“Morgan is no longer required to finish off games or go into Superman mode at the death. He is very well capable of it, but it isn’t a part of his job description anymore”
Take one glance at the England limited-overs skipper after a match and you wouldn’t really be able to tell if England had won or lost the game. Look again, watch him talk on mute and it would still be difficult to identify the result of the match. Poker-faced, immune to the hullabaloo surrounding him, yet stubborn and farsighted, Eoin Morgan has grown into England’s new ways in limited-overs cricket, pushing his mates, pushing himself and shedding the glam for crucial runs.
A few days ago, he had clearly stated that if team dynamics worked better without him at the World Cup, he would be least hesitant to warm the bench. “It is a brave call but we have come a long way with this team and we need to put ourselves in the best position in order to be contenders,” he had said as revealed by Sky Sports. But as he nudged Sandakan to mid-on and set off for his fiftieth run at Dambulla on Saturday, it hardly seemed imaginable that Morgan could be a negative influence in this English batting line-up that thrives on tsunami-like attacks from the word go.
His 86 set the tone for England’s charge at Dambulla on a slow wicket tailor-made for the home spinners. That they racked up 278 was primarily due to Morgan’s insatiable hunger for keeping the scoreboard ticking.
Morgan, whose long English career began with a range of innovative tricks and unparalleled attacking instinct, has grown into this middle-order, taking on an anchor role, something which he seemed incapable of at the beginning of his career. The reverse sweeps and cheeky nudges are still a part of Morgan’s game but it is no longer his primary mode of scoring.
Against Lanka’s spinners at Dambulla, the southpaw used the crease to give himself more space and manipulated the spinners with inside-out shots. For a while, he seemed to be struggling against Lakshan Sandakan’s variations but gritting through the phase, he grew in confidence and slowly took charge.
Make no mistake, the pitch wasn’t aiding England’s post-2015 ways. The England of before would have folded like a pack of cards on this surface. Not Morgan’s unit, though. There was this massively suppressed, yet pretty evident, self-confidence in the way in which Morgan went about his innings. By his own admission, he was pretty scratchy to begin with.
But that has perhaps been a constant throughout his career. With the presence of Joe Root, someone with whom he shares an unmistakable rapport, Morgan had more leeway to settle into his rhythm and once that materialised, there was nothing stopping the skipper.
At no point did Morgan seemed bogged down by the pitch or the slow bowlers. The scoreboard kept ticking and he used the long handle to counter the threat of the spinners and to force the field to spread out. Scoring has always been of primary importance in Morgan’s gameplan. You wouldn’t see him go into a shell or play out bowlers on any particular day. This could perhaps also be a result of his background. “I travelled a lot as a kid, trying to achieve my dream – which, from where I come from, was a pretty far-fetched dream. I had to believe in myself from quite a young age. And I had to grow up pretty early,” he had said in an interview as revealed by Independent.
“Coming to Middlesex, there was one coach in particular who backed me. But outside of that, it’s a pretty lonely place. You have to be ten times better than the young guy coming through the academy in order to be signed, or kept on. So I’ve always had that mentality of trying to stick with what I do. To believe that what I do works. Because that’s what I started with.”
That maturity and self-sufficiency is party to Morgan’s flagrant growth, as is building bonds. The special connection he has with Joe Root is the foundation of England’s middle-order that has the license to go haywire around these sages. “Myself and Joe found a way to score on these pitches. I was extremely scratchy earlier on which isn’t surprising as I am not a great starter but having someone like Joe at the other end really helps. We really enjoy batting together and when we do, we bat long,” Morgan says after winning the Man of the Match award for his crucial 86 at Dambulla, one that set the tone for England’s win despite the rains lashing out again.
That he and Root have formed the crux of England’s middle-order is true as is the fact that they bat long when together. Among the best ODI partnerships in world cricket since the 2015 World Cup, the Morgan – Root pair come third behind two opening pairs – Amla – de Kock and Rohit – Dhawan. The duo has shared 9 century stands, converting all but one of their 50-plus associations to century partnerships.
Morgan is no longer required to finish off games or go into Superman mode at the death. He is very well capable of it, but it isn’t a part of his job description anymore. At no.4, he bridges the two attacking halves of England’s never-ending batting line-up. On sluggish wickets, against crafty spinners, that line-up can appear way too short without Morgan. He might be prepared to drop himself, but can England make do without their sheet anchor?