Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Eoin Morgan ready to rise from the Ashes

Dublin-born Eoin Morgan will use both the Twenty20 and one-day series in Australia to challenge for a regular place in the England Test line-up.

Just when Australia thought it was safe to go back on the field, along comes more danger.

Worst of all, it is not a proper Pom but the Irishman, Eoin Morgan.

For two long months on this tour, he has been awaiting the opportunity to strut his particularly infectious jig.

Denied in the Ashes series because of the spectacular form of the incumbent batsman, he is now ready to assume his rightful place on the limited overs stage.

In the course of last year, Morgan scored four hundreds for England — three in one-day internationals, one in Test matches — and became one of the most formidable short form batsman in the world. His 17th place in the official rankings severely underestimates his threat as a patient destroyer of opponents.

The limited overs series, which starts here today with the first of two Twenty20 matches, will be followed by a World Cup in which England, for once, seem to have a fighting chance. Morgan's form will be integral to their progress wherever they play, from Adelaide to Ahmedabad.

Today, England will be attempting to secure their eighth successive Twenty20 win — a record. Both sides are pledging contributions to the disaster fund which has been set up to help the victims of the unprecedented flooding in Queensland, which by yesterday was edging into New South Wales.

The enormity of it and the refusal of the floods to recede has astonished the whole country and the international cricket here in the next few weeks will be seen as a prism for the relief effort.

By now, Morgan must be bursting out of his seams to get out into the middle.

He has faced only 11 balls all tour — 10 in the tour match against Victoria when he drove loosely to slip and just one at the end of the routine warm-up win against the Prime Minister's XI. It was the not the sort of trip he expected.

When England gathered at Heathrow in late October, Morgan was the man in possession of a Test place. It had been a summer of only intermittent success, however.

A well-crafted hundred in difficult circumstances at Trent Bridge was followed by less significant contributions. Thus, Ian Bell, recovered from injury, was preferred at the start of the tour.

Morgan still harboured understandable hopes of playing some part in the Ashes.

He said as much on the eve of the first Test in Brisbane: “At some stage I think I'll play a part in this series. A five-match series goes on for a very long time and especially out here it can take a lot out of you as a player, so I expect to play some part before it is over.

“I do feel like I can play Test cricket absolutely and scoring that hundred against Pakistan was such a huge confidence booster for me coming into this.

“I think it really proved to myself that I could play at this level, especially against a Pakistan side with one hell of a bowling attack.”

He waited and waited. His chance never came. The batting order remained resolutely unchanged and Morgan must now wait to see if he will take the recent Test retiree Paul Collingwood's place in the Test XI when they regroup in May.

Other candidates may have emerged by then and this time last year Flower seemed fairly sure that Morgan needed more first-class runs with Middlesex before he would be ready for Test cricket. Eventually, the natural gifts of batsmanship won him over.

It is as a breathtaking one-day player that Morgan has prospered and he has it in him to be England's most accomplished of all. His three hundreds last year were all models of how to conduct a one-day innings.

They were scored with the side in trouble and needed careful assembly, attention to keeping the board ticking over and then steep acceleration at the end.

Morgan threw in his lot with England because otherwise he would have had no real international career to speak of. It is the way of things and Ireland are steeling themselves for further losses in the next few years. Their aspiration to play Test cricket will stay a pipe dream for now.

He is the fifth Irishman to play Test cricket, but another of more recent vintage cut a swathe through Australia four years ago.

Ed Joyce, now of Sussex, scored a century against them in Sydney which began England's improbable recovery and eventual victory in the triangular one-day series. Joyce's star waned and he is now back with Ireland for the next World Cup.

For Morgan, anything is possible. He knows how good he is, though he is careful not to shout about it. Few players anywhere at any time have struck unorthodox strokes so cleanly and sweetly. Nobody switch hits so adeptly. It is as second nature to him as the cover drive to others. For the rest of this winter this is Morgan's time.

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