Today we welcome Simon Begley back to TFT. As an Irishman living in England, he’s only got good things to say about our white ball captain. And who can blame him?
Sometime around 2004, a young Surrey player told me about a wonderful left-handed batsman from our home country.
Gary Wilson – who would himself later captain Ireland and Surrey – reckoned he was better than Ed Joyce. At the time, Ed was scoring county runs for fun and had qualified for England. According to Gary, this kid was even better. His name: Simon Be…. oh ok. It’s Eoin Morgan. Obviously.
I started looking out for him and watching him bat whenever I could. And he was good. Really good. He looked like he could be the new Gower. The glorious leftie in England’s middle order. Making Ashes centuries. Captaining England.
It didn’t quite turn out the way we thought. Morgan played 16 Tests between 2010 and 2012, averaging 30. The highlight was a wonderfully flamboyant 130 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge. I cheered him on in a wonderfully
flamb sketchy south London pub. Despite another hundred against India the following summer, Morgan struggled. While two tons in 16 Tests batting at 6 doesn’t sound all that bad, his technique was questioned. And, at the time, not unfairly. When England were spun to buggery in Dubai by Pakistan, he got binned.
Less than nine years later, Eoin Morgan is without question England’s greatest ever white ball cricketer.
Morgan qualified for England in 2009. As Wilson said, he was fiercely talented and was selected for ODIs and T20s soon after. In 2010, he was the only ‘English’ cricketer selected in the IPL. He was at the other end when Colly hit the winning runs in the 2010 T20 World Cup final.
But despite that T20 joy in the West Indies, England were still appalling at the 50 over stuff. And they weren’t learning. The team annihilated by Sri Lanka in the 2011 World Cup (Strauss, Bell, Trott, Bopara, Morgan, Swann, Prior, Wright, Bresnan, Tredwell, Tremlett) wasn’t, philosophically, all that different from the team humiliated by Bangladesh four years later (Ali, Bell, Hales, Root, Morgan, Taylor, Buttler, Woakes, Jordan, Broad, Anderson). No real clarity or purpose in either selection.
Morgan was made ODI captain two months before the 2015 World Cup in Australia. Captain Cook was cooked, and England were already effed down under. The only real surprise was they didn’t let Cook lead England into doom. They asked Morgan to do it instead. And… well hellooooo Bangladesh!!!
At this point, Morgan did what all great players do. He told people how to win and was good enough to show them how to do it.
Before the 2015 World Cup, Morgan averaged 29.4 in T20s and 36.5 in ODIs.
Since then? 31.3 and 43.6.
He’s played 219 ODIs for England and scored 6,854 runs at 40. Only eight England players in history have a higher average. None have more appearances or runs.
He’s played 100 T20s, scoring 2,306 runs at 30.3. Again, no England player has more appearances or runs. Of those who’ve played more than 25 games, only KP has a better average (37.9 in 37 games).
And he’s done all this as captain, when things should be harder. Batting at… well, wherever. One of the outstanding parts of Morgan’s captaincy is his selflessness. If he needs to go up the order to stabilise or attack, he does it. If he needs to drop to allow Bairstow or Stokes to go hit, he does it. And he still scores runs everywhere.
And I mean everywhere. Even when Roy or Buttler are smashing the ball to all corners, there’s a special joy in watching Morgan bat. What we saw 15 years ago has been a little forgotten – just how beautiful a batsman he is. The outrageous reverse sweeps get the attention, but the sublime extra cover lofts and effortless thwacks over midwicket are so pure that the sound off the bat tells you what’s just happened without you needing to look up.
Most importantly – and forgive me for stating the bleedin’ obvious – he shows what it means to lead. Sometimes it’s obvious: smart bowling changes or clever adjustments to the field. Sometimes less so: a calmness, focus, confidence, whether things are going well or badly, all that Kipling shit. Things Hussain, Stewart, and Cook could never do. Certainly not in the heat of an ODI nailbiter.
Which led to… 2019. England men’s first 50 over World Cup. I’ve got to admit I cried. Partly due to a phenomenal hangover, but also because an Irishman was leading a team I genuinely liked, playing a sport I love, in a game for the ages. And later this year, all being well, he’ll repeat the feat in the shorter format.
I don’t think there’s any doubt Morgan is hugely respected by English cricket fans. Is he loved in the same way Botham, Brearley, Vaughan, and even Cook are? Probably not. It’s hard to be sure. I think he’s probably loved more for what he’s brought to England than who he is. But his importance can’t be understated.
Until 2015, England had a batshit crazy approach to one-day cricket. It’s now the outstanding one-day international team. Their batting is relentless, their bowling aggressive, fielding sharp as tacks. Like their captain. Today, India and Australia look to England for white ball innovation, unthinkable six years ago.
Last week, Jos Buttler – the perfect example of a player who’s flourished in the Morgan era, but might have floundered in times past – presented Morgan with his 100th T20 cap. Buttler described Morgan as a “pioneer” of white-ball cricket: “He’s taken English white-ball cricket to a place it’s never been before and I think he’s done that in quite an incredible way.”
Morgan didn’t reinvent himself after Test failure. He was already ahead of his time. But he reinvented English cricket. For that reason, he’s Ireland – and England’s – greatest ever one-day cricketer.