Eoin Morgan: a positive spin
Eoin Morgan was on an upward England curve until he, like others, failed against Pakistan. But far from being fazed by slow-bowling demons, he has returned to basics to bounce back in India, he tells Kevin Garside
India has always been a tour of new faces and fresh starts. Among those who set forth for Mumbai yesterday in the reconstituted England squad under captain Alastair Cook, Eoin Morgan has arguably the most to gain. Morgan is the Neil Harvey Fairbrother of the age, a remarkably inventive cricketer, or as Geoffrey Boycott says of Harvey, all hands and angles. Like Fairbrother, Morgan's challenge is to demonstrate his suitability to Test cricket, which in the early part of the year against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, looked a puzzle too far.
Morgan was not alone in flailing helplessly at Saeed Ajmal, who ran through the England card with his subtle variations and a hellfire doosra. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell suffered similarly, none of the three amassing more than 90 runs in six knocks. Pietersen and Bell had a deal more collateral behind them in the Test arena to protect against the barren run. Morgan was immersed for the first time in failure. The explosive "can do" template that he had carved for himself was suddenly a ball and chain. He was, at the hands of Ajmal anyway, the anti-finisher, a ghostly approximation to the bull that reverse swept his first boundary in Test cricket two years before.
Morgan was instructed by the England management to return to the domestic scene to rediscover his mojo. There has been no great weight of runs in the county game but eight months on, the smile is back and, importantly, his head is straight. Like Pietersen, another unorthodox striker, there has to be some allowance for difference and a recognition that Morgan is to some degree a player for the big occasion, as the blistering 36-ball 71 against West Indies at the T20 World Cup showed.
On Wednesday, Morgan bowled into an Earls Court photographic studio to put his face to a new Slazenger bat alongside the man with whom he must arm wrestle for the No 6 slot, Jonny Bairstow. The Yorkshire flamethrower charmed us all with his ebullient 95 against South Africa at Lord's, suggesting that the way back for Morgan might not be straightforward. Two years ago Morgan was that man, an uncomplicated hitter whose only concern in the world was the next ball and where to smash it.
Morgan has readjusted to his status as contender. He is grateful just to be given a crack in India. And of course, in his own mind, he comes back a better cricketer. "I looked at where I went wrong and the mistakes that I made. They happened to be against a world-class side in a series in which nobody really stood out or scored runs. I looked at the details, at things that have worked for me in the past. I started by recognising that my technique is different from everybody else's, and that that is a massive strength in my game. Realising that was a major thing for me. I didn't want to go back and change everything that had made me the player I was."
Morgan, always a fidget at the crease, acquired the affliction of excessive movement as the bowler hit his delivery stride. The deep crouch became more pronounced, running counter to the theory that a still head is a necessary attribute when precision is required. "I accept that my movement at the point of delivery had become more exaggerated. That was something that had started about eight months before. It was there, I knew I was doing it. It happened because I changed my technique to develop my power game. By squatting down I was able to hit up and through the ball. I went to the IPL, came back and played against Sri Lanka and did well. It worked. I then had four months off with a shoulder injury. It was only the slump at the start of this year that made me revisit it. But I didn't want to over analyse this stuff."
Morgan is to be applauded for harvesting the best of his quirks. Attempts to turn the folding action of Jimmy Anderson into Dennis Lillee almost proved his undoing. Anderson evolved into the seaming missile-thrower he is now after reclaiming the elements in his bowling action that are redacted from cricket manuals. Morgan smiled when told that the Indian XI selected for the first warm-up game next week did not include a spinner. He pointed out that he faces one of the best twirlers in the world in the nets and feels sufficiently equipped to deal with the Indian mystery men when they do appear.
"Again no one did well against Pakistan in the UAE, so I did not want to see things in the slump that were not there. Facing Ajmal on those wickets was horrible, like facing Jimmy at Trent Bridge, where he is unplayable. He didn't fizz it like Murali, but he did enough. He was just impossible to pick. Normally when you face that situation someone develops a method and has some success. The rest then follow that lead. But no-one got hold of Ajmal. We weren't able to build partnerships, rotate the strike to put them under pressure. It was a massive learning curve, not just for me but for the team.
"I have made a few adjustments, but I am still the same attacking player that I always have been. I score runs in different areas and that is one of my biggest strengths. Before Pakistan I had the No 6 spot in the Test team nailed down.
"I was one of the best T20 batsmen in the world, so it was more a matter of going back to that, to what I was good at rather than completely remodelling my game. It was important to bounce straight back, which I did. I believe that I'm a much better player as a result of what happened. You learn a lot through failure. You would prefer to acquire experience through winning but that is not always possible in sport.
"India will be a massive test, but one I'm excited about. The aim is to try and score some runs in the warm-up games and challenge for the No 6 spot. Jonny has it at the moment. All I can do is try to go out and get some runs and build some momentum. I'm not the first player to be dropped. It is how you deal with it, how you respond that is important and in many ways it can define your career. I just have to allow myself 20 to 25 balls to get myself in, but that comes with maturity. I know how badly I want to succeed at Test cricket. I have tasted success and know what it is all about. Having experienced that and lost it I appreciate it a lot more than I did perhaps and believe absolutely that I can come back and do very well. I'm 26, they say a batsman peaks between 28 and 32 so hopefully my best is in front of me."
Eoin Morgan uses the Slazenger V360 Ultimate bat. The V360 Ultimate is part of the new 2013 Slazenger cricket range which is available to buy from 1 January at store.slazenger.com
Morgan's test record in Asia
Overall test record
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