Tuesday 20 August 2019

Tommy Conlon: 'Morgan's remarkable journey a story of the archetypal Irish emigrant'


England's Eoin Morgan. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire
England's Eoin Morgan. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire

Tommy Conlon

To James Bridgland and his partner Emily, in Camberwell, England, a baby boy, born last Wednesday morning.

The infant's name? Well, James is a cricket fan. And Eoin Morgan had captained England to the Cricket World Cup title in the most astonishing circumstances on Sunday evening. Shortly after Henry's arrival into this world, his dad sent a tweet to the Dubliner, with a photo of the sleeping wean in its babygro: '@Eoin 16 please meet Henry Eoin Morgan-Bridgland, born today at 11am. Just to ensure Sunday's events are remembered even more often!'

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Sunday's events will never be forgotten in England, even among those who wouldn't know a cricket bat from a pick axe. A knife-edge match with New Zealand at Lord's had culminated in a riot of stupendous drama. England managed to fall over the line first, not so much by a nose as a nose hair. Players current and former, pundits and lifelong fans of the game had never seen anything like it. England had won the World Cup for the first time since the tournament was inaugurated in 1975. An estimated 8.3 million people watched on TV as the match spiralled into its ludicrous climax. Simultaneously the Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer was also reaching its epic crescendo; its peak audience was an estimated 9.6 million.

Before and after, cricket's prolonged exile on subscription television was cited as a major factor in its dwindling appeal to mainstream audiences. And of course England's ancient summer game has also been dwarfed by the Premier League and the Champions League over the last two decades. But on Sunday evening it made a glorious return to the country's affections.

Morgan, 32, is seen as a central figure in the reconstruction of the squad over the last four years, having also been captain when England were humiliated at the 2015 tournament in Australia/New Zealand. His achievements were widely acknowledged in the jubilant post-mortems last week.

"There is no doubt that no one man was more important to England's successful campaign than Morgan," said Michael Vaughan, who was captain when they won the famously dramatic Ashes series of 2005. "It was his vision, his drive and his ethos which fuelled this team," he wrote in The Daily Telegraph. Morgan had "created the team culture which allowed them to trust themselves. His man management and the calmness that he exuded at every turn of a campaign which had its wobbles was equally important."

Vic Marks, veteran cricket correspondent of The Guardian, said England had been "brilliantly led" by Morgan; "(He) has moulded a tight-knit group of players from a wide variety of backgrounds into an exciting, dynamic team."

Another former captain, Andrew Strauss, was England's director of cricket in 2015 when he made the decision to reaffirm Morgan as captain of the country's One Day International (ODI) team. "It was a no-brainer," he said last week. "What I didn't know was what an incredible leader he would turn out to be, connecting with the players on a we're-all-mates level but keeping a distance as the leader, composed and empathetic and supportive."

Long before those leadership qualities had matured, Morgan had already been marked apart by the game's cognoscenti as a batsman of exceptional natural talent. He had apparently an array of shots that made him unpredictable, unorthodox and devastating on his day.

Born into a cricketing family in north county Dublin and a boyhood prodigy at Rush Cricket Club, he had the career ambition to go with his playing ability. Still in his teens when he moved to Middlesex to embark on a professional career, he was capped young for Ireland - but Ireland was not a Test playing nation. To play at the highest level of international cricket he would have to declare for England; he duly did, making his Test debut in 2010.

In 2014 he was appointed captain of their ODI team. Ed Smith, now an England selector, had been a Middlesex team-mate. He told a story in The Sunday Times about the Dubliner's early days at the club. They were playing Somerset; Morgan was on about 60 runs; Somerset sent in their 6'5" strike bowler, the Test player Andrew Caddick, to get rid of him. "The first ball was short," recalled Smith. "Morgan swivelled on a pull shot. The crack of bat on ball was like a rifle shot ringing around Lord's." It was, he added, "a richly symbolic moment".

All of which is to say that Ireland has had a world class practitioner in an international sport for the last 10 years - and we barely know anything about him. He is in a way, therefore, the archetypal Irish emigrant who had to leave the country to have his talent recognised and financially rewarded, whilst being forgotten about back home. It's a familiar tale, except that he excelled in a rare profession for an Irishman.

Last week in England they were putting him in the same category as Bobby Moore of 1966 legend and Martin Johnson, captain of the 2003 Rugby World Cup champions. It might be a bit premature to be elevating him to that pantheon but it is a marker for the scale of his achievement.

On Monday he led the team into 10 Downing Street where they met the Prime Minister and, unlike their notorious 2005 Ashes predecessors, managed to stay relatively sober for the occasion too. Morgan apparently was on top of that also: no acting the maggot while on public duty, he insisted.

Then on Wednesday, to James and Emily, a baby boy. Morgan tweeted in reply to the happy couple: 'That's very cool. Congratulations.'

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