x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Morgan is happy to switch allegiances

Eoin Morgan, the Irishman with all of the unorthodox shots, is happy to be playing in the blue of England this week.

Eoin Morgan scores the winning runs on his England debut against the West Indies and he will be back in his adopted nation's colours for the World Twenty20.
Eoin Morgan scores the winning runs on his England debut against the West Indies and he will be back in his adopted nation's colours for the World Twenty20.

An old Irish proverb says quiet people are well able to look after themselves. In the case of Eoin Morgan, the Dubliner who has exchanged the emerald green of Ireland for the royal blue of England it is most certainly true. Yet there is an audible chatter surrounding the left-handed batsman, 22, as his adopted team prepare for the World Twenty20 tournament which they host from Friday.

If innovation is rewarded in the format then the world is soon to learn about the boy who made the leap across the Irish Sea. Morgan has played strokes for his county, Middlesex, which are extraordinary in the English game. Kevin Pietersen's switch hit? Morgan did it first. And he has stolen a march on England's best batsman by perfecting a shot no one quite knows what to call. He shapes to play a reverse sweep but instead of hitting across the line of the ball he turns his hands so the bottom of his bat is pointing at the bowler.

He then pulls the blade towards him as if raking the garden of leaves so he hits the ball behind and past the wicketkeeper on the orthodox leg side. You have to see it to believe, which is why the YouTube footage has been watched by thousands and left journalists, who watched him use it in his brilliant 161 at Canterbury against Kent in the Friends Provident Trophy last month, open mouthed. "I've never seen it before," said one. "Oh," came Morgan's matter of fact reply, living up to his reputation as one who speaks softly but wields a big bat with wizardry.

His innings at Canterbury, when he plundered his runs, including 19 fours and two sixes, from 136 balls led the Kent captain Rob Key, who will be a teammate over the coming weeks, to admit that he couldn't set a field for him. "That's nice to hear," Morgan said quietly in an unmistakable Dublin drawl before chuckling to himself. He then left a few seconds of silence before he realises he might need to elaborate.

"I guess as a batsman that's what you want to hear. "That's always sort of been my role, to get the ball into gaps and frustrate the fielding side. "No one said to me 'you've gotta do it', it's just something that I've taken to after messing about in the nets. "You hit on something and think that you might keep doing it until you try it out in a match." That could have been Pietersen, who developed the switch hit which wowed the world, talking.

But Pietersen's shot was one borne from a bond between brute arrogance and brute strength. Morgan's has a more charming story. "Someone told me that the sports you play as youngster never leaves you and there will always be a hint of them in whatever sport you compete in," he says. "I played hurling at school and the thing is the grip is very similar to playing a reverse sweep shot in cricket so I guess that's why I can do it."

England are desperate for wristy batsmen to help turn around their fortunes in one-day cricket, starting with the World Twenty20, which on home soil gives them the opportunity to improve on their woeful record in the shortest format of the game. Of the top eight sides only New Zealand and West Indies have a worse win percentage than England (49 per cent). West Indies humiliated England in a one-off Twenty20 international in the spring and one of the charges levelled against them was their inability to think on their rooted-to-the-crease feet.

"I didn't see that game," says Morgan, who was honing his skills with the England Lions in New Zealand, the second-string to the national team. "But I know my improvisation was one of the reasons for getting the call up. "I wouldn't say that I'm bringing extra nous to the team because they're all fine players, but I hope I can help "That's the great thing about Twenty20. You've got to be open minded so the young guys can suggest things to the old guys and it gets like a brain-storm session.

"Flexibility is the key. A bowler and captain can set their field for specific conditions but they don't move around or change as the bowler runs in as I do. Both the fielding side and batting side have to adapt ball by ball." Morgan's decision to represent England is not without criticism, or precedent. Morgan, a winner with Middlesex in last year's Twenty20 Cup, drew some spiky comments from the Ireland manager Roy Torrens at news of the defection.

Torrens' fire was no doubt stirred by the fact that news broke when Morgan was on his way to a fluent half-century for Ireland against Canada in the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa in April. "It's never been a secret that my ambition has been to play for England so when I found out I had been selected I took a lot of confidence from that," says Morgan. "A lot of people ask whether it's a problem that I've left Ireland for England but everyone in Irish cricket knows the situation.

"Some people have said 'oh, it wouldn't happen in football' but that's extreme, they don't know about Irish cricket. "I mean it could have been awkward that I was with Ireland at the time but it has never been like that, everyone was delighted for me. All the lads gave me a pat on the back." One of the first on the phone offering congratulations was Ed Joyce, Morgan's former Middlesex colleague and the previous Irishman to play for England.

Joyce, who opened the batting against Ireland in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, would not have been slow with advice but Morgan is not letting on what it was. "He's a good friend and a mentor. We used to sit next to each other in the dressing room so we would always be talking about the game," he says. "I know how tough it's going to be at the top level because Ed scored a century for England against Australia and only a few matches later they dropped him.

"We've had a chat about stuff that's for sure." Morgan did not have much opportunity to put Joyce's words of wisdom to the test as he batted only twice, scoring two not out and five not out, in his two matches for England in the one-day series against West Indies last month. "It was awesome," he says. It cannot be long, however, before the man nicknamed Mork - because of his similarity to Robin Williams - makes his mark.

Despite their frustration, Ireland have known, deep down, for years that Morgan was a special talent whose thirst for success could never be slaked by the small-time. He represented them at all age groups, was part of the team for the Under 19 2004 World Cup, top scoring for his team in the process, and two years later in the same competition as captain he scored more runs than any other batsman.

Even Abu Dhabi cricket fans will have recognised Morgan as a name to remember. In 2007 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in the capital against the UAE he became the first Irishman to hit a first-class double century. The third-wicket partnership between Morgan and Andre Botha was worth eventually 360, both an Irish and Intercontinental Cup record. His 209 was the highlight of Ireland's victory by an innings and 170 runs.

"I've got a good record there, it would be good to go back to the UAE," he says. "Middlesex were out there for pre-season but I missed the trip because I was with Ireland in South Africa. "The lads were just wowed by [Dubai] Sports City. "Perhaps when they start playing more international matches I might be able to boost my runs total over there a bit more." ehawkins@thenational.ae