Morgan seizes rare chance to shine but is still in the shade of those above him

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The Independent Online

Eoin Morgan is dealing in much more than scraps. But batsmen of his class – and especially those itching to seal their place in a successful Test side – dream of making big hundreds, not pretty half-centuries.

The good news for Morgan is that England clearly believe in him. They picked the Dubliner last summer when Ian Bell was nursing a broken foot, took him to Australia in the winter as cover for their established top six and then, a month ago, decided that he – rather than closest rival Ravi Bopara – should be given first shot at replacing the newly retired Paul Collingwood.

Morgan could not ask for much more than being invited to join a team rippling with confidence after winning the Ashes – it sure as anything beats walking into an outfit that cannot guess where the next victory is coming from. But, if anything, the players above him in the order are doing their jobs a little too well for England's No 6 to shine as brightly as he might like.

The pattern was set in Australia, where England's top order combined superbly in every Test bar the one lost at Perth. Even with Collingwood unable to contribute so much as a fifty, Morgan never looked like playing anything other than the 12th-man role.

As for this summer, well at least he is on the inside looking out, rather than the other way around. But thanks to Alastair Cook and Bell continuing to bat like princes, Jonathan Trott making a double hundred in Cardiff and Kevin Pietersen rediscovering his silver, if not quite golden, touch, Morgan has spent many an hour admiring his team-mates from the dressing-room balcony.

This final match of the series against Sri Lanka could have been different. Although England made a stuttering start to their innings, they were back in control by the time Morgan walked to the middle yesterday to join Bell. But because of the numerous interruptions for bad weather over the first three days, the need to press on was far more important than reaching personal milestones.

Few batsmen are better equipped than the 24-year-old Middlesex batsman to thrive in those circumstances. It was at the Rose Bowl, almost exactly 12 months ago, that Morgan scored a quite brilliant unbeaten 103 against Australia in a one-day international, thereby adding significantly to his already enviable reputation as a limited-overs player of rare ability.

It was to no one's surprise, then, that Morgan did exactly the job England wanted yesterday. Without any fuss, and by playing orthodox (rather than inventive) cricket shots most of the time, he outscored the purring Bell in a stand of 137 that took England to the point of declaration.

Bell's century was richly deserved – and Sri Lanka coach, Stuart Law, paid him a typically colourful compliment and said: "He's becoming a pain in the backside." Morgan could have had a hundred just as good, though, but for the pressure of time. In the end, he fell to a catch behind while advancing up the pitch to meet seamer Suranga Lakmal and departed for 71, made from 110 balls.

Morgan has now played nine Tests and his average of 38 is decent enough to be getting along with. But it is this summer's second series, against No 1 ranked India, that may give him a real chance to show exactly what he is made of.

It is a challenge Morgan will want to rise to, as he did when playing his best Test innings to date. England were in some difficulty at 118 for 4 against Pakistan last July when Morgan arrived in the middle at Trent Bridge to face the Mohammads, Amir and Asif. The response? A match-turning knock of 130.

There is no chance of Morgan moving up the batting order in the foreseeable future so he must accept whatever situation presents itself – be it scoring quick runs, as was the case yesterday, or digging the team out of trouble should they start to flounder.

"Morgs is going to become a very good Test cricketer and he is a perfect man for these different situations," Bell said. "Hopefully, he will grow all the time."