Cameron Ponsonby examines Eoin Morgan’s poor run of form, and tries to figure out how England’s T20 World Cup plans can continue unhindered even if their captain is misfiring.
Eoin Morgan went into Kolkata Knight Riders’ last fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad with his four most recent scores being 2, 0, 8 and 7. This run of failures has seen his critics within the IPL grow, and, with a World Cup looming, concerned mutterings from English fans about the lack of form from their captain. England’s white-ball set-up is a cut-throat place these days, they don’t carry anyone. And that applies even to the person who for so long has carried them, and who has made the environment so clinical.
Morgan would be within his rights to scoff at the notion, or even the question, of whether his position in the XI should be in doubt. He has masses of credit in the bank and his reputation inside the England dressing room is second to none. Taking on the position as England’s white-ball captain in 2015 he had the world on his shoulders and four years later, he had the World Cup in his hands. Now, with murmurs building about his position in the team and a dramatic lack of runs, he may wonder why the world has chosen now to turn against him too.
There’s an old quote that’s attributed to a former American Lieutenant that you can imagine Morgan currently saying of his growing critics. “All right”, he says, “They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us… They can’t get away this time.”
Because Morgan is no stranger to periods of famine with the bat and proving his doubters wrong. In fact, his performances in T20s from 2015 to 2017 led to Leicestershire and Birmingham Phoenix analyst Dan Weston to write in a recent blog that, “there was a time, around 2016-17…where I probably thought Morgan was the most overrated cricketer in the world.
“Then, around 2018, it was like something flipped a switch inside him…there is little doubt that Morgan’s strike rate in 2019 was truly world-class. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a turnaround from a player.”
Famine turned to feast and the phrase “form is temporary, but class is permanent” reverberated around commentary boxes across the world. With tongue firmly in cheek, you could even argue that it would be of greater concern to England if Morgan was scoring runs at the moment. Earlier this week he referred to his form as being a “rollercoaster” of extreme peaks and troughs. You only get so much world-class Eoin Morgan a year, he’s just saving it for when it matters.
For every player, however, there must at some point be a final downturn and, despite the credit that exists within the Royal Bank of Eoin, were he simply a batter, his record of 132 runs in his last 11 innings would mean his place in the England side would be in doubt. And, for what it’s worth, Morgan said himself before the 2019 World Cup that he would have no issue with dropping himself if it was to the benefit of the team.
It remains a fanciful notion. Morgan is baked into England’s line-up by this point and the flip side to Morgan the batter is Morgan the captain. He may have only scored 19 runs in his last six games for KKR, but they’ve won four of them. He may only be averaging 13.20 in his last 15 games for England, but they’ve won 11 of them. Morgan presides over successful teams and regardless of how much you can quantify the impact a captain has, he is there, at the front, more often than not leading his team to victory (London Spirit fans look away now).
A blueprint for how England handle Morgan (or even, how he handles himself) at the World Cup if his poor form continues, was evident in yesterday’s match between KKR and SRH.
Morgan has been batting at four and five for the franchise. But, with 23 needed off 22 and the game on the line as the third wicket fell, he slid one further down as Dinesh Karthik went in ahead of him. Morgan has played and won enough games of cricket for this to not be interpreted as shirking responsibility onto the next bloke, but a decision made from one of two potential places. One, he is simply the man out of form, and therefore shuffled down for the benefit of the team. Or two, to keep a left-hand, right-hand combination at the crease at the expense of his own opportunity to dig himself out of a rut with a confidence boosting 10 not out.
Batting is rooted in confidence, and nothing beats seeing your team home for a victory to aid that self-belief. By batting himself lower, Morgan showed a flexibility and level-headedness to make the best decision for the team and not necessarily for himself.
Morgan eventually finished today two not out as KKR won with three balls to spare. He played less of a role with the bat than would’ve been expected, but his decisions led to a victory for KKR. And as a combination, that’s one England will be perfectly happy with to see them through to World Cup glory.