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He is not England's leading scorer at the World Twenty20, but Eoin Morgan carries his teams hopes on his shoulders against an in-form Sri Lanka
September 30, 2012
Few England batsmen have ever been charged with so much responsibility in a major one-day tournament as Eoin Morgan. 'Set It Up For Morgs' is England's consistent refrain. Now he is about to face his toughest test. If he is to plot England's route into the semi-finals in Pallakele, he must somehow find an answer to a Sri Lanka side moving insistently forward with the support of a raucous home crowd and to the happy sound of rhythmic drumming.
Shane Watson, Chris Gayle, Mahela Jayawardene, Eoin Morgan: each drives the belief of their side that World Twenty20 can fall their way. Virat Kohli, for all his class, does not carry the same weight for India. Who Pakistan will rely in is anybody's guess; their inspiration might come from anywhere. South Africa looked for a batting leader and found none.
Morgan is not England's only batting success at World Twenty20. Luke Wright has bustled away with considerable success and Alex Hales, in his first major tournament, has done all that can fairly be expected. But since Kevin Pietersen cast himself as the hero in his own soap opera, and set in chain his own uncompromising removal from the England side as a result, it is Morgan who England expect to be a game changer.
When the subject turns to cricket, Morgan is the England batsman with the metallic stare. He does not invite the Irish stereotypes of easy-going, soft-focused sociability. Perhaps he remains woolly over the longer format of the game, where the tempo seems to be too slow to consume him, but when he enters a one-day run chase, he becomes a clinical, calculating machine, largely devoid of emotion.
When Morgan is locked onto a target, it might seem safest not to cross his path and yet his England batting partners have queued up to praise the advice he gives them in the heat of battle. Suddenly finding himself an experienced voice, he offers the certainty they need. There is no need to consider the bowlers to come, the rate needed, the temptations that might befall them when Morgan is there to say: 'We're on track, sixes and sevens is still OK, we can do this, I reckon you can hit him straight, stick with me.'
Has he worked on that coolness? "No, I think that comes naturally to me," he said. "When I practise I try to think logically and get frustrated as little as I can. I know that helps massively, it helps the train of thought rather than getting frustrated and letting emotion build up. If you communicate with the batter at the other end that also helps a lot."
So many England players have praised Morgan's guidance that what he says between overs has become more interesting than, for the sake of sanity, it probably should be, but it is likely that he does not spend much of his time pointing out the pretty girl in the third row. For an inexperienced non-striker, new to the England side, Pietersen might put on a show that can leave you awe struck; Morgan tries to show you a way.
But Pietersen and Morgan have their connections, too, as talented players with a legitimate ambition to succeed in the best T20 available. Times have certainly changed since May when Morgan belatedly returned to England after a prolonged stay at the IPL on the assumption that he was not about to win a place in England's Test side. If he was not exactly persona non grata, neither was he discussed in glowing terms.
|When Morgan is locked onto a target, it might seem safest not to cross his path and yet his England batting partners have queued up to praise the advice he gives them in the heat of battle|
His stance has remained constant throughout England's political shifting sands. He will put England's Test side first if he has a strong chance of selection, otherwise he will further his education in the IPL. It has always been thus. He has managed to get what he wants without overly offending the England authorities, a stark contrast to Pietersen. Morgan knows what he wants and does not shift from it; Pietersen is a mass of contradictions and has suffered because of it.
Morgan's candid discussion of his strengths is T20 is refreshing. He knows what he can do and is happy to say so. There is no fake modesty in case he becomes a hostage to fortune. He might get a first-baller from Ajantha Mendis, but it will not change the fact that for Morgan to come in at No 4 soon after the end of the six-over Powerplay, and bat through to the end of the innings, represents England's best chance of success. Coming in at this time gives him clarity of purpose from the outset.
"My success in Twenty20 cricket has all come from overs six to 20," he said. "All the stats suggest that I should bat in that period of time. I think it's just my particular skill, I've found myself being good at that sort of thing. It's just what I'm used to and probably what I'm best at so it's what we're trying to produce. If I do really well them more often than not we have won the game.
"The plan for us is that I'd rather not bat in the first six. I prefer to go in and take things on a bit more. My attitude is better when I need to hit fours or get on with it. Again, having to rebuild is something I have done in the past, so it doesn't really matter. I'm just trying to get across why it's better for me to come in at that point. There is a point beyond which I can't go but belief is crucial."
Sri Lanka will offer a considerable challenge. England can take comfort in the fact that they play second - if New Zealand beat West Indies, they know victory will be enough; if West Indies succeed, England must not just win but squeeze out either Sri Lanka or West Indies on net run rate. That will be a test even for the ice man one that 24 hours before the game he was unwilling to consider too deeply.
"It's a tough enough challenge to beat Sri Lanka in their home conditions so we will just focus on that," he said, aware that Sri Lanka's unconventional bowlers will present as great a challenge as ever. "Guys like Malinga are always tough because you haven't faced them for such a long time and you aren't in the habit of having the ball waist high from in front of the stumps, although having faced them does help.
"Mendis is the same: you obviously take a couple of balls to get yourself in but in this format you must rotate the strike in those balls, you don't block it or leave it. Again there is a frame of mind required to take them on rather than sit back. If they are allowed to bowl at us the likelihood is they will be successful. Our mindset is going to be massive."
He remains highly critical of England's collapse to 80 all out against India. "I think it was naïve, I think we didn't do the simple things right," he said. "We went for strokes that worked well in England and don't work for us here. We went back to reactive cricket rather than being smart. It was almost a case of forgetting what we were trying to do and we paid massive consequences."
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