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News Analysis

Morgan stokes fires of imagination

The Edgbaston T20 reinforced Eoin Morgan's credentials as the fulcrum of England's limited-overs cricket. Approaching his peak, is it time they made him their World Cup captain as well?

David Hopps
David Hopps
08-Sep-2014
So was that it then? A fleeting sight of Eoin Morgan as the fulcrum of an England limited-overs side. An England captain basking in a Twenty20 win against India that he did so much to achieve. A batsman finally back at peace with his game. Now all to be forgotten as the sun goes back behind the clouds which have gathered around England's World Cup challenge.
Even allowing for the growing hold of T20, England's NatWest T20 against India at Edgbaston on Sunday was an irrelevance. But what an irrelevance: a final ball that MS Dhoni failed to hit for six to pull off a win for India, and instead delight for England and Morgan, whose 71 from 31 balls had made the difference.
Morgan has had a troubled summer. His attempt to force his way into the Test side was stillborn and his returns in 50-over cricket have been so mediocre that his place was briefly held to be in jeopardy. When discussions take place about an alternative England ODI captain to Alastair Cook, Joe Root has begun to gain just as much attention.
But finally this was Morgan at his finest, a batsman blessed with sharp tactical thinking, fast bat speed and unorthodoxy, who stated that England limited-overs batsmen can relish the need to play risk-free cricket. And predictably, overly influenced perhaps by that final over, his captaincy gained nods of approval.
And now, it is over. Fun while it lasted. But as an example of how low T20 is on everybody's list of priorities, George Bailey has just resigned as Australia's captain to concentrate on the World Cup. So well done, Eoin. You have just impressed in a match already consigned to the tray market Irrelevant.
But perhaps that pessimistic conclusion is a little premature. Even before this game there were signs that one or two England selectors were no longer slavishly wedded to Cook's presence in the one-day side, presumably recognising that for all his qualities he had not played one domineering innings all summer.
If a shift is to be made ahead of the World Cup, it has to happen now. But Peter Moores, England's coach, still sounds loyal to Cook's captaincy of both the Test and ODI sides and Paul Downton, England's managing director, whose "observer" status at selection meetings gives him a greater influence on selection than that held by his predecessor Hugh Morris, has wedded himself repeatedly to Cook's captaincy.
That leaves Morgan to rub along. You have to go back to Sydney in January to discover his last ODI fifty, 12 matches since then without a memorable contribution. The excuse that England's top-order caution had not left him with enough time to influence a game eventually gave way this summer to a recognition that he was simply out of form.
"I've worked incredibly hard this year on my game, and I have been light on runs," Morgan said. "I can't pinpoint exactly where it's going wrong."
Critics might wonder whether Morgan has become so wedded to T20 cricket that he is having to suppress a creeping disenchantment with ODIs, especially bilateral series. In that he would not be alone. But he might also be out of kilter with England's strategy for winning one-day matches, with all the talk of setting up the game with centuries in the top four before Morgan's batting elixir turns a moderate total into an unbeatable one.
For a clue as to what the England public thinks, an impromptu poll by Michael Vaughan on Twitter is worth recording. Vaughan invited his sizeable following to respond on whether they favoured a Morgan captaincy of England's ODI side. By an overwhelming majority, they did.
When it comes to limited-overs cricket, Morgan is in with the 'in' crowd, he knows the latest dance. But when he understandably lauded the positive influence of the IPL on his career, it again made him sound a bit of an outsider in a country where England's greatest IPL advocate, a certain Kevin Pietersen, just happens to have become an outcast.
"I thought wonders of my experience of the IPL," Morgan said, a response to Ian Botham's advocacy in his MCC Spirit of Cricket speech that it should cease to exist because it is damaging the game. "It made me a more skilful player both in Twenty20 and 50-over cricket. The experience of watching the very best go about their business is huge, so I'm a massive fan."
Morgan remarked after the Edgbaston victory that it had been good for England to experiment. He was referring to examples such as Jason Roy's debut as an opening batsman, the most irrepressible talent in domestic cricket given his chance.
But the experiment that mattered was the one he could not discuss. It was Eoin Morgan as an England cricket captain. A potential England World Cup captain, approaching his peak, a few days before his 28th birthday. When England's selection panel convenes to discuss a mediocre ODI summer, they must place loyalty to Cook against a gamble on Morgan. If Morgan's time does not come in this World Cup, perhaps it never will.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo