Eoin Morgan: 'Test cricket comes first. It always has done for me'

Eoin Morgan believes the time he spent in the IPL will help him on his England return this week. Stephen Brenkley reports
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The Independent Online

England's selectors might have changed their minds but there is a general feeling that they were right about Eoin Morgan. The man himself agrees.

Until Morgan went out and compiled a stylish, seamless 193 last week in his only first-class innings of the summer it had been presumed – there were enough nods and winks to open a clinic for nervous tics – that the last batting place in the first Test would go to Ravi Bopara.

Morgan had gone off to take the Indian Premier League money, Bopara had stayed behind to score championship runs for Essex and had accrued two hundreds. That had to be worth something, perhaps as much as the renaissance of a Test career.

The selectors were smart enough to leave themselves a little wriggle room. Perhaps after all you don't get to pick two Ashes-winning sides without having some clue of what's going on. Thus both men were picked for the England Lions against the Sri Lankans.

It was Morgan who seized the moment and persuaded the selectors to revise their original thinking, which selectors are perfectly entitled to do. That it took them until 6.30pm on Friday when at least one of their number, Ashley Giles, was not present because of other duties, showed the measure of their uncertainty.

"I wasn't surprised," Morgan said yesterday. "I went on the tour to Australia. I have been part of this side for some time now – the Test side not for so long. I certainly knew that it was a gamble going to the IPL.

"I knew that from the start but again I'll reiterate the learning curve I went through last year, the pressure I was put under, the fact of having to produce your skills time after time in massive situations, it helps my game a lot and I get a lot of confidence from it."

Morgan has convinced himself that he went to the IPL purely for the experience and what it might do for his game. The grubby subject of money and the $350,000 (£217,000) a season contract he had signed with Kolkata Knight Riders appears not to have besmirched his reasoning.

Despite the fact that any sane judge might imagine that four four-day matches for Middlesex might have done more for honing his longer game than nine innings for the Knight Riders, eight of which lasted no more than 15 balls, Morgan insisted that Test cricket was his real true love. He might have gone to sleep at night in Kolkata dreaming of stepping out at Cardiff for the first Test against Sri Lanka on Thursday. Geoff Miller, the chairman of selectors, intends to have a word with Morgan about his priorities and commitment but the meeting appears not to have taken place yet.

"It hasn't," Morgan said. "My priorities are quite clear – Test match cricket comes first, always has done. Part of my general progression and sort of learning curve is the IPL, but Test match cricket has always come first and foremost. It's why I play the game and it's why I want to get the best out of myself. It's where everybody tests themselves and what everybody is judged on."

This was good to hear but it is perhaps understandable that some outside the selection room, and perhaps even some inside it, might have been slightly sceptical.

If there is no question that Morgan has what it takes to be a Test batsman as his finely judged century against Pakistan last summer showed, he is not yet the finished article. There are wafts outside the off stump, born doubtless from limited overs, which will always encourage top-class bowlers.

But like all champions he exudes self-belief. There is little of the genial Irishman about him in conversation. He leaves that for his batting. He is determined, studious, clinical and aware that he has the priceless asset of producing the goods in difficult circumstances. Last week at Derby was a case in point, of course.

He knew he had one match, probably one innings, to persuade the selectors and he did it. Last year at Trent Bridge, England were a precarious 118 for 4 on a seaming pitch but he pulled them round. On a multitude of occasions in one-day cricket he has rescued the side.

Asked whether his 193 said something about him, he said: "Maybe it does. In certain circumstances I seem to do well. I love going in in difficult situations.

"It's a hell of a challenge. One-day cricket, I like going in when our backs are against the wall when you feel there is a point to prove or you have a chance to win the game.

"I have felt in good form for some time now and I want to cash in as much as possible – the World Cup, the IPL and, more so than anywhere else, Test match cricket." He could not have given Test cricket bigger billing than he did yesterday.

It will be fascinating to see if he has improved from last season as much as he himself suspects. After the hundred in the first Test, his season fell away and he scored only 45 runs in his next five Test innings. He was eventually left out of the Ashes XI. Since then he has played just three first-class innings, one in Melbourne against Victoria, two last week at Derby (he was out for four in the second innings, edging to slip).

"I think I'm very different," he said. "I've had a lot of time on my hands to practice, especially in Australia. I did a lot of work with Graham Gooch out there, and spent a lot of time watching cricket and learning, meeting new people and learning from them as much as I can, so yes I think I've learned a hell of a lot.

"There's a lot of things I need to improve on but again stuff I need to do well is batting, concentrate on my own game and build an innings. It's recognising different situations in games and getting through them, especially the difficult ones."

Which is precisely why the selectors have picked him. It could be the start of something big.

Morgan's figures

First Class

Matches 57 Runs 3,133 Ave 38.20

50s 13 100s 8

Highest score 209 not out

Test matches

Matches 6 Runs 256 Ave 32.00

50s 0 100s 1

Highest score 130