"Every moment in your life is a turning point and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased." - Anton Chigurh, No Country For Old Men
Eoin Morgan has always been a matter-of-fact sort of cricketer, not given to the fatalism that dogs some of his colleagues. But he will know that decisions have consequences - and in cricket, to borrow from Chigurh, the cold-blooded killer of Cormac McCarthy's novel, the accounting of the scorebook is always scrupulous.
Morgan heads into the T20 World Cup, a tournament that could well be his last as England captain, in some of the worst form of his career. He will be hoping that the shape is not already drawn.
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Fortunately, it will not simply come down to the toss of a coin - Chigurh's occasional method of offering would-be victims a different fate - although Morgan also well knows the important role luck plays in the career of a successful captain. Sometimes four years of World Cup planning comes down to a fortunate deflection off the back of a bat.
We should rewind to that heady day at Lord's two years ago. In the wake of England men's maiden 50-over triumph, speculation swirled that that could be that for Morgan, only 33 at the time but a man who has always displayed a healthy sense of detachment from the game. It was not until October, more than three months after the World Cup final, that Morgan confirmed his intention to carry on. Few could have predicted how life would change in the time since.
He joined up with England in Dubai a few days ago - after the small matter of the IPL final - with the team's ambition to become the first to hold 50-over and 20-over men's titles at the same time intact. Kolkata Knight Riders saw the benefit of his captaincy: they put together a run of seven wins from nine before losing out to Chennai Super Kings at the last. But with a single half-century in 38 white-ball innings in 2021 - and that in an ODI against an overmatched Sri Lanka - there is no way to gloss his waning batting returns.
In his first press conference ahead of the T20 World Cup, he admitted that dropping himself was an option if it benefited the team. The next couple of weeks are likely to tell us whether the Morgan era, one of unprecedented limited-overs success for England, is soon to come to a close.
This, to be fair, was not exactly the plan. When Morgan spoke in 2019 of his desire to continue, he had the T20 World Cup in mind - just not this one. "I still feel I have a lot to offer," he said. "I won't say I'll be finished after the next World Cup, as I'd be afraid I'll only creep over the line and maybe fall off. I don't want to let anyone down. I want to drive through the World Cup in Australia and then make a call after that."
Instead, Covid-19 made the call for him. The 2020 tournament was deferred and rather than a World Cup played on hard, bouncy Australian surfaces, a war of attrition in the UAE awaits. Even before factoring in the pitches produced for the second half of the IPL - which threaten to become increasingly draining to bat on as the ICC tournament progresses - Morgan has ended up on the outer limits of his own predicted timeline. And the desert can be an unforgiving place.
Morgan's recent struggles have been of a piece with his record in Asia, where slow pitches and slow bowlers proliferate. In all T20 over the last five years, he averages almost nine runs more per dismissal against pace and has a strike rate of 145.49, compared to 124.84 against spin. Although he enjoyed a productive IPL in the UAE last year - scoring 418 runs at rate of 138.41 - since the start of 2016, he averages 20 and strikes at 116 in Asia and the Caribbean.
Nor is that the worst of it. In 2021, starting with England's T20I series against India in March, Morgan has reached 30 five times in 35 innings, with a high score of 47 not out. More than half of his innings have been in Asia, where he is averaging 11.06 and striking at 98.22. Worryingly for England, in this season's IPL, which kicked off in India before returning to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah after a Covid-enforced hiatus, his returns have even dipped against pace - seven dismissals from 81 balls faced, for an average of 9.57 and a strike rate of 82.71.
For Morgan, the signposts along the road to the World Cup appear to be pointing in only one direction. But two things have to be weighed against the doom-mongering: his importance as a leader, and his likely role with the bat.
The first is a complicated matter likely to bring out the keyboard warriors - but even if you set aside KKR's resurgence, his inspirational status with England is not in question. Under Morgan, appointed amid the wreckage of England's abject 2015 World Cup campaign, the most inhibited of white-ball teams suddenly whipped off their starched pyjamas to reveal a posing pouch.
As for England's preferred batting order, a clearer picture may be starting to emerge - with Ben Stokes' enforced absence arguably making some of their decision-making easier. Jason Roy and Jos Buttler are pencilled in as attacking openers, Dawid Malan is the anchor at No. 3, and then England can turn to the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali to take down spin during the middle overs.
That would leave Morgan as the team's de facto finisher, the potential benefit of which could be twofold for England: firstly by preventing him from getting stuck in slower bowlers' crosshairs - his first-ten balls dot percentage was above 50% at the IPL - and then allowing him to maximise his strengths against pace at the death.
"I am very lucky to be in a position where I have been through stages like this in my career. I think the longer you go without contributing a significant score, the closer you are to actually contributing. And that's coming from experience." Morgan's reply when asked about his poor run during the IPL group stage might seem like curiously circular logic - form is temporary, class is permanent taken to the nth degree - but it's true that he is well versed in dealing with the vagaries of life as a batter.
In late 2014, as England ploughed nose first into the dirt on their tour of Sri Lanka and Alastair Cook's ODI captaincy became increasingly untenable, Morgan was being touted as the alternative. The problem was, he too was in a rut - as bad if not worse than Cook's. In 31 limited-overs innings from England's 2013-14 trip to Australia to the end of the year, Morgan averaged 19.32, scoring just three half-centuries.
England stuck with him despite their World Cup embarrassment, and Morgan soon rediscovered his touch. Now captain of both white-ball sides, he averaged above 50 across formats as he and Trevor Bayliss set about their game-changing agenda - a central tenet of which was that players would be given licence to fail so long as they were following the blueprint of taking no backward step. Sure enough, another dip followed, as Morgan went 23 innings without a fifty - a run that encompassed England's run to the 2016 World T20 final.
Rather than an end to "boom and bust", as UK chancellor Gordon Brown once optimistically promised, such cycles have been a defining feature of Morgan's time in charge. The upside is he knows how to roll with the good times. While the readout from the last six months is pretty grim, in the two years before that, Morgan was right in the vanguard of middle-order T20 batters. Between March 2019 and before the start of the IPL earlier this year, he scored 1237 runs at an average of 42.65 and a strike rate of 161.48 - among players who batted 15 or more times at Nos. 4-6 in that period, only three (Andre Russell, Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard) scored more quickly.
There is an in-built volatility to life as a middle-order batter in T20, something that Morgan has long reconciled himself to. "The nature of T20 cricket and where I bat means I always have to take quite high-risk options and I've come to terms with that," he said earlier in the week. "It's just something you deal with."
It may also be relevant that since his form began to tail off again, Morgan has barely had a break. In 2021, he has played 40 games of T20 cricket for four different teams - England, Middlesex, London Spirit and KKR - captaining the side in all of them, while at the same time having to deal with various quarantine spells and restrictions brought on by the pandemic in India, England and the UAE. Morgan, who became a father for the first time last year, has previously described sustained life in bubbles as "untenable" .
We live in relatively enlightened times, where Stokes, for instance, was able to step away from the game to focus on his well-being. But the treadmill of top-level cricket remains unforgiving.
More than a decade ago, at the Dubai International Stadium where England will begin their T20 World Cup campaign against West Indies on Saturday, Morgan played one of the innings that first marked him out as a special talent. Walking in after Paul Collingwood's side had been reduced to 18 for 3 inside the powerplay, Morgan took his time to size up the Pakistan attack - six runs off his first ten balls (six dots), ten off his first 20. Then, from 14 off 26, he raced through the gears, thrashing 53 from his next 25, including nine boundaries off the pace bowling of Umar Gul and Abdul Razzaq, as England reached their target with nine deliveries to spare. His partner throughout, Kevin Pietersen, made 43 off 43.
Much has changed since then. Morgan is a T20 World Cup winner, and the only England men's captain to lift the 50-over World Cup, as well as their leading run scorer and most-capped player in both formats. After eight seasons of playing in the IPL, last week he reached his first final - although the manner of KKR's win in the second qualifier rather summed up the fix he is in. Morgan walked out with ten needed to win from 12 balls but could only make a three-ball duck; Knight Riders started the last over needing seven before flopping over the line from the penultimate delivery.
Can Morgan rediscover his mojo with the bat over the next few weeks? Is there enough gas in the tank to take him not just through this tournament but to another T20 World Cup - the one in Australia that he had targeted all along - in 12 months' time? Morgan is already one of England's greatest captains, and as ever, team success will matter more than his personal ledger. Nevertheless, the accounting is inescapable. All followed to this.