Tuesday 16 January 2018

Morgan shows hurling has a purpose outside of Kilkenny

T he England fast bowler James Anderson is not alone in considering Eoin Morgan "a genius". Many wise judges of a cricketer believe that there is something untameable in Morgan's talent. By the time the Indian Premier League, which starts this week, concludes, he may be Ireland's next superstar.

Morgan continues to offer persuasive proof of this genius but there is circumstantial evidence too in England's determination to point out the things he cannot do. Last week, he was called the new Michael Bevan and then it was pointed out that Bevan had never been a success at Test cricket, creating another dangerous precedent.

While they are already happy to admit that Morgan may be the greatest one-day player ever to play for England, they are reluctant to risk him in Test cricket. There is a view that he needs to play more county cricket, more of the first-class, four-day version so he can be exposed to relentless and aggressive bowling attacks which he is protected from in the more regulated and shorter game.

This is strange as there is a more widespread view that playing county cricket in recent times never prepared anybody for anything except more county cricket.

There is a reluctance to gamble, to note the wild and daring aspects to Morgan's game and accept that it may be worth risking in a Test.

Cricket has allowed itself to become regimented, to believe in the control that coaches suggest they can bring to the game. They have created a philosophy to endorse their own controlling nature and distrust of genius.

Clive Woodward was on Desert Island Discs recently offering a glimpse into his world, the world of the coach. Woodward is now working with Team GB as they prepare for the London Olympics and he has a sign above his office door saying 'Better Never Stops'. This isn't even bullshit, it is just shit. Worse never stops too and tends to be around even more when Woodward is talking.

Desert Island Discs gave him an opportunity to reflect on his life. "I was absolutely out, out there,' he said of his days as an 18-year-old in London. He delivered the killer insight into his own rebelliousness: "I joined Harlequins Rugby Club." This led into 'Going Underground' by The Jam which was probably the only track a subversive like Woodward could have chosen for his time on the edge. "A bit like Bob Dylan, I love Ronan Keating," Woodward said, cueing another great track.

For a coach who believes that better never stops, there may not be much to distinguish Keating from Dylan and in some ways he may have even greater admiration for Keating for whom better doesn't seem to have started and yet he has made a fine career while Dylan insists on being difficult. They are all golfers -- "a great game" -- and Woodward's book choice was The Short Game in Golf by Dave Peltz and his luxury, a sand wedge, which brought relief that he would be on his own and stranded on this island.

Woodward's great genius is an absolute commitment to the ordinary. His favourite song among those he selected was 'Greatest Day' by Take That -- "a fantastic song by a great group" -- which he loves so much because it reminds him that today is all he has, there is no point looking back or worrying about tomorrow. He brings no more profundity to this workaday observation except an absolutely unironic commitment to its profundity as well as his own.

It is a commitment also noticeable when he chooses 'Saltwater' by Chicane because the England rugby team used to listen to it on the team bus. Clive can still picture Lawrence Dallaglio dancing. He is, Clive confirms, "an awesome dancer, a brilliant guy all-round", making the first recorded link between dancing and character

We will see more of Woodward before the Olympics but his influence is widespread. His ideas on coaching have penetrated other sports.

Morgan declared for England in the hope of becoming a Test cricketer but once the IPL starts, the voices may grow louder that he is a limited-overs man.

There will be tougher tests for Morgan than demolishing Bangladesh but he looks capable of meeting them.

This is a victory for Ireland, one that can unite everyone. For some, hurling finally has a purpose outside Kilkenny and small pockets of a couple of other counties. As the man from The Guardian put it: "He [Morgan] has shown abilities -- tactical nous, intelligence, coolness under pressure, confidence, intuition, innovation, and the capacity to hit a long ball, a function of timing and bat speed, to which he ascribes his grounding in Irish stick sports."

Yes, the old Irish stick sports of which there are many and of which we are so proud. So far only hurling has broken out of the pack to become the fastest field game in the world but stick sports are now the coming thing. We have come full circle. Cricket once provided the schooling for hurling. The areas where it was particularly popular in the mid 19th century are now the parts of the country that excel at hurling.

Anyone who has played cricket with someone who has a grounding in Irish stick sports will attest to the crossover skills they have picked up so it may be that those areas of Ireland that hurl will now have to fend off scouts from the IPL wondering if they can find a man who bats like Eoin Morgan.

That might be tricky. They want to find the location when they have just stumbled upon a genius. There is a particular type of Englishman and a particular type of Gael who will be united in their belief that Morgan's talent comes from something they can control or understand. They will see "his tactical nous, intelligence, coolness under pressure, confidence, intuition, innovation and the capacity to hit a long ball" as benefits of Irish stick sports. Instead it is something they can't control: the result of genius and it should be unleashed.


Sunday Independent

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