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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2019 Captain of the year: the man who made England fearless

Eoin Morgan unshackled the team from the ignominy of 2015 to lead them to their greatest World Cup triumph

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Under Eoin Morgan, England boldly went where they had never gone before  •  Getty Images

Under Eoin Morgan, England boldly went where they had never gone before  •  Getty Images

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The story of England's 2019 World Cup success begins with abject failure four years previously. That tournament provided yet another chapter in their woe-DI history - but Morgan vowed it would be the last. An un-English philosophy of free-flowing, fearless white-ball cricket was embraced from the outset, as Morgan joined forces with the like-minded new coach, Trevor Bayliss. Soon England were playing whoa!-DIs, leaving the rest of the world trying to keep up.
Morgan's England were not infallible - they were only the second team to win the World Cup having lost three games - but they wore their mistakes and came back harder. In the Caribbean at the start of the year, they were beaten twice by West Indies and almost failed to defend 418 in Grenada. They won 4-0 against Pakistan as part of their World Cup preparations, then promptly lost to them in the group stage. By the final, though, it seemed like they couldn't lose, as Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and, finally, Jason Roy all showed the bulletproof composure that had been drilled in after four years under Morgan. Given England's commitment to attack, winning the final on boundary countback almost seemed appropriate.
His own form with the bat was decent - a half-century to settle nerves in the tournament opener, a 57-ball hundred against Afghanistan, a sprightly 45 and the winning runs in the semi-final - but it was the way Morgan absolutely embodied the team ethos he had forged that finally led to cricket coming home.

Key moment

With England seemingly bowing under the weight of expectations, Morgan went back to founding principles. Defeats against Sri Lanka and Australia had left them needing to win four straight games (well, okay, a tie could also work) to lift the trophy; so before taking on India at Edgbaston in their penultimate group game, the players sat down with the team psychologist and talked about where things had been going wrong. Morgan's commitment to trust and playing with freedom was reinforced, and England went out to do it their way once again.

The numbers

26 Number of boundaries England scored in the World Cup final (including the Super Over), compared to New Zealand's 17 - enough to hand them the trophy.
17 Sixes struck by Morgan during his 148 from 71 balls against Afghanistan, setting a new individual record for an ODI innings.

What they said

"He has been at the forefront. There have been a lot of people involved - especially Andrew Strauss in the early days - but Morgs is the leader of not just the guys on the pitch, he is the leader off the field as well. He is the one who has really driven this going forward. I think the rest of the boys [would] try and run through a brick wall for him."
- Trevor Bayliss, former England coach
"He is the best captain we've ever had and all of us love playing under him."
- Jos Buttler

The closest contenders

Kane Williamson
Led New Zealand to the World Cup final, won Player of the Tournament, conducted himself with the utmost grace and dignity in the wake of that finish. Also oversaw New Zealand's rise to No. 2 in the Test rankings for the first time in their history.
Virat Kohli
India's winningest Test captain started the year by sealing a historic success in Australia and then saw his team leap to the top of the World Test Championship. But the World Cup didn't go to plan.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick