MANCHESTER: Prior to England’s game against Pakistan two weeks ago in Nottingham, Eoin Morgan was asked what the reason was behind his terrific poker face. Morgan’s reply was a straightforward: “That’s how I always look. There’s no secret.”
This comes from an international player who has played 221 ODIs and is the captain of England. If you notice carefully, while batting, there is hardly an emotion on Morgan’s face – hundred or not. If you shake hands with Morgan, he simply accepts it with a brief smile. When England lost the final of the 2016 World T20, their players were down on the ground. Morgan was right there, shaking hands, patting his guys on the back. He made it look as if the match was just starting.
Things change. Even the toughest nudge. On Tuesday, when Eoin Morgan clubbed his 11th six to bring up a century, there was a wide grin on his face. Much like the people in the stands and those in the media box, Morgan was having a ball in the middle of a six-fest. He hammered 17 biggies; connected them all, the most by player in an ODI innings, overtaking the likes of Rohit Sharma, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle, perhaps the best clean hitter the game has seen.
It was an elite company to join, and given the zone Morgan was batting in, he would have had to get himself tested had an expression not graced his face Tuesday.
Morgan has always been capable of the big sixes, but the way he batted Tuesday makes you wonder whether Afghanistan’s bowling was really that bad, or was Morgan simply that good. In the first ten overs, England were 46 without loss, their lowest Powerplay score this World Cup. From there, they finished three short of what would have been the tournament’s first 400. When Morgan came out to bat, England were 164 in 30 overs, which depicts Afghanistan were doing something right after all.
However, by the time Morgan left, carnage had taken over the Old Trafford stadium. Records had been smashed. The highest total by England in the World Cup, the highest total in this World Cup, among many others. A total of 25 sixes were hit, more than England managed the previous World Cup. And this, when there was no Jason Roy, and Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes combined for just four runs. Captain Morgan had arrived.
Consider this. Morgan had struck four sixes within the first 30 balls he faced. Afghanistan could have saved themselves from the bashing had Dawlat Zadran held on to an easy chance at deep midwicket. Zadran spilled it and Morgan never looked back. What unfolded from that point onward was some audacious, inhumane and merciless beatdown of a bowling line-up which has shown a knack of surprising opponents.
Spare a thought for Rashid Khan, who is not just a hot commodity in Afghanistan, but in world cricket, the No 3-ranked bowler, one they say who is never easy to get away with. Prior to this, the most Rashid had conceded in an innings was 68. Tuesday, he bled 110, in nine overs. He conceded 11 sixes, seven of which were thumped by Morgan. Result: England had plundered 125 in the last eight overs. If there were any thoughts of a troubled back, Morgan dispelled it rather emphatically.
Alastair Cook, Morgan’s predecessor had a total of 10 sixes in his career. Morgan had scored seven more in one knock. It’s a remarkable number, for it not only sums up Morgan’s flow, but demonstrates the 360-degree turn England have taken under him. The 2015 World Cup was when Morgan was thrusted into captaincy after the Cook was sacked. The campaign culminated with England getting brutally eliminated by Bangladesh. Morgan admitted it was “one of the worst times” of his career. Four years later, he has transformed the side into world-beaters. Last year, England beat Australia 5-0, beat Sri Lanka on their soil, and most importantly, went past India to become the No-1 ranked side in the world.
Since last July, Morgan has averaged 83.75 in ODI cricket at a strike rate of 112.04 with two centuries and nine half-centuries in 18 innings. He has led from the front in every way possible. In recent years, cricket’s visibility in England and Wales has declined to an extent that the World Cup 2019 is only available in the country via subscription. More so, during the first week of the World Cup in London, as long as you did not approach the stadium, you wouldn’t have known if there was a World Cup actually taking place in England. Ahead of the tournament opener featuring England and South Africa, the first two pages of The Times had given weightage to football, and cricket did not come up till you were almost done reading. Three weeks into the tournament, England are right up there.
Before the start of the tournament, Morgan had spoken about how he and his team are looking to inspire a generation of youngsters to take up cricket. By the end of it, winners or not, this Morgan-led England side promises to have inched a lot closer towards accomplishing its goal.