Morgan departs ‘an immortal of English sport’

It is one thing to excel in sport, it is another to change how a nation plays it.

As Eoin Morgan ends his international career, he bows out not only as a World Cup-winning captain, England’s leading one-day and Twenty20 run-scorer of all time, but also the architect of a fundamental shift in English cricket which may never be reversed.

For impact on the game in this country, Morgan is unmatched in his generation.

The Irishman dragged England’s limited-overs cricket from bland black and white into glorious technicolour.

Under Morgan, England have broken the world record for the highest total in a one-day international on three occasions. Before he was captain, England had passed 300 31 times in 633 ODIs. Under his leadership, it was 53 from 131.

This wasn’t just a radical improvement in results on the field, turning a shambolic outfit into world champions in the space of four years, but altering the entire attitude towards white-ball cricket.

Rightly or wrongly, the world has changed through the emergence of franchise leagues, international teams playing a greater amount of limited-overs matches and, with it, a style of play that influences the longer forms.

The English game used to treat limited-overs cricket like a parent changing a baby’s nappy – it has to be done, so hold your nose and hope you don’t get your hands dirty.

Morgan, with the backing of former director of cricket Andrew Strauss, had English cricket embracing the white-ball game with open arms, perhaps even tipping the balance too far the other way, depending on your point of view.

The result has been a depth of talent, particularly explosive batters, that is the envy of the world.

Morgan’s style of leadership – backing his players to the hilt and encouraging them to be aggressive no matter the situation – is now bleeding into the England Test side. The ‘Bazball’ revolution under new coach, and Morgan’s great mate, Brendon McCullum could easily be Morganball.

Test captain Ben Stokes has spoken of his desire to emulate Morgan. There have been plenty of others who have described the 35-year-old as the best skipper they have played for, even when they were on Test duty under another captain.

At a time when English cricket has struggled with diversity, Morgan embraced and celebrated the range of backgrounds from which his team was drawn.

After the World Cup was won, he revealed Muslim spinner Adil Rashid had told him, ‘Allah was with us’.

On the field he gave little away, his face often hidden behind sunglasses and a cap. Or even multiple hats – during the pandemic, Morgan was the game’s leading hat-stacker.

If a bowler was being put under pressure, one of the captain’s tricks was to take the ball out of their hand while he spoke to them, in the hope it would help with a reset.

Morgan the captain – not just England’s first 50-over World Cup winner, but only India great MS Dhoni can match his 72 T20 internationals as skipper – overshadows the achievements of Morgan the batter.

After making his debut for Ireland as a 19-year-old, scoring 99 against Scotland before he was run out, Morgan was already a veteran of 23 ODIs when he first played for England in 2009.

With seemingly double-jointed wrists that swept, scooped and flicked the ball through 360 degrees, he was a visitor from the future, playing shots that are commonplace now, but had barely been imagined back then.

Morgan’s crowning glory was the 2019 World Cup century against Afghanistan that endangered the Old Trafford crowd with 17 sixes, still the record for maximums in an ODI innings.

His 13 tons for England is bettered only by Joe Root and 202 sixes are miles ahead of any of his team-mates – nearly 60 more than Jos Buttler.

Part of the team that won the 2010 T20 World Cup, he was good enough to make two centuries in 16 Tests played between 2010 and 2012, an average of 30.4 stacking up reasonably well against most of the players England have tried since.

Morgan was involved in the Strauss squad that won the Ashes in Australia and climbed to the top of the world rankings. When Alastair Cook’s position as captain was under threat in 2014, Morgan was spoken of as a possible replacement.

It is a decline with the bat and creaking of an ageing body that has prompted his retirement.

England’s results were putting no pressure on Morgan, but he has managed only one half-century in his last 26 innings and admitted back-to-back matches were becoming a physical struggle.

While Morgan the leader still commanded the unflinching respect of his team-mates, Morgan the batter was struggling to hold off competition from a pack of young pretenders.

He had been desperate for England to become double world champions, adding the T20 crown to their 50-over title. They were robbed of the chance in 2020 by the pandemic and were beaten semi-finalists in the 2021 World Cup when they were probably the best team in the tournament.

Another tilt in Australia later this year would have been a fitting swansong – his wife Tara is Australian – but proved a bridge too far.

England will move on under a new captain and new coach Matthew Mott, but Morgan’s influence will live on. Their batting will make them a terrifying prospect for whoever they face in Australia, but injuries have left the pace bowling weakened. The defence of the 50-over World Cup in India is little more than a year away.

As for Morgan, he will keep playing for London Spirit in The Hundred and has already dipped his toe in the world of punditry. There will be franchises from across the globe falling over themselves to employ him as a coach.

Even if he achieves nothing else in the game, deciding he’d rather spend his time pursuing his love of horse racing, his legacy is assured.

Morgan engineered that unforgettable, unbelievable day at Lord’s in 2019, one of the greatest moments in this country’s sporting history.

Only two other men – Sir Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson – have lifted a World Cup as England captains in football and rugby union.

Morgan sits alongside them as an immortal of English sport.

Around the BBC - SoundsAround the BBC footer - Sounds

Leave a Comment