Saturday 17 February 2018

Only Ashes can satisfy Morgan's burning desire

Dubliner faces the hardest and steepest step of his career so far, writes John O'Brien

W HEN England kick off their Ashes campaign in Brisbane on Thursday, there will be none among their number more hungry for success than Eoin Morgan, the 24-year-old left-hander from Rush, north Co Dublin.

During the build-up games, Morgan has cut a frustrated figure watching from the sidelines and, if that is an unwelcome reflection of his Test prospects, then you understand how it would cut him to the bone.

In the 18 months since Morgan made his senior England debut in a one-day international against the West Indies, he has marked himself out as one of the most exciting talents of his generation. In March, he struck a crucial unbeaten 110 to beat Bangladesh and followed that with centuries against Australia and Pakistan. In July, he recorded his maiden Test century against Pakistan at Trent Bridge. His progress has been relentlessly, unfailingly upward.

The last step -- breaking into an Ashes side -- is the hardest and the steepest, though. English cricket is a conservative place and, for all Morgan's heroics, there are those who would consider the forbidding Ashes arena a step too far at this stage. The hard, lightning-quick Australian pitches have frazzled plenty of burgeoning reputations before and, as vulnerable as they seem right now, few expect the intimidation factor to be any less than normal.

And yet, even if he loses out initially to Ian Bell -- who surely sealed his starting place by firing 192 against Australia A -- Morgan will know that five-Test Ashes series tend to be such turbulent, see-sawing affairs that, somewhere along the way, the opportunity will come to show what he can do at the highest level of all. And in his mind you can be sure he will be ready, for Morgan hasn't been dreaming of that moment since yesterday or last week.

The question of the Irishman playing cricket for England has followed him since it first became apparent that he had the talent to take him to the top of the game. Morgan comes from a family steeped in cricket and, by the age of 13, he knew he could go far in the sport. But going as far as he could meant one thing. At some stage he would have to move to England and declare his cricketing allegiance there. And when he did, he would be prepared for the inevitable flak. Morgan is comfortable with it, as he needs to be. He is not even unique.

When he makes his Ashes debut, as at some point he should, he will become the fifth Irish Irishman to play Ashes cricket for England. The last to do so was the Larne-born Martin McCague who played in two Ashes series in the 1990s. Because he had been raised in Australia, McCague's inclusion went down badly in England. Morgan's welcome has been open-armed by comparison.

To suggest there is something mercenary and unwholesome about the business is harsh on Morgan. With due respect to those who coached him as a kid, it is fair to say he is a natural, self-made cricketer whose obsession in life is to be the absolute best he can be. And he is doing that in the only way he knows. It is an unfortunate spin-off that those coming after him, like William Porterfield, will be

tempted down the same path. But that is an issue Irish cricket needs urgently to address.

To be fair, solid work is being done and Irish cricket has made good strides since those heady days in the Caribbean back in 2007. And now that another World Cup looms in the spring, Ed Joyce is back on board, and the dream of Ireland taking its place among the front-ranked Test nations has -- perhaps -- moved an inch closer towards fruition.

For now, though, Morgan has different worries. He has already proved himself a master of the Twenty20 and one-day formats but that isn't what took him to England. This week is why he made the leap. The fast pitches Down Under. Watching an Aussie bowler thunder towards the crease, your cricketing life on the line.

Some people wonder whether he is ready for the Ashes bearpit. However, Eoin Morgan isn't among them.

Sunday Independent

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