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Pioneering Morgan relishing return for second innings

Headingley 1981. Edgbaston 2005. India beating England in an ODI final prompting Sourav Ganguly to wave his shirt on the Lord's balcony.

That we know these moments so well is in no small part due to the fact that, every time there's a delay during a Test or ODI, they're hauled from the archives and replayed on TV; classic memories of better days.

So what about when there's rain in the air and filler is needed as England's women are playing?

That's easy. Cue up the 2009 World T20 semi-final.

Beth Morgan's name is forever synonymous with that June day. Her unbeaten 122-run stand with Claire Taylor confounded Australia, who had clobbered their way to 163 before taking a couple of early wickets to have one foot into the final.

Instead, Morgan got up and running with a crisp sweep before beating the onside field with a pull to set in motion one perfect hour at the crease. A canny paddle-scoop reduced the requirement to 44 from the final five overs before consecutive boundaries in the 18th left only a run a ball. Somehow, they had done it.

It was pivotal moment for the protagonists at the crease, and for women's cricket in England. Sure enough, days later they lifted the trophy at Lord's. In time, central contracts would come and now there's the Kia Super League, currently underway across the country. There's no mistaking where the roots for much of this are found: in the accomplishments of England's ravenous generation.

Morgan looks out onto The Oval, the scene of her and Taylor's heist, while talking to ESPNcricinfo in a reinvented capacity, as part of the Surrey Stars line-up for the inaugural edition of the KSL.

Illustrative of Morgan the person - now 34 years old and three years clear of international duty - her instinct when asked to reflect upon this famous innings is to instead talk about Taylor's contribution of 76 not out.

"I had the best seat in the house," she recalls. "Players like me learned so much from her, so to go get the opportunity to share something like that was fantastic."

It never got better for Morgan as an England representative. In 2013 a shoulder injury would persist and ultimately force her into retirement, 14 years after debuting. She quickly knew, after 100 white-ball caps for her country and seven Test Matches, that it was over at that level.

"That's sport," she says philosophically, believing the abrupt episode taught her "a lot about life".

It doesn't take long to realise that this is Morgan, for whom the glass is forever half full. The "ultimate team player" exhibiting the "best values" of English cricket was how Clare Connor - her former skipper and now boss of England women's cricket - described her when leaving the Three Lions behind. This all rings true when sitting opposite her.

"You've obviously been talking to my Mum," is Morgan's retort to comments that she's the nicest person in cricket. It's more than that, though. There's something to be said for a smiling face and a positive disposition in a world of soundbites and cynicism.

On one hand, it's understandable that Morgan is happy with her lot after participation in England's trio of Ashes victories in 2005, 2008 and 2009. She also has a World Cup winners' medallion from 2009 that sits comfortably with the spoils from the aforementioned World T20; the mementos of an impeccable year for the national side.

But, on the other, you couldn't begrudge her a hint of jealousy, or at least some wistful throwaway lines: how it would have been nice to be at the start of her ride rather than the end - to be in a position, as young players are now, to make a living from the game to which she has devoted the bulk of her adult life. Not Morgan.

"I get asked that a lot, and I'm not sure that people believe me, but I couldn't be happier," she says.

"To play alongside and against the players I did, to play in World Cup-winning teams, I wouldn't have changed it for the world [and now] I am really happy about the way the game is going into professionalism.

"If someone said we would be professional in my career as a player," she adds before trailing off in thought; "it's just how it was, cricket was my love and you managed the best that you could.

"And I still absolutely love it… The day you don't wake up and want to play is the day you stop; I still have the butterflies in the stomach and the hairs on the back of the neck when playing at places like this."

Coming from the pre-contract era, Morgan is again juggling full-time work as she always did as an England player, but wouldn't have it any other way.

"It has meant so much to be part of the first KSL [and] I would love to play for as long as I can," she says, with still an eye to the future.

"If I am still performing, most importantly, then I'd love to stay.

"We did need to create something between county and international," she notes, pointing out that the quality of talent is spread far further than in her experiences in Australia. "This competition is exactly that."

It isn't just the chance to be paid properly to play that eluded Morgan. Comparable in style to a modern Georgia Elwiss, making her mark as a seam bowler before evolving into a reliable batsman, there's little doubt the Australian Women's Big Bash League would have knocked down her door down, had it then existed.

"I can't lie: I would love the opportunity to play in the Big Bash," Morgan declares, while at the same time acknowledging the clock is against her. But coming back to Australia, where she played five seasons of club and domestic cricket, could never be ruled out if a franchise did fancy her services. "If they wanted an old girl to come in, then I certainly would have a think about it!"

As for her wish for the women's game in the coming years, her framework is consistent with that of Connor's: a legitimacy that makes the game just as attractive to young girls as it is for boys.

That legitimacy began at home with Morgan. Her family embraced cricket like any other, but with Mum out there too, the idea of a woman playing cricket was normalised from the get-go. It didn't hurt either that her Uncle Eddie [Hemmings] was also England's spin bowler at the time.

Now, the cycle has come full-circle, with Morgan leading the next generation of girls through her volunteer role as coordinator of the under-15s side at her beloved Middlesex, where she's a bona fide legend and remains a middle-order mainstay.

"We're not going to bowl at 90 mph, and we're not going to hit sixes out of The Oval, but with the skills now and the fitness of the girls you want an acceptance that it is a really good game to watch with ability to hit the ball 360 degrees," she says.

Maybe that recognition will be enough for Middlesex women win their campaign to get onto Lord's at some stage. "Watch this place; hopefully one day."

Could it be that the KSL is the tonic for players like Morgan to consider putting themselves up for international comebacks? Maybe so if new national coach Mark Robinson has his way. He has expressed an interest in players of this generation potentially reconsidering retirements.

"Beth Morgan - I saw her batting and thought, 'Crikey! Why have you retired?" Robinson said on the topic while commentating on the KSL, as another of Morgan's former England cohorts, Arran Brindle, struck a match-defining 45 for Southern Vipers this week.

In reality, this probably won't be how the Morgan story ends. For her, there's an awareness that she's currently a "long way off" giving the time commitment now required, doubly so with the volume of talent she sees as a team-mate, coach and opponent.

"I have had my time, and I am very grateful for that. Who knows, if I scored thousands of runs and someone knocked on the door... but it is fairly unrealistic, and I'm pretty chuffed with what I have done."

Rightly so. For now, she has another trophy to hunt. If Surrey can sneak into KSL Finals Day, she will have the chance on a big stage. If that is the case, one thing is certain: she knows how to do it when it matters most.