Eoin Morgan does not have a bad word to say about Kevin Pietersen, a team-mate he says has been “always supportive and a pleasure to play with”. Yet the 27-year-old Dublin-born Middlesex batsman admits that the moment he heard that Pietersen’s England days were over he began plotting the revival of his own stalled Test career.
Morgan had committed himself to a fifth season in the Indian Premier League, a tournament suited to his innovative batting style that has provided lucrative consolation for international ambitions never totally fulfilled. Pulling out would have legal implications. He faced a dilemma with which he wrestled for a number of days. But he knew, two years after the last of his 16 Tests, that he had an opportunity too good to pass up.
“I was at the interim stage between applying to go into the IPL auction and the auction itself,” he said. “You are legally bound at that point to go into any contract offered. But with what happened to Kev and other positions being in question I think everybody sees it as a huge opportunity.
“I spent a bit of time thinking about it. Then I had a meeting with Paul Downton [the England and Wales Cricket Board’s managing director] to discuss the possibility of withdrawing from the IPL auction and it sort of went from there. The ECB were very accommodating, they worked with the Indian board in getting me withdrawn and that was pretty much it.
“That was the purpose of the meeting, not for them to encourage me that there was a place. But we talked about the Test team and that for anyone who scored a lot of runs in county cricket there was a possibility they might be picked and I certainly wanted to throw my hat in the ring.”
Those who have followed Morgan’s career will not have been surprised at his pragmatic approach, even at the moment of a friend’s misfortune. He lost his Test place after a poor series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, where he struggled – not uniquely, by any means – against the spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, and admits there have been times in the last two years that he has wondered if there might not be another chance. Yet he remains steadfastly sure that playing in the IPL each year, when others have focused on impressing the selectors by scoring red-ball runs with their counties, has not undermined his prospects.
Even now, eight years after his Middlesex debut, he has played only 46 Championship matches, compared with 161 one-day and Twenty20 internationals, for Ireland and England. The last of his nine first-class hundreds was his second in Tests, against India at Edgbaston in 2011. The one he missed when he was dismissed for 86 against Nottinghamshire last week would have been his first for Middlesex since 2009.
“No, I don’t regret not playing more county cricket,” Morgan said, somewhat incongruously, at a day set aside to launch the new NatWest Blast T20 competition, which begins next month. “From a young age one-day cricket was always my strength and that’s because I played a lot of one-day cricket. They were the skills I honed up.
“I was a late starter into red-ball cricket and I am still learning and trying to improve but I don’t think a lesser stint at the IPL or an extra couple of April months in England would have helped me. Playing in front of 80,000 people under pressure helps you more than worrying about your technique on early-season English pitches.
“In that series in the UAE I struggled in a part of the side where we all struggled to score runs. Ajmal was exceptional, Rehman was exceptional and their seamers did a job. We found it difficult to play a ball turning both ways. At some stages, yes, I have wondered if I might not play another Test. When you are out of the side you feel so far away from playing, but I also look back on how I got there.
“Now the appetite for county cricket is there. The opportunity is there for everybody, which is brilliant. If it was just there for me there wouldn’t be a challenge as there would be no prize there. It is unique. There is going to be a new coach appointed and things are going to change.”