his ability to transfer success from Associate and county level to the international scene will show whether Morgan can step up a level, the early evidence suggests he has the broadest range of shots outside of Pietersen. Importantly, too, he has the confidence in his conviction to play them. "I have got out to the shot and I will get out to it, I haven't perfected it, but I'll certainly continue to play it even if it gets me out," he says of the reverse sweep.
Those skills have their roots in the traditional Irish sport of hurling, which Morgan played twice a week for three years in his early teens. Hurling involves using double-sided sticks called hurleys. "I read an article one time that said that sportsmen take skills they learn at between nine and 12 years old, from whatever sport they play, and take it with them throughout their career," Morgan explained. "It was just a coincidence that I played hurling at school when I was younger, and the actual grip for hurling is the same as [for] the reverse sweep."
Morgan and Joyce faced each other during the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, but despite Ireland's fairytale performance, where they managed to beat Pakistan and Bangladesh, Morgan struggled against top-quality attacks and ended the tournament with 91 runs at 10.11.
Yet that trip makes him considerably more experienced than some of his team-mates in next month's ICC World Twenty20. Eight of England's 20-over squad have never appeared at a world event, so perhaps Morgan can pass on some tips about dealing with the pressure, and more pertinently, about how to win important matches. Regardless of the lack of runs, he was part of a close-knit unit that made the most of their talent and enjoyed the experience. None of that can be said of any England World Cup campaign (50 or 20-overs) since 1992.
"I've come a long way since then," Morgan said. "I didn't have a great time at the World Cup, but I'm looking to make that right now. I've certainly played a lot of cricket since then. My time away at the World Cup and playing against the big nations has helped me out quite a lot.
"Staying at hotels with the likes of South Africa and Australia when I was 19 or 20 was a great experience, and just watching how the teams operate. You can learn a lot and take a lot of confidence from that."
Despite his World Cup problems, Morgan's numbers for Ireland were impressive: he had an average of 35.42. However, England has always been his ambition from the moment he went to Dulwich College to further his cricketing education when he was 13. A few years later he was part of an Irish Under-17 team that played against an England Under-15 side at Eton, where he scored a hundred and was spotted by Jason Pooley, Middlesex 2nd XI coach at the time.
"From the time I went to school here this has been where I've wanted to be," he said. "I was always going to play for England, obviously helping out Ireland along the way was a good experience. I've got a lot of cricketing heroes who are English, and I've always looked up to Graham Thorpe."
England's gain, though, is clearly Ireland's loss, and there was very little they could do about it. For someone of Morgan's talent there is currently only one path to follow for full international recognition and the potential of a Test future. Even though Ireland are the strongest Associate nation, the prospect of them joining the elite is still a distant ambition, and Morgan couldn't afford to spend the best years of his cricketing life waiting for something that may never happen.
"I have some fantastic memories and have taken a lot from playing with Ireland," he said. "But it was inevitable and everyone at home knew that path I was going to take. When I made the decision it was accepted and encouraged."
The first phase of Morgan's international career is over and it has served its purpose, but this next stage is going to show what he is really made of. England will hope that he brings with him the luck of the Irish.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo