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Is Eoin Morgan A Busted Flush?

by Neil Burns

Eoin Morgan has been a central figure in the transformation of England Cricket since assuming the captaincy of the white-ball teams late in 2014 following the removal of Alastair Cook.

Morgan took the reins in January 2015 just before the ICC World Cup campaign began in Australia. He oversaw a complete debacle. Fortunately for Morgan, Paul Downton (Managing Director of ECB Cricket) and then Peter Moores (as Head Coach) were the fall guys.

And as soon as Morgan’s fellow Middlesex left-hander Andrew Strauss became MD of England Cricket, and Trevor Bayliss was appointed as Moores’ replacement, the focus on white-ball cricket sharpened and a long overdue philosophy to play cricket without fear started to embed itself in the new team.

Despite the absence of England’s best batsman Kevin Pietersen, Morgan’s new team began to play with a freedom and courage rarely seen from England in one day cricket. Was this down to largely down to Morgan, or perhaps Bayliss’s hands-off approach as a coach? How can we attribute change behaviour in teams to wither one person or another? Surely it comes from an inter-action between many different people who influence the group dynamic? The change in teams goes beyond improved results – it’s an attitudinal change and a raising of standards that stimulates healthy transformation in groups. This needs to happen in a variety of ways in which a team begins to function and how it responds to ongoing performance feedback loops.

From a personal perspective, I think Trevor Bayliss’s rich experience of international coaching with Sri Lanka and a successful playing career with New South Wales was vital to the transformation of English cricket. He came with no baggage and a low profile.

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Bayliss seemed relatively devoid of ego and from arms length, it appeared to me that he was happy for Morgan to take the spotlight and the credit for the initial progress. More significantly, this ‘coach in the background’ continued once consistent success was accomplished. My sense was that Morgan was seen to be ‘the genius’ and Bayliss ‘a facilitator’ of others gifts.

When England lost in the final of the last World t20 tournament, the negative impact on Eoin Morgan as captain, the team in general and Ben Stokes in particular could have been catastrophic. Instead, they recovered their balance and re-focused their attention on winning the ICC Cricket World Cup. When England triumphed at Lord’s in the Final against New Zealand in July 2019, all the hard working and soul-searching paid a handsome dividend to everyone involved in the successful outcome,  Morgan was lauded. Stokes was celebrated, Bayliss prepared himself to depart the scene as quietly as he arrived.

Since 2019, under Ashley Giles as MD England Cricket with Chris Silverwood as the new Head Coach, Eoin Morgan seemed to become increasingly powerful.

The decision to omit Alex Hales from England squads (despite paying a heavy price for his indiscretions by missing the glory of winning the World Cup in your own country) would appear to have Eoin Morgan’s handprints all over it. His new-found status as ‘The King’ of white-ball captaincy has created a relative omnipotence from criticism of his ideas and actions. Until now.

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Is Eoin Morgan ‘a busted flush’ as England captain? Will his poor form continue and make him a liability in the batting order? Will his influence diminish drastically in the team if reserve players feel disgruntled that the captain get s a game irrespective of his track-record as a batsman in recent times?

Or, will Eoin Morgan prove to the cricket world once again that he seems to lack the vulnerability known to most cricketers when they are short on form and in the firing line for criticism from the media?

For England to win the World t20 in UAE, my sense is that it will require the captain to play at somewhere near his peak performance. Without Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, the bowling attack is diminished and the batting loses aggression in the middle order. Stokes is a remarkable cricketer and his continued absence will both highlight his loss to the team’s potential and also prove his value simultaneously when he (hopefully) returns.

For Eoin Morgan, I think we are about to discover if he is the real deal in terms of batting and leadership now that he is entering the twilight zone of his career.

Was England’s past success more down to Trevor Bayliss’s and Andrew Strauss than either man took credit for? Or is Eoin Morgan a modern day Mike Brearley, and capable of inspiring his team to glory irrespective of his own level of good form with the bat when playing against the best teams in world cricket?

For those who think Morgan might be ‘a busted flush’ after his poor form in the recent IPL, the next few weeks of international cricket will provide some interesting viewing.   And for those who believe Morgan is ‘the real deal’, let’s hope he can prove his fans right and inspire another famous England victory at a global ICC tournament.

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