By Anthony K
It is a mixed blessing to come into a team that has turned into a juggernaut. The environment of calibre, camaraderie and confidence is likely to be a boost to your own game. On the other hand, if you go through the period of adaptation that is common to most players, then the contrast with the efforts of world-class teammates can be vivid, especially if you replace someone that the fans have come to look on as if he were a faithful old family pet. So, after twelve Test caps for Eoin Morgan, the jury seems still to be out. He has first had to overcome the whispers about his moderate first class record and the difficult-to-shed tag of “one day specialist”. Marcus Trescothick managed to do this, while Michael Bevan, to whom Morgan is sometimes compared, is perhaps the ultimate example of someone who could not. Will he?
It has to be said that the early signs are mixed. Most people see him as a mainstay of England’s one day middle order for years to come, but in the Test arena doubts persist. His ability to manipulate the field, to manufacture scoring opportunities and play the spinners with a mixture of low-risk milking and occasional big hits, are one-day fundamentals which have transferred easily to the five day game. However, critics (including some from this website) say he struggles with high-class pace bowling, especially against the new ball when it’s moving around. While it might be fair to ask “who doesn’t,” he certainly has a case to answer. At Trent Bridge, he made an attractive 70 against some friendly bowling before falling almost immediately to Praveen Kumar with the new ball. With South Africa providing the main opposition to England next summer and being able to call on the services of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, it is clear that he risks exposure if he is not able to address these deficiencies.
In the fairly recent past, this would have been enough to see Morgan continually under pressure for his place, perhaps returning to county cricket, learning nothing in the championship and periodically being recalled to the side, before being ultimately discarded amid much sad talk of what might have been. This is not how England operate these days, we are told. It seems that once the selectors decide that you are their man, you will get the opportunity you need to make your mark. The selection of Ravi Bopara at Edgbaston suggests that Morgan faces no immediate threat from outside the squad. More importantly, his 104 there bought him more time. It seems inconceivable that he won’t go to the UAE and Sri Lanka for the winter Tests, where he would be confident of doing well, securing his place for the South Africa series and probably the winter tour of India.
England have clearly decided that Morgan is their man for the number six spot, realistically the only batting position up for grabs in the side until Andrew Strauss steps down. With the rest of their batting firing on all cylinders, they have clearly decided that Morgan’s huge promise makes him worth persevering with and, when one reflects on the rewards they have reaped by sticking by Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, this approach surely has much to commend it. Nor should we forget that Morgan’s first Test century came against the excellent Pakistani triumvirate of Amir, Asif and Gul, suggesting that he may have the tools to become a top-class performer against all manner of attacks.
Messrs Strauss and Flower like to focus on what players can do, while encouraging them to take responsibility for eradicating those flaws which might hamper their development as Test players. Players who do this are rewarded with loyalty and patience. This observer believes that England will again feel the benefit of this approach and that Morgan’s long-term future as number six will be a bright one, ensuring that England’s batting will have a perfect blend of obduracy and attack, orthodoxy and improvisation, for years to come.