News Analysis

Good reasons for faith in Morgan

It is tempting to suggest that England are no further forward after replacing Alastair Cook with Eoin Morgan but there were good reasons for the change in the ODI captaincy and they remain valid

George Dobell
George Dobell
Eoin Morgan is beginning to know how Alastair Cook felt  •  ICC

Eoin Morgan is beginning to know how Alastair Cook felt  •  ICC

Like global warming and national debt, it is hard to recall a time when the form of the England captain was not an on-going crisis.
With the ink hardly dry on Alastair Cook's ODI obituary, it seems his successor, Eoin Morgan, is heading in the same direction. Dismissed four times in the last nine balls he has received from Australia bowlers in ODIs his last five scores in all cricket now read 0, 2, 0, 0, 0. It's no wonder some have taken to calling him Eoin M0000rgan on Twitter.
In trying to minimise Morgan's troubles, the coach, Peter Moores, made the valid point that it is only five innings since Morgan made a brilliant century in an ODI against Australia. It's just a blip, was Moores' point.
But scrape a little deeper into the statistics and you see that it was the century that was the aberration. Before it, Morgan had scored one half-century in 18 ODI innings. He has now passed five only three times in 12 ODI innings. That's not a blip; it's a famine.
His appointment was always a risk. At the time his form was modest. In the 18 ODIs from the start of the Caribbean tour in March to the end of the Sri Lanka tour in December, he averaged 16.35.
The truth is, England did not have many other options. They had just dropped Ian Bell, they do not think Stuart Broad's body can withstand the amount of cricket he would need to play to make to make any appointment anything other than desperately short term and they are reluctant to overly burden Joe Root at this stage of his career.
They don't have many options now, either. Having just appointed Jos Buttler - a man who has never captained at county level - as vice-captain, they are committed to persisting with Morgan for a while yet.
Rightly, too. While some - most vocally Geoff Boycott - have suggested that Morgan was never that good a player (he only makes runs against mediocre opposition, was the gist of Boycott's criticism), the evidence refutes that. Against arguably the best attack - Australia - Morgan actually averages exactly 40 in ODIs for England. He has scored three centuries against them. His long-term record deserves respect. He has proved he can shine at this level.
All of which raises questions about the burden of captaincy. Especially the burden of England captaincy. Andrew Strauss suffered similarly. Nasser Hussain, too. And many more before them. There is no way that Mike Brearley - Test average 22.88 - could last a season in the modern international game.
Morgan's dismissals do not suggest that international bowlers have worked him out or learned to expose a specific weakness. They suggest a cluttered mind.
As Kevin Pietersen made clear in his book, there is nothing the England management like more than a meeting. And if you then factor in the media commitments - and the England press contingent is more mobile and ever-present than any other - the sponsor commitments and the fact that job seems to consist of ever trying to find positives amid despair, then it's not hard to see how the pressure might build.
But Morgan's struggles should not be used in hindsight to justify Cook's retention. Cook had been given every opportunity to rediscover his limited-overs form. All the evidence suggested he was mentally shattered.
If sacking him as ODI skipper helps him recover his Test form - and it may well - then even he may consider it, in time, a blessing. Things may be no worse had he been retained, but England were surely right to set the bar a bit higher than that.
Besides, Morgan does not shoulder the same burden as Cook. He is nowhere near the Test team these days and therefore enjoys a relative break between international responsibilities. For Cook, the job was relentless. His sacking remains the right decision.
Morgan gave a pretty decent explanation for his grim run of form following the World Cup thrashing against Australia. He wasn't overly concerned, he explained, as the manner of dismissals was varied and somewhat unusual. If only his defence in the middle was as good, one pundit muttered afterwards.
But he has a point. His dismissals do not suggest that international bowlers have worked him out or learned to expose a specific weakness. They suggest a cluttered mind.
Most batsmen will tell you that they perform at their best when their heads are clear. Empty, even. David Warner, for example, is never likely to be troubled by excessive thought. He is simple. Wonderfully simple.
Morgan, of late, seems to have been over-thinking his game. How else to explain the scoop shot off a full toss that ended up at slip against Pakistan? Or leaving a straight one from Mitchell Johnson at Perth?
His method was always high risk. Fallow periods are probably inevitable. But at his best he is an instinctive player. He may premeditate, but usually only after he has seen himself in. He is, at present, searching for the ball rather than trusting to his instincts and letting it come to him. Confidence begets confidence. And Morgan's confidence has not had much chance to breed of late.
So England are right to stick with him. There is no reason why, aged 28 and with a fine record behind him, he should not come again. Time and support are surely the best medicine.
But there is another fundamental problem.
Morgan played his best cricket in the years when he England had a stronger top order. In particular, he used to come in after Jonathan Trott - the only regular England player in history with an ODI average in excess of 50 and an average against Australia of 49.25 - had established a platform.
Now he is coming to the crease earlier. With more to do. Against a newer ball. For a man whose technique has rarely dominated at first-class level, that is a significant change. It is no coincidence that Morgan's decline coincides - not absolutely but in general terms - with Trott's departure.
In the short-term, England could move James Taylor (again) and even Buttler to allow Morgan to bat as No. 6 or No. 7. But it seems unlikely Morgan would allow himself to be shielded in such a way. Or what the damage to his confidence such a move could make.
But those who used to criticise England for their tardy run-rate and "old fashioned" tactics - even as they reached the final of the ICC Champions Trophy - might reflect on the wisdom of that approach as they watch at team that has now been bowled out in 12 of their last 18 ODI innings.
They were bowled out five times in Trott's final 28 ODIs. And they won one of those five games. Truly, we never know what we have until it's gone.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo