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Eoin Morgan is at risk of becoming English cricket’s Arsene Wenger

by Cameron Ponsonby 4 minute read

Cameron Ponsonby assesses the legacy of Eoin Morgan, the storied England white-ball captain who is struggling for form and fitness.

There’s a timelessness to the beautiful houses that line Amsterdam’s canals. Years pass but the faces of those crooked buildings remain the same, protecting the city’s history and enshrining its legacy. Behind the scenes, inside those picturesque homes, changes made may be drastic. But the face of the operation resists; those facades persist.

And so, to Eoin Morgan. While the England men’s ODI team enters a new era under Matthew Mott, Morgan remains the front, the man who cannot be touched. It is a status he has earned; he has given that house its allure, a history to protect.

But, the truth of the matter is that Morgan is out of form. And he is struggling with his fitness. Speaking earlier this year, Morgan explained that he would not be playing in back-to-back Blast fixtures for Middlesex. Not to nurse any specific injury; he was just getting older. He then had to leave the field against Glamorgan with a groin twinge, an issue that then flared up against the Netherlands and ruled him out of the third ODI.

With the bat, Morgan has one half-century across domestic and international cricket since the start of 2021. If the concern was either his form or his fitness, then the questions might not be as severe. But it’s both. We’re not sure if he’s going to be fit enough to take the field. And neither are we confident of his ability to perform once he’s on it.

While his golden duck in the first ODI was excusable given the swing-from-ball-one nature of what was required, his duck in the second was far more concerning. This England side makes batting look easy, but Morgan’s seven-ball innings reminded you of just how difficult it really is.

So what are we doing here? Because part of what makes the situation so strange is how “un-Morgan” it all is. This team doesn’t carry people. It hasn’t had to, as any potential blips in the road over the last seven years have been bulldozered through. England haven’t had time for problems; they’ve been too busy winning.

Furthermore, this is a group that still responds to him whether he is scoring runs or not. Brydon Carse, who made his first appearance under Morgan this week against the Netherlands, spoke glowingly of the clarity the captain had provided him. He continues to receive tributes from his senior colleagues; Jason Roy, Liam Livingstone, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes have all lavished praise upon him in recent days. This team would sooner run out in front of a bus to save their skipper than throw him under it.

“There’s certainly no questioning of his position from within the camp,” Buttler said after the third ODI. On the other side of the North Sea, Stokes said: “I think the press are the only ones giving him a hard time and I think the players have shown it’s not an issue with them.”

And it’s that success and admiration which has given Morgan the right to spell out his script as to how he wishes his reign to end. But now the moment is here, it is unclear whether he has the words to do so.

The situation seems to manage itself for the time being. With England unlikely to have a full-strength team available to them in the lead-up to the World Cup, a hole in the side here or a gap there allows Morgan to slip in and oversee the ship. But when push comes to shove, does England’s strongest top six include Morgan? Is he really selected, on merit, above any of Jonny Bairstow, Phil Salt, Dawid Malan, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Livingstone, Roy or Buttler? That’s eight names before you’ve even had time to remember you forgot Stokes.

The result is a confusing situation where four months out from a T20 World Cup, Morgan appears at risk of becoming the Arsene Wenger of English cricket. An inspirational leader, responsible for the most successful period of his side’s history, before ultimately overstaying his welcome. Hanging on for one last hurrah to cement a legacy that, really, is already made.

A legacy that is evidenced throughout the current England side as well as by the depth of domestic cricket. Whether it be Salt, Roy and Buttler taking apart a Netherlands side for the third time in a week in a manner that would have been unthinkable pre-Morgan, or the likes of Will Jacks, Ben Duckett or Harry Brook struggling to get in an England side which would previously have called them first-choice.

And all of this has gone on while Eoin watched from the balcony with his feet up, absent from the playing XI, but surveying the army he built sweep aside one nation.

Morgan’s legacy does not rest on whether England do or do not win the T20 World Cup this year. His legacy lies in having fundamentally changed the way the nation plays the white-ball game. That’s the facade that will remain whilst the players continue to change behind the scenes. That this England team has outgrown Morgan is not evidence of his failures, but of his success.

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