The Irish connection

When Eoin Morgan was named as captain of the England one-day side in Dublin the appointment slipped under the radar. It was seen as a sentimental gesture because he had played for Ireland and might do well against his old team and besides, so it slipped out, Alastair Cook needed a rest. By Ted Corbett.

If you want to see which way England will develop now they are on top of the world, it may be worth your while to watch the career of Eoin Morgan, Irishman, 24-year-old left-handed batsman and maybe their next captain.

I know that Alistair Cook seems to be the leader in the race to take over from Andrew Strauss, who is in any case succeeding well enough himself, but I hear that Morgan has all the qualifications — “he is a thinker about the game” says someone who knows him well — and that may be an essential qualification if England are to stay at the top.

Morgan will not be the first Irishman to lead England. In 1895 Sir Timothy Carew O'Brien led the side in one of four Tests against South Africa after Lord Hawke had been taken ill. He averaged only 7.37 in his short Test career which probably explains why he was not asked again but Frederick Luther Fane was captain five times in his 14 Tests, because Arthur Jones was ill.

O'Brien was born in Dublin, like Morgan, while Fane, who averaged 26.23 in his Test time, was born at Curragh Camp. The Curragh is now Ireland's best known racecourse. Both were amateurs — or Gentlemen — and therefore automatically considered ahead of the professionals or Players because, as one old-timer informed me “they were rather better at making speeches.”

Morgan is certainly a fluent talker who, at the age of 13, declared that his ambition was to play for England which, in Ireland at least, has taken some of the sting out of his transfer from a highly successful Irish team to play first for Middlesex and then for England at T20, one-dayers and Tests.

On the inside of the cricket world there is an excitement that emerges when one mentions Morgan. Watch him at the crease they say. All that bouncing up and down, that low stance, that ability to play the reverse sweep are all the result of planning ahead, not nerves.

“Away from the game, he is plotting and planning each innings,” says my insider. “He wants to have three shots for every ball, he is constantly trying to double guess the bowler whether he is at the crease or waiting for his turn to bat.

“He played hurling as a schoolboy and it is no coincidence that he plays the reverse sweep so well because the grip for the sweep and the hurling player's grip are the same. He looks lively at the crease, coming out of a crouching stance and certainly not fixed in his ideas about what he will do with any particular ball. Hurling is hockey on speed, an exclusively Irish game.”

So where does all this talk about him being a captain come from. Only Michael Atherton was younger in recent years and it has been the custom for England to wait until players have become mature before they are allowed to lead the Test team. Atherton had led university teams before he was called into the Test team, Ray Illingworth was 37 when he captained England and Mike Brearley captain of Middlesex for several years.

Why Morgan then, and why an Irishman? Aren't they supposed to be, well, a bit stupid? Yes they are. Irish jokes, as told by Englishmen are all about the way Paddy and his mates make a mess of things. “I'd hate to be with you when you are on your own,” is one of the quotes put into the mouths of Irishmen.

The truth is rather different. Some of the cleverest writers and philosophers of the last two centuries have been Irishmen — like the playwright George Bernard Shaw — and there were plenty of clever men who led the rebels in what the Irish call The Troubles i.e. the revolt against Britain.

When Morgan was named as captain of the England one-day side in Dublin the appointment slipped under the radar. It was seen as a sentimental gesture because he had played for Ireland and might do well against his old team and besides, so it slipped out, Cook needed a rest.

Maybe but England selectors think long and hard before they make a man captain and even though Cook undoubtedly needed a day off — coach Andy Flower also had a rest — there was another line of reasoning behind the appointment of Morgan.

Geoff Miller and his co-selectors wanted to see how he would handle himself, in the team hotel, in the dressing room and on the field. He passed with flying colours even though the match drowned in a typical Dublin downpour and no one could claim the result — an England win under the Duckworth Lewis calculation — was due to anything but a lucky break here and there.

Morgan lost the toss — bad point. He made a brisk 59 — bonus point. From that moment it was all in the hands of the weather gods who, capricious as ever, clearly wanted England to win and made sure that catches went down when they needed a bit of luck and throws missed stumps when it seemed easier to hit.

So it is, as the Scottish court system has it, a verdict of not proven. An Irishman with a Welsh name leading England is a bit hard to understand but watching the way Eoin Morgan goes about his cricket in the next few years will still be a fascinating study.