Monday 17 December 2018

Morgan aims to bridge gap between chaos and success

Eoin Morgan: ‘It’s not often you get free rein and ambition to be as adventurous as you like’. Photo: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
Eoin Morgan: ‘It’s not often you get free rein and ambition to be as adventurous as you like’. Photo: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Vithushan Ehantharajah

On a Melbourne February morning in 2014, Eoin Morgan was perched on a bench outside the England team hotel nursing a coffee. He looked refreshed, though. In that typical Morgan way, gauging his mood would be a fool's lot. Morgan sat, supped and watched the world go by while, within the walls behind him, English cricket was falling over itself.

The night before, England were thumped by eight wickets in a Twenty20 at the MCG - the penultimate match of the 2013-'14 tour that eventually saw them register just one competitive win (the fourth ODI at Perth) in 13 attempts.

An hour after play, news filtered through that Andy Flower, who had returned home after the Test series and handed the reins to Ashley Giles, limited-overs coach at the time, was to be sacked. The next 10 hours were as chaotic as they come for the ECB. It had announced the news to pre-empt a scoop only to expose how underprepared it was for such a bombshell. A sharply-arranged 8am press conference in a spare hotel suite, which had to be filled with a variety of chairs by the ECB's media manager who hadn't slept a wink, saw the chairman Giles Clarke read from a hastily-prepared statement with all the enthusiasm of a man tasked with reading a list of his partner's ex-lovers. He did not refuse questions but certainly did his utmost not to answer any. The tour finished a few days later in Sydney in predictably disastrous fashion.

This time around, Morgan as ODI and T20 captain knows how important it is to separate the red and white ball portions of the tour. To avoid running the same fate as a TV series that doesn't quite nail matters in its opening burst and quickly descends into farce by the second season, when story arcs are abandoned and characters killed off in an attempt to bring a change for the better.

Sure enough, this is what Morgan was asked to address in the lead-up to today's ODI opener at the Melbourne Cricket Ground: how will he ensure what comes next isn't defined by the Ashes thrashing? But he distanced himself from the simplistic notion that avenging earlier defeats will be the main driver of one-day success. It is probably the last thing many of them want to reflect on.

"A lot of the guys who have come into the squad who haven't been here a great deal or come from various places around the world bring a lot of energy to the group," he said. "We're trying to do two different things as a Test team and a white-ball group. I certainly think the mentality within the groups can have a different effect."

For what it is worth, given the fluidity of the teams, England's ODI record on Australian soil is not particularly flash. They have won only five of the last 20 ODIs played here, a period which includes the cringe-worthy 2015 World Cup campaign. The overall head-to-head over the past five years is 21-14 in the hosts' favour.

That World Cup comfortably goes down as the nadir of England's shorter form travails. Remember when Morgan was pushed into the captaincy after Alastair Cook was pushed out on the cusp of the tournament? Or James Taylor batting No 3 in the warm-ups and before getting shunted down the order when the tournament began? Then defeat to Bangladesh to knock them out of the competition? There was literally a book written about how bad it all was. Then came the overhaul. And it worked.

"A line was drawn in the sand and we were given clear directives that the goal was the 2019 World Cup," Morgan said. "To bridge the gap between where we were and, say, being in the semi-final or the final. That was the first port of the call. Bridging that gap came quicker than we ever thought it would. We've got a huge amount of confidence from the selectors. Andrew Strauss, our director of cricket, gave absolute clarity in what we wanted. I think, as a captain and backroom staff, we certainly thrived on that. It's not often you get free rein and ambition to be adventurous as you like.

"Par for the course for this series will be bringing out the positive aggressive style with the bat while adapting to the wicket. I'm sure Australia will throw up some different wickets, they're not all going to be as flat as a pancake."

Preparing for an English World Cup with an Australian series might not seem like natural bedfellows. But Morgan is aware that overcoming the challenges in the next month will put his side in good stead for 2019. He's seen enough to know that leaving here without falling into disarray will go a long way.


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