Tuesday 12 December 2017

Cricket: No regrets for Morgan in conflict of interests

England's Twenty20 star full of confidence for Ireland game, writes Nick Hoult

IT IS hardly unusual these days for an England cricketer to play in a major tournament against the country of his birth, but there will be a different take on the situation this week when Eoin Morgan faces Ireland.

It is only three years ago that Morgan was playing for Ireland against England at the same ground, Providence, Guyana, where the two teams will meet on Tuesday.

Then Morgan was a 20-year-old with plenty of promise but he failed to deliver any telling contribution to Ireland's remarkable World Cup campaign, which saw them beat Pakistan and qualify for the Super Eights. He was run out for two against England and averaged only 10 from nine matches. There was no real suggestion he would soon be hailed by Michael Vaughan as the "batsman we have been waiting for".

Times have changed. Now fully ensconced in the England side, even if he still supports Ireland at rugby and football, Morgan is back in the Caribbean and in a position to knock his country of birth out of the tournament.

"I've no mixed feelings whatsoever," he said. "I am not bothered about it. I have every confidence in the decision I made [to play for England] and here is where I want to be and to do well.

"That World Cup playing for Ireland was a huge learning curve for me. I didn't do particularly well and didn't contribute to the side very much. But I learnt about all the stuff I had to deal with if I wanted to be a batter playing at the highest level."

What he has learned is to become adaptable. Morgan's inventiveness and collection of sweeps is well known but he has also developed a keen cricket brain, particularly trained for the shorter format. Having spent the entire year so far playing on slow pitches and against spinners, first in Bangladesh and then at the Indian Premier League, Morgan has had to work hard for his runs.

Last week he gave a glimpse of those thought processes. Pitches for this tournament are slow and spinners will be kings in the land of fast bowling lore. During the warm-up victory against South Africa on Thursday, when he scored 63, Morgan worked the spinners for runs but found it easier to climb into the quicks. His two sixes were both off seamers. The first, a mighty pull over midwicket, was off Morne Morkel, an opportunity he sensed would not come again for a while. He was right. Seven overs of spin followed but once pace returned, in the shape of Juan Theron, the ball disappeared over the long off boundary.

Morgan averaged nearly 50 from six matches in the Champions Trophy last year and first showed real signs of being the player England have lacked for years -- one who could finish off the innings but also hit the ball very hard. That is something he has subsequently done in style winning matches against Bangladesh, when he scored his first one-day hundred, and Pakistan with sixes.

Morgan feels like the player Neil Fairbrother would have been if he had been brought up in the Twenty20 era.

But the upward curve suffered a dip in India recently with a disappointing IPL. Morgan was perhaps unsettled by the death of his grandmother, he returned to Ireland for a week and never regained his place, and left the Royal Challengers Bangalore before the end of the tournament.

"I think I got a lot of positives out of it," he said. "When I was in the nets I was facing swing and spin bowlers for two hours a day and grafting hard. From that side of things it was great and seeing the ball turn out here similar to how it does in India will help quite a lot."

Ireland have one small advantage this week. They will have played in Guyana three times before they meet England and have been in the Caribbean for nearly a month.

Morgan expects some "banter", particularly from their captain and close friend, William Porterfield. There is consternation among Irish cricket officials that England continually nick their best players only to quickly discard them -- Ed Joyce being the prime example.

There were mutters of discontent last summer when Morgan failed to make the first 11 for England's match in Belfast in the immediate aftermath of the Ashes. He did however make an impact, coming on as a fielding substitute and preventing a match winning six as England won by two runs. "It was theirs to win. It wasn't my fault and they threw it away," he said. "I got stick after that. All very good natured."

That may be a different case this week when the stakes are far higher.

Sunday Independent

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