Friday, 2 May 2014

Column 9, 2014 – Bring back the ginger genius

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 81, Friday May 2, 2014.
[Full text below]

Next month England will pick a Test side to replace the one broken, humiliated and generally kicked around the gutter in Sydney.

So despite the almost exclusively dreary weather, this has been one of the most interesting starts to the County Championship in years, because the door to the national side, for the first time in ages, is wide open.

Cook, Bell, Broad and Anderson you’d think are nailed on, barring injury. Of the next generation, it’s relatively safe to assume that Root and Stokes are in, and Buttler will get his chance with the gloves if Prior doesn’t step up. The last quick’s spot will probably go to Jordan, Mills, Finn or Onions.

The batting spots are harder to call. And there are three of them.

There’s no shortage of strong cases. Compton, Carberry, Bopara, Ballance and half a dozen others are looking to add to their Test cap collection. Ali, Robson and Vince are heading up the queue to start one.

But for me there is one name leading the chasing pack by some margin. I’ll be disappointed if England’s middle order doesn’t feature more ginger than just the fiery Stokes come June.

Eoin Morgan made his first big splash in 2010, when he steered England home in Bangladesh with an assured hundred, becoming in the process the first ever player to score international centuries for two different nations.

But that’s not what stood out about him. We’ve become quite blasé about reverse sweeps and all the rest of it, but when you see Morgan and all his busy, breathtaking chicanery at its best, it looks so easy and natural you wonder why everyone doesn’t do it. Until you remember that most simply can’t.

And he can do it under pressure. He’s an aggressive middle order finisher who scores quickly and destroys conventional fields. Pietersen’s natural successor. And only 27.

In Test cricket he seems to have been hobbled. Impossible to be sure, but it’s almost as if he’s been told – or felt compelled – to abandon his natural game and play like a classicist. If England are serious about a fresh approach, giving Morgan his head would be an excellent place to start.

And there is another reason to get him back in the fold: he’s a natural captain.

He’s impressed whenever he’s deputised for an injured Cook or Broad in the short forms. Broad has helpfully reminded everyone of late how tough it is for bowlers to captain themselves, and Morgan clearly has a fine cricket brain, and is imaginative and inventive in ways that neither of the incumbents have demonstrated.

I’m a big fan of Alastair Cook the opener, not so much of Alastair Cook the captain. It’s often said that the best argument for Cook’s captaincy is the lack of viable alternatives. Well guided, Morgan could be that alternative. And maybe Cook could go back to averaging 125 against Australia.

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