Ed Smith
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Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman; writer for the New Statesman

It's all up to Morgan

For much of his career, Eoin Morgan has had the door opened welcomingly wide for him. No longer

Ed Smith

February 29, 2012

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A

Eoin Morgan ended a poor tour when he was run out for 9, Pakistan v England, 3rd Twenty20, Abu Dhabi, February 27, 2012
Morgan's talent is plain for all to see. What's interesting is what he will do with it © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Eoin Morgan | Kevin Pietersen
Teams: England | Middlesex

As two dazzling, attacking shot-players, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen are often talked about in the same breath. Indeed, they are the two top batsmen in the World T20 rankings. But there the similarities end.

I am not referring to their diverging current form. Pietersen has confirmed a spectacular return to form, with two ODI hundreds and a match-winning 62 not out in the deciding T20. Morgan, in contrast, has struggled this winter and been omitted from the England Test squad that will play Sri Lanka.

No, the deeper differences are more revealing. Pietersen is a natural outsider who has had to make his own way; Morgan has always benefitted from the smiles and support of the cricketing establishment. Pietersen forced his way into international cricket through sheer weight of runs; Morgan was hand-picked as a potential star. Pietersen's critics have always been waiting for him to fail; Morgan's many admirers have always made the most of his successes.

Pietersen came from a great cricketing culture, South Africa, where he never broke through. Even in Natal, he was not earmarked for future greatness. In coming to England to pursue a better cricketing future, Pietersen made himself doubly an outsider - the foreigner determined to achieve greatness among an adopted people.

Morgan, in contrast, is the lauded favourite son of Irish cricket. He has always been the brightest star in a small galaxy. Not for him the waiting and wondering if he would make the grade. Irish cricket has been spreading the word about Morgan - that he was a phenomenal talent - from his teenage years.

In 2007, Middlesex played Ireland in Dublin. Ironically, two of Middlesex's best players were Irish - Morgan and Ed Joyce - so it was a homecoming of sorts for them. Though Joyce was the older, more senior figure, it was Morgan who bestrode the scene. He was a different man in Ireland; he was top dog and he knew it. In time, Middlesex and England fans also came to know and admire that cocksure character.

But if we dig a little deeper, the Morgan story is less conclusive that it first appears. When he was first selected for England in 2009, Morgan had already proved certain things in county cricket. We knew that few players (if any) have a greater natural ability to strike the ball with immense power derived from timing rather than brute strength. We knew that he had an instinctive feel for one-day and T20 cricket, a hunter's thrill of the chase and a showman's love for the stage. We knew that his outward demeanour was apparently confident and yet hard to read.

We also knew - if anyone cared to look at the numbers - that his first-class record was unremarkable (he averaged in the mid-30s) and that his temperament had rarely been tested in circumstances that didn't suit him.

Now, three years later, our knowledge of Morgan has not advanced all that much. Yes, we have learnt that he was not phased or overawed by international cricket. But few thought he would be.

In more substantive terms, Morgan has succeeded at things he was always good at, and struggled at disciplines that do not come easily to him. Morgan's instant successes in international T20 and ODI cricket reflected his dominant reputation in those two formats in county cricket. In the same way, his relative lack of success in Test cricket reflects his track record in all first-class cricket.

Sport gets harder in many respects, and the sportsmen who thrive in the long term are those who have the personality to take more of the weight on their own shoulders. Ultimately a great player must be his own problem-solver, therapist and coach

We are about to learn a lot more about Morgan. This is the first time in his cricketing life that he has been on the outside. Until now, he has been the beneficiary of a never-ending fast track - the path ahead constantly being cleared for him. At Middlesex the coaching staff fretted about anything that might "hold Morgan back", even when his first-class numbers did not demand selection. One coach used to begin selection meetings by asking, "How are we going to get Morgan into the team?" As though Morgan himself shouldn't have to worry about the troublesome details of getting runs and making his own case. England, too, picked him at the first available opportunity.

Well, the era of fast-tracking and "how are we going to get Morgan into the team?" just ended. For now, he is on his own, armed with just a bat and his dazzling skills. He will have to make his own way back. The door is far from closed. But nor is it permanently wide open.

Great players in every sport will tell you that it is much harder to stay at the very top than it is to get there in the first place. The same point can be phrased differently. As sportsmen get older, they have to become ever more self-reliant. The support systems drop away, one by one, leaving you standing alone. Adoring coaches who were once enamoured of sheer talent become frustrated by the failure to convert talent into performance; team-mates who once sensed a star in the making begin to expect games to be won, not merely adorned; fans are no longer thrilled by what you can do, but increasingly annoyed by what you cannot.

Sport gets harder in many respects, and the sportsmen who thrive in the long term are those who have the personality to take more of the weight on their own shoulders. Ultimately a great player must be his own problem-solver, therapist and coach. That revolves around character, not talent.

Many people - including me - believe Morgan is one of the most gifted cricketers in the world. In my new book I wanted to explore the careers of a couple of athletes - drawn from all sports - who had been blessed with truly remarkable talent. The two examples I used were Roger Federer and Morgan.

Morgan has already proved me right about his talent. Now comes the interesting part: what is he going to do with it?

Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith's new book, Luck - What It Means and Why It Matters, is published in March 2012. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by getsetgopk on (March 3, 2012, 7:35 GMT)

I think its wonderful for people to come to england and play cricket there. I think england have genuine love for the sport. It is perfectly all right for anyone to chose to play in any country regardless of their race, nationality or ethnicity. Hats off to england the only real true home of cricket. pak fan here.

Posted by landl47 on (March 3, 2012, 5:29 GMT)

@zenboomerang; Maybe you should read my whole comment before responding. I agree that Morgan isn't a good enough player in the long format to deserve a place. I don't believe Cowan, Marsh and Forrest are good enough to be Australian test players either, but two of them have been already and do you want to bet Forrest won't get a look fairly soon? As for averages, Morgan 30 test, 36 FC; March 27 test, 37 FC; Forrest no tests yet, but 36 FC. Cowan is slightly better with 41 FC, but only 34 test and he's only played in Australia against India. That seems pretty comparable to me, especially as Morgan is the youngest of the 4- Cowan is nearly 30. Jonesy sledges, because he has nothing to back up his absurd comments. I tell it like it is, and produce the figures to back it up and when an England player doesn't deserve a place, like Morgan, I say so. If you don't like it, don't blame me

Posted by phoenixsteve on (March 2, 2012, 16:18 GMT)

Jonesy2 is ranting again! If England are so bad then what must Australia be? Maybe they shouldn't be allowed to play test cricket until they reach the desired standard? Of course not.... but they are significantly behind England at the test level - just remember all the recent Ashes drubbings England have handed out? England are World T20 champions and there are even signs that they might be getting their act together in the ODI format. Maybe after Sri Lanka also humiliate Australia Jonesy2 will return to planet Earth? Although true cricket fans will miss his deluded rants! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

Posted by oze13 on (March 1, 2012, 20:06 GMT)

Ed Smith, dear oh dear, comparing Morgan with Federer is like comparing a Bugatti Veyron with a Lada. Yes they're both cars but that's where the comparison ends. I've also read his article about Warner. Ed obviously knows his cricket! The problem with Morgan, Warner and the likes of Cowan is poor technique. All 3 have bats coming down from second slip when playing balls on or outside off stump creating a massive gap between bat and pad. No doubt they've got good eyes but poor techniques will never allow them to score runs consistently against good quality bowling. As for jonesy2 comments about England's cricketers having no talent? He's obviously been deluded by Australia's success against the lamest Indian attack there's been for ages. He won't be seeing any Ponting double hundreds or Clarke treble hundreds in next years Ashes! Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn, Bresnan and Swann will make sure of that. Just like they did last time and I almost forgot, the time before that!

Posted by jonesy2 on (March 1, 2012, 15:02 GMT)

joshy johnson, england best in the world? at what? making a fool of themselves in pretty much every sporting arena? im just hope that they dont balls up the olympics. alright im done now. ed smith, cheers for the laughs

Posted by zenboomerang on (March 1, 2012, 5:33 GMT)

@landl47 :- "Morgan's first-class average is about 36, so he's in the same kind of bracket as Marsh, Cowan and Forrest"... Your usual backhandedl sledging comments :) ... Marsh has been dropped after 7 Tests @27 with his last 4 @under3... Forrest yet to play Test for Oz... Cowan only 4 Tests @34 (FC @40)... Morgan 16 Tests @30 - yeah good comparisons... :P... Morgan IPL 13 innings @14 - yeah really loves playing in the subcontinent... aka why he was dropped after UAE tour... I should just leave you & jonesy to troll to each other...

Posted by jonesy2 on (March 1, 2012, 5:19 GMT)

Cricket_Unlimited -- exactly, he is identical to pieterson, neither can play.

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 1:40 GMT)

Listen to all you hypocrites insulting England for having players not from England. Are we all living under Nazi reign or something? If anything it shows how respectful English cricket is to culture. Get a grip and stop hating the England team because they have some foreign born players when you really hate them because they are the best team in the world at the moment and you are just struggling to accept that.

Posted by Meety on (March 1, 2012, 0:40 GMT)

IMO - he can make it, the obvious comparison with Morgan is M Bevan. Bevan was a master of ODI's in particular chases, but his test career never got off the ground (except as a spin bowling all rounder @ #8). If he can succeed in ODIs - he should be able to do well in tests, it is really down to application.

Posted by PanGlupek on (March 1, 2012, 0:18 GMT)

Don't mean to digress from the article itself, but many comments on here miss the point (maybe Ed Smith is just too intelligent for this). Not a great human being because he chose to play Test cricket instead of staying loyal to his birthplace? Oh, right, so if Ireland get thier test place in 2020, as they aim to (but I guess won't, for too many reasons to go into here), he should wait till he's 34 to (maybe) play tests? If you were from Namibia & S.A wanted you, and you're obviously good enough to play at a higher level, for more money, and play tests instead of for pointless trophy's, you'd say "no thanks"? You wouldn't, would you? About averages, see my last post. About Federer, maybe read the book itself before assuming he's saying they're equally as good. About not being English, what do you want England to do? Stop being a culturally diverse society? Stop selectors from being allowed to pick the best 11 (in thier opinion) available? Technique comments fair though.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

He has to make up his mind to play his own game in all formats rather than thinking he has to look like a Test batsman. He should just play HIS appropriate shot to each ball and he would be fine. He revolutionised ODI batting so he shoud do the same in Tests.

Posted by Mervo on (February 29, 2012, 23:04 GMT)

Why can't they find English cricketers? Irish and South African seem to be able to be recruited into this international team. Must be a blow for all the kids in English schools.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 20:39 GMT)

As England are the current Ashes holders I'm guessing they are looking to the next Ashes tour which is why they dropped Morgan.

Posted by DingDong420 on (February 29, 2012, 20:31 GMT)

show pony......maybe England will now increase their quota of English

Posted by voma on (February 29, 2012, 20:02 GMT)

Morgans quality and ability in ODIs and 20/20 international cricket is not in doubt . As a test player , the jury is still out ! . But he MUST play for England in the shorter format games . Hes simply to good to be cast out .

Posted by SDHM on (February 29, 2012, 19:53 GMT)

Nutcutlet - completely disagree. Morgan's record in chases for England shows he most certainly has the temperament and talent. It's his technique that lets him down.

Posted by secondopinion on (February 29, 2012, 16:57 GMT)

Federer, possibly in top three all-time greatest tennis player, must be elated to be put in the same bracket with Morgan. After all, he Federer is not from the British Isles.

Posted by godimbored on (February 29, 2012, 16:10 GMT)

@jonesy2 - In case you hadn't noticed (and it was the subject of the article) Morgan's just been shown the door due to poor performances. So an average of 35 isn't enough to get you an England gig. Official tables clearly don't mean much to you, do they? 1st and 2nd it says and 1st and 2nd they are...

Posted by bobmartin on (February 29, 2012, 14:48 GMT)

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 29 2012, 08:29 AM GMT) "ok first of all, pieterson and morgan are probably the 200th and 201st best t2o batsmen, respectively"

Actually, they are first and third respectively in the latest ranking.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 14:34 GMT)

Wow, the comments on this article have been inept in the extreme so far. I am a massive fan of Morgan and it is bitterly disappointing that he hasn't succeeded in the test arena. His career in 20/20 and ODI's so far has been simply incredible. Seldom few English players have taken to the shorter format like Morgan. He has been capable of match winning innings the likes of which England have only been on the receiving end of, from more accomplished ODI sides. In the relatively short time he has been in the side it is noticeable how his presence affects results. Put simply, when he is not in the side, we are more likely to lose. IMO, i certainly dont believe this is the end of Morgans test career, far from it. He has all the technical ability succeed, i believe it is purely down to correcting his mental approach to the longer format. If he gets that sorted, there is no reason why Morgan cant get back into the test team.

Posted by landl47 on (February 29, 2012, 13:48 GMT)

Jonesy2 has a point. Morgan's first-class average is about 36, so he's in the same kind of bracket as Marsh, Cowan and Forrest. That is good enough to get into the current Australian side, but nowhere near good enough for England. Apart from Bopara and Patel, who both average 41, the young players coming up, Taylor, Bairstow and Stokes, all have averages in the mid- to high 40s and are 22, 22 and 20 respectively. Morgan has a very small window to try and get himself sorted out if he wants to play test cricket again. His main problem is that his defence simply isn't good enough. In ODI and T20 cricket that's not such a big issue because there are few, if any, catchers round the bat, but in tests it all starts with defence. Morgan needs to work hard and play lots of first-class games, but unfortunately he's chosen to play IPL. That more or less kills his chances for 2012, because the tests will be starting just a few days after he gets back from India. Too bad.

Posted by bobmartin on (February 29, 2012, 13:12 GMT)

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 29 2012, 08:31 AM GMT) "this guys first class average is 35, thats good enough to make the england side? wow"

Answer... No it isn't, that's why he's been dropped

Posted by PanGlupek on (February 29, 2012, 13:06 GMT)

In recent years, England have been pretty good at picking guys based on what they see rather than on numbers. Simon Jones averaged about 45 in 1st class when he first got picked, Michael Vaughan less than 30, don't know the figures for Flintoff, but he was a dibbly-dobber who kept bowling long-hops, could hit a ball hard, but never got many runs. All these guys were some of the best in the world at what they did at different times, but what do they all have in common? None of them stayed there for as long as we all thought they would. Hope that doesn't happen to Morgan.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 12:59 GMT)

Morgan has tremendous natural ability but his quirky technique is now being shown up. A few months in the nets learning to keep his head still and to stop twisting his back foot and hips and he will again start to present the full face of the bat to the ball. Then we will see him blossom again. Nearly every top batter(Gooch and S Waugh spring to mind) has started their international careers with a bang and then had a dip and then come back stronger.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 12:58 GMT)

@Romanticstud To shift from one test-nation to the other, the player should've not played for a particular country's international match for atleast four years(I think). So, Impossible and its a poor idea.

Posted by JB77 on (February 29, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

@ pitch_curator: I agreed and shared your disbelief at the Federer and Morgan choice....right up until the point where you offered Bell as a better alternative for a book about 'remarkable talent'. Maybe if it's a picture book....

Posted by Cricket_Unlimited on (February 29, 2012, 11:59 GMT)

By the way, what do you mean by Morgan's dazzling talent?? The guy is most awkward at the crease- he sits down and stands up before he plays every delivery. Nothing in his technique suggests he is anyway good for the long term. His axing from the team was long time coming. He has looked club class and below against any decent attack. His performances against India were a joke, he was dropped every 25 runs. How does he even come close to Pietersen??

Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 29, 2012, 11:49 GMT)

Talent is one thing; temperament is another, and the temperament to play test cricket is something else again. To think that one automatically spills over into another as if it was some golden rule of athletic/sporting pursuits is naive. EM does not have the temperament to play test cricket, or, to put it another way, he DOES the temperament to play the shorter versions of the game with a marvellous flair that has touched genius. Unfortunately, the reach exceeded the grasp - at least in the mind's of the selectors who saw in him something that wasn't there - and he has now to go back to the limited-overs formats and learn to accept that is where he really belongs & where he can (and should) be happy... First, of course, he has to undergo some psychologial rehab to get the "Test match poison" out of his system. Well, that's life - we live and learn.

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 29, 2012, 11:24 GMT)

this is seriously either the funniest thing or the stupidest thing i have ever read. no joke

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 29, 2012, 11:23 GMT)

hahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahaha i didnt see the roger federer bit!! is that a joke? morgan has no talent like every player from england. full stop.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 10:51 GMT)

Lost your mind! Federer, one of the all time great sportsmen and Morgan. Talk about pushing the envelope ... This is pushing the entire postal syste.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 10:44 GMT)

@jonesy2 - If there's a better T20 international batsman in the world than Pietersen, I'd like to see him. Gayle won't play for West Indies, Warner has been hit and miss for Australia, Levi has one innings for SA.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 10:28 GMT)

Morgan is a great player but not a great human being in my opinion. He left Ireland, during a vital time, which was ireland's road to test cricket- in exchange for the easier option playing test cricket for england.

Posted by kp289 on (February 29, 2012, 10:04 GMT)

it is just like the case owais shah........right frm the moment,when he was given test debut,i believed he was not a good test batsman,but he should be given more chance in odi and t20......but this was a great article...i loved it!!!!

Posted by Freak7820 on (February 29, 2012, 9:35 GMT)

Maybe Morgan can become a T20 + ODI specialist for England. I'm sure there will be more than enough players competing for a test selection over the coming years.

Posted by Romanticstud on (February 29, 2012, 9:27 GMT)

How about this ... Peterson can play for SA and Morgan for Ireland if England had to kick them out ... but then where will Peterson bat in SA ... Imagine with Smith ... Amla ... Kallis ... Duminy ... De Villiers ... Du-Plessis ... maybe at 7 ... but then remember the world cup ... those guys made not too much against England ... So then maybe get rid of Smith or Kallis ... save them for tests only ... and put Peterson in at 3 ...

Posted by pitch_curator on (February 29, 2012, 9:24 GMT)

Lol. Roger Federer and Eoin Morgan?? There are atleast 4-5 players in the England team itself who are more talented than Morgan. Bell and Finn for instance.

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 9:23 GMT)

wat a comparison...rojar federer n morgan....stupid

Posted by   on (February 29, 2012, 9:05 GMT)

Excellent article. Loved it.

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 29, 2012, 8:31 GMT)

this guys first class average is 35, thats good enough to make the england side? wow

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 29, 2012, 8:29 GMT)

ok first of all, pieterson and morgan are probably the 200th and 201st best t2o batsmen, respectively. secondly, morgan can just go and play for ireland cant he? haha

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