Morgan crafting a dynamic new England in his own image
Skipper leading from the front as fresh crop of players cast off World Cup gloom with fearless approach to one-day cricket
On the hottest of cricketing days, there remains a touch of ice in the eyes of Eoin Morgan. He does not give much away.
Steven Finn, a Middlesex and England colleague, is one of Morgan's best mates, but even he says: "When he walks into the dressing room, you wouldn't know if he's had a bad day or a good day. He's one of the most flat-lined people I've ever met. That's a huge strength of his, especially as a captain."
Now Morgan is more firmly established as a captain than ever before. He would have been nervous (without showing it) after the World Cup. His own form had been no better than that of his predecessor as captain, Alastair Cook, and that World Cup campaign had been a dreadful, constipated disappointment. Yet after England's early departure from the tournament, Morgan stared at the microphone planted in front of him and said: "We have no regrets," before adding: "We have the right calibre of squad, the right personnel."
Ah well, that was then. Now Morgan has acknowledged that England were "terrible" in the World Cup and that the current team selection, which constitutes something of an overhaul, "reflects how we want to play". England are playing a new, free game and Morgan says that the new crop of players "find my ideas easy to relate to". Perhaps the old dogs really could not get the new tricks, though that seems an oversimplification of the mini-metamorphosis of the England ODI team.
Finn remains mildly bewildered by the change since March. "We talked about what we wanted to do in the World Cup. We sat in front of you guys [the press] and said we wanted to play with freedom and with smiles on our faces. We didn't do it. I can't put my finger on why." But there has been a change. "Even when we walked off the field after going for 350 at the Ageas Bowl," he says, "we felt as though we were in the game. It is really exciting.
"The World Cup hurt everyone and it would have hurt Eoin especially, being the captain. We know he is such a proud man and such a good guy, so everyone wants to be behind him and respect him as captain. He is in the form of his life. I've never seen him hit a cricket ball like he has in the last few weeks. It's great to be playing under him - it's brilliant".
Finn has highlighted a critical change. In recent times, England have not had a one-day captain capable of leading by example. Cook was tormented before he was sacked just before the World Cup, so too was Morgan throughout the tournament. Even Mike Brearley felt diminished when short of runs, so it's hardly surprising that the authority of Cook and Morgan should wane when they were struggling to contribute with the bat. Morgan finds it hard to explain why everything is suddenly clicking so well at the crease. "The only change I can see is to do with the IPL," he says. "I came back from there striking the ball really well. That has happened before."
Like most of the England ODI players, Morgan is a fan of the IPL, not just for the obvious financial reasons, but because they believe the experience can enhance their games. Morgan is less a technical batsman than an intuitive one, so when the force is with him, anything is possible. It has been a while, but we have all been reminded of this during the current series. Most importantly of all, however, the newcomers to the England ODI squad cannot fail to be impressed.
Two other factors help to explain England's improvement. For one, the players have had more leeway to fail. The series against New Zealand, however enjoyable it has been, is not the World Cup. The pressure to produce has not been so intense. Moreover, the timing has been right. Throughout the ODI series, the outstanding contributions have not come from the real rookies. The key men have usually been Morgan himself, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, along with handy interventions from Finn, Ben Stokes and Alex Hales. The first four mentioned have been around a while. Morgan may be the grandad with 145 ODI appearances, but Root (58), Buttler (59) and Finn (61) know the ropes by now.
It seems that this quartet was ripe for greater responsibility and has been enhanced by their elevation. That space was created when Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad were dropped. Now the tone of the dressing room is being set by a fresh brigade of cricketers. The new breed will make mistakes - indeed, they are quite prepared to - but they have also introduced a zest for the game plus a sense of enjoyment, which have made watching England exciting again.
Sunday Indo Sport