Perhaps not to renew itself for 500 years, like the legendary bird, but for long enough to meet its own optimistic aspirations and to keep a new congregation gripped. "We have to make sure this new-found popularity endures," said Morgan, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board. "It's a truly wonderful feeling to have achieved what we have, but we're working now to ensure that it's not dissipated."
Fine words, probably no less than you would expect, but Morgan is aware that sentiments alone will not do. The suspicion is that the great victory over Australia, which has supplied the robust platform, came sooner than anybody at the ECB, the head honcho included, expected. There existed already a strategy to meet targets by 2009 but recent events compel swifter action. It covers the normal span from Tests to village green, with the usual conten-tious issue of the county game in between. Internationally, England may well look to review the cycle of the all-important, money-spinning Ashes series, if not their frequency.
Domestically, Morgan seems prepared to use some of the influence bestowed by his office, which runs until March 2007, to press for a return to a one-division County Champ-ionship, which he contends is distinctly possible. More disputably still, he may also advocate a return to three-day cricket. He will also try to insist that the Twenty20 format is not expanded too far.
The Ashes have obviously lifted the game. But Morgan reasonably pointed out that they had simply inflated an already increasing profile. The introduction of Twenty20 two years ago raised county cricket's standing (and its crowds) to a place it had not enjoyed for at least 20 years. In addition, the laying to rest of the Zimbabwe issue, which threatened to tear the ECB apart, and a significant management restructuring, long overdue and necessary if cricket was to gain access to government funds, have provided a well-upholstered vehicle for progress.
England and Australia are both keen to try to change the timing of Ashes series. At present, each World Cup seems to follow England's tour to Australia, which not only provides players with a relentless schedule but provides spectators from the two nations with a surfeit of cricket.
"We will work closely together to optimise Ashes and one-day series between our countries, but to play too much would devalue it," said Morgan. "We have touched on the frequency and the value to each country, and when the Future Tours Programme is finalised we will look at it again."
A more immediate topic for discussion might be the dear old County Championship, which causes many more debates than it has spectators (though that gap is closing, with attendances rising). Morgan has been an unswerving proponent of one division, and lost the original argument with his predecessor, Lord MacLaurin.
"The jury is very definitely out on two divisions," he said. "The former board discussed it informally and it is something we must address. I believe there is real merit in a single Championship, where winning the title would impress everybody.
"To have a two-division Championship in which Lancashire and Yorkshire don't play each other is short-changing the game and the public. If you look at the last few years you will have seen by accident the best bowlers in one division and the best batsmen in the other. What the hell is the point in that?"
Morgan is a mild-mannered fellow who measures his res-ponses to questions with the precision and fastidiousness required to wallpaper the Taj Mahal. So that final comment was a sign of real animation. He has also proven himself an astute politician not to be underestimated. He was MacLaurin's deputy at the ECB and has now won two terms of his own despite the Zimbabwe imbroglio, towards the end of which Tim Lamb, the ECB's long-serving chief executive, left.
It was widely presumed that one of them had to go, and it was Lamb. Morgan does not entirely disabuse you of the notion. "I think there was that perception around. I have never considered resignation because there was a job to do and I was determined to do it. Tim decided it was time for him to move on, but he did a really good job here." But it was Morgan who survived.
While he is fighting for the return of one division with rightly growing support, he may find it difficult to persuade the ECB of a similar return to three days. But he is equally adamant. "It would give the players some rest and it might do wonders to speed the over rate, a real cause for concern. We have 104 overs [a day] at the moment; well, why not 120, because that in itself would do a great service to the game by bringing the spinners back."
On the subject of Twenty20, Morgan sees its natural home as in the English high summer with the long days. But there is a lobby who want it played under lights in April and September. He will also resist international expansion. "We have to be careful not to foul up what has been a wonderful tonic for county cricket."
The greatest present controversy remains TV rights and the ECB's decision to sell them all to Sky, with Test highlights on Five. But the fact is that terrestrial interest was limited. The ECB had no choice unless they were willing to forfeit millions. The choices they make over other less emotive, equally crucial issues will count as much.Reuse content