Morgan’s 17 sixes were a record in one-day international cricket but that raw figure – and the landmark itself – does not do justice to the sheer brilliance and brutality of a 71-ball innings that saw England’s captain plunder a career-best 148.
Indeed, it says much about how far England have come that Morgan hit just one six fewer than the total number that his team managed during the entire 2015 World Cup.
Just four days previously Morgan had been unable to bat against the West Indies in Southampton after suffering a back spasm. But you didn’t need to be a doctor to see he had made a full recovery as he eviscerated Afghanistan’s bowling attack.
In the process, England also claimed the record for most sixes hit by a single team in this format – 25 – as they went through the gears after a slow start to plunder 397 for six from their 50 overs.
Yes, this may be Afghanistan, the lowest-ranked team in the competition, but this was still a statement performance with the bat from the tournament hosts and one that puts them on top of the World Cup standings for 24 hours at least.
“I’m getting quite old, running around with a bad back,” said Morgan. “I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d produce an innings like that.
“It was a tough game, Afghanistan are a side with a lot of potential and it’s the World Cup. We’re loving playing in it. On the big stage, it is nice to do. This is where it matters. All the work over last four years, in my career so far, it all comes to the fore now.”
The fact England were unable to bowl out Afghanistan, who made their highest World Cup total of 247 for eight, will be a minor concern.
But the story of this match – England’s fifth in the competition – came with the bat and, specifically, the bat of Morgan.
England were 154 for two in the 30th over when they lost Jonny Bairstow, who had batted sensibly to make 90 from 99 balls during a 120-run stand with Joe Root.
But sensible is not the default setting for this England team. Over the last four years there has been a stark transformation and it was apt that it was Morgan, the man who has championed and cultivated this fearless approach, who took this contest from the mundane to the spectacular.
A word must go to Root, who continued his fine recent form with 88 from 82 balls. Yet he was outshone here.
Root had been on 45 when his captain came to the crease. It wasn’t long before he was overtaken.
The pyrotechnics that followed would never have happened had Dawlat Zadran held on to a simple chance in the deep when Morgan was on just 28.
Instead, Dawlat lost the ball in the flight, stuck out a hand and watched it strike his palm before it limped to the boundary.
It summed up an embarrassing effort in the field from Afghanistan.
Morgan made them pay, hitting 120 more runs in the next 46 balls he faced. Not even Dawlat’s three wickets, including James Vince for a typically Vince-like 26 early on after he had come into the team to replace the injured Jason Roy and the late dismissals of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, could make up for his catastrophic error in the field.
The turbo-charged innings from Morgan helped England hit 198 runs from the final 15 overs. The coup de grace came when he bludgeoned his record-breaking six from the fifth ball of the 47th over bowled by Gulbadin to move past the mark of 16 previously set by Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers and Rohit Sharma.
It really didn’t matter when he fell the next ball, locating Rahmat Shah at long off. His work was done.
Moeen Ali then ensured England broke their own team record, set against the West Indies at Grenada in February, by taking Rashid Khan for two sixes in the 49th over. The leg-spinner is regarded as the one of the best young talents in the game. But his 110 runs conceded from nine overs here were the most expensive figures in World Cup history.
At halfway, it was always a case of when not if England would win this match. Jofra Archer got the ball rolling in the second over of Afghanistan’s reply, bowling Noor Ali Zadran for a two-ball duck.
Gulbadin followed in the 12th over, top-edging Mark Wood behind.
Rahmat Shah succumbed to a full toss in Adil Rashid’s first over to leave his team on 103 for three at the halfway mark of their innings.
But the expected collapse never came, a 94-run fourth-wicket stand between Hashmatullah Shahidi and Asghar Afghan frustrating England for 29 overs before the latter edged Rashid to slip.
Rashid then had Mohammad Nabi caught in the deep to finish with figures of three for 66 from his 10 overs.
There were further late wickets for Archer, bowling the excellent Hashmatullah for 76 then having Khan caught in the deep, and Wood. Yet the result was a foregone conclusion long before then.
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