Why understated risk taker Eoin Morgan deserves more credit

Before you think about criticising Eoin Morgan for all of his apparent misgivings, have some perspective for what he’s done to make his career happen.

In Morgan, England have an understated risk taker, driven by his convictions, but of late, disliked for three main things.

These things are a lack of form, what appeared to be a lack of commitment to playing Tests, and an impression he demands special treatment.

Firstly, he’d scored just 328 runs at an average of under 30 in 2016. For many, he was first in line for the chopping block if the team didn’t do so well.

Secondly, before the West Indies, he said he has given up on ever playing Tests again, and he would be available for the IPL again.

This is despite having played his last First Class game in July 2015 for Middlesex (nearly two years ago).

For many this appears as if he’s picking and chosing when he wants to play for England, and it’s not fair It’s certainly not OK for him ti complain about non-selection in a format he isn’t playing.

Thirdly,  and most significantly, when England toured Bangladesh, he didn’t go. Out of the three elements to the undermining of his authority, this is probably the fairest criticism; that said – he did it without platitude-filled press conferences or sob stories. He made his position clear, and many didn’t like it, but at least he gave the side a chance to prepare.

These things slowly eroded some of Morgan’s authority, and it’s a bit unfair.  He isn’t perfect, but don’t he’s risked a lot to get where he is.

Firstly, appreciate how hard he has worked not only on his form, but also to build this team up.

In 2016, Morgan had a torrid time, but he’s made up for it in 2017, with 300 runs in six innings, including two centuries.

Secondly, realise that Morgan  has time and time again sacrificed his career for England.

He quit playing for his native Ireland to try and play for England. A tough thing to do, with no guarantees. He succeeded, but was then dropped.  Undeterred, he quit the IPL to re-stake a claim in the Test side, and when it was apparent he wouldn’t play in whites again, he refocused his career once more.

He didn’t sulk – he focussed on playing ODI cricket, and has succeeded.  As England’s ODI captain, he’s now fifth on the list of most matches as skipper, with a better win percentage than three of the four men ahead of him). Only Michael Vaughan is better, which is impressive company.

And, aside from the poor world cup performance, Morgan’s side is formidable. This England team has power hitting, genuine allrounders, spinners, quick bowlers, and dynamic fielding.

You can’t complain he won’t play Tests, and he wants to play in the IPL, but revel in his successes for England in ODI. It’s precisely because Morgan has specialised, that this young side has become so strong.

Eoin Morgan may not have fulfilled his potential in some areas of the game, but nobody should doubt his commitment to England.

Stuart Broad would be England’s first Australian captain

 

Following the resignation of Alastair Cook, the possibility of Stuart Broad succeeding him has surfaced, which would inject a very Australian feeling into England.

Stuart Broad is hated by Australia so much, that one wonders if they’re just a bit jealous.

The Aussies can dish out hard talk and aggressive cricket, and Broad can take it, and give back the same.

They don’t like him because they see a bit of them in him.

Before even thinking about his performances, the single moment etched into the Old Enemy’s minds when it comes to Broad, will be an infamous incident at Trent Bridge in 2013.

Broad hit the ball to slip, but stood his ground as the Australians celebrated his wicket. The arrogance, watch the ball carry, but just stand there as if nothing had happened.

In many ways, a new love-hate relationship was sparked.

Australians have always mocked the English. Indeed, the Ashes was born after a mock-obituary of English cricket was published in a British paper, The Sporting Times.

Mocking the English been the cornerstone of the relationship, and when the Aussies are losing, they target those who don’t fit that mould of polite bumbling ‘Englishness’.

In 2005, they used to target Kevin Pietersen, with his ridiculous hairstyle and supposed playboy lifestyle. And it spurred him on. When he smashed Glenn McGrath onto the Lord’s pavilion, he gained respect. When he saved the Oval Test with 158, he gained respect, with Shane Warne walking him off the pitch.

In 2013/14 down under, they went for Broad.

The Courier Mail refused to print his name.

When ‘The 27-year old medium pace bowler’ as he (Broad) was referred to, had a good tour taking 21 wickets, amidst a crisis for England,  he won respect.

Broad won respect not only because he bowled well, but because he showed doesn’t get wound up by the opposition’s sledges, or the press.

Indeed, during that 2013/14 series’, he even walked into press conferences with a copy of the Courier Mail, to show that he could take the piss too.

With ball in hand, on number of occasions throughout his career, he has virtually single-handedly won games in a spell.

No more so was this show, than when he took 8-15 against Australia in Nottingham to win the game, or the 10-wicket hall in Durham, to win the game, or 5-37 at the Oval in 2009, to win the game.

Stuart Broad’s 8-15 at Nottingham:

Stuart Broad’s 5-37 at the Oval:

Whether it’s Broad ability to get under the opposition’s skin by being unflappable, or his knack of bowling out Australia on his own, he has shown he can both take it and dish it out.

Now of course, if he were to become Test captain, a lot of things would need to be worked on.

He’d need to manage his own bowling workload, which is always difficult for a bowling captain.

He’d certainly need to rethink his use of reviews and the frequency of his appeals.

But in general, a Broad captaincy would be a breath of fresh air from five years of robotic, grinding predictable Alastair Cook.

It would be a more Australian flavour of English captaincy.

Cook’s inflated greatness

Alastair Cook is the first English batsman to break into an elite of modern-great players, but his career has been inflated by how much England play.

Without a doubt, England’s captain is one of the greatest English batsmen ever. He will no doubt be one of the best Test batsman ever too, by the end of his career.

Yet, he has had a big advantage, in that he plays more than double the amount of cricket as some of his closest contemporaries.

Of the top 20 batsmen on the ‘most Test runs list’ of all time, only Allan Border, Graham Gooch and Javed Minded retired before the year 2000. The record books have been redefined in the last 15-20 years, and England kind of missed the boat, with England’s captain one of only two Englishmen in the top 25 top run-scorers ever.

The main reason Cook is viewed with such admiration in world cricket, is not because of his swashbuckling style or awe-inspiring power; but because he’s the first.

He has been playing in the golden age of batting, in the shadows of legends such as Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis.

His breakthrough into the top 10 is historic, and is on top of an array of other impressive records he has been piling up.

But he isn’t in the same category of greatness as Lara, Tendulkar or Kallis.

Cook is a grinder, not a genius.

Bowlers don’t fear him.

And, if he was playing in any other team, he probably wouldn’t have the amount of runs he does.

Out of the top 15 Test run scorers in history, Cook plays the most Tests per year, on average, which is a major advantage when it comes to accumulating runs.

  • Sachin Tendulkar played 200 played Tests between 1989-2013 = 8.3 Tests per year 
  • Ricky Ponting played 168 Tests between 1995 – 2012 = 9.8 Tests per year 
  • Jacques Kallis played 166 Tests between 1996 – 2013 – = 9.8 Tests per year 
  • Rahul Dravid played 164 Tests between 1996  -2012 = 10.25 Tests per year 
  • Kumar Sangakkara played 134 Tests between 2000 – 2015  = 8.9 Tests per year 
  • Brian Lara – 131 played Tests between 1990- 2006 = 8.18 Tests per year 
  • Shiv Chanderpaul played 164 Tests between 1994 – 2015 = 7.8 Tests per year  
  • Mahela Jayawardene played 149 Tests between 1997 – 2014 = 8.7 Tests per year  
  • Allan Border played 156 played 1979 Tests between 1994 = 10.4 Tests per yea  
  • Steve Waugh played 168 Tests between 1985 – 2004 = 8.84
  • Sunil Gavaskar played 125 – Tests between 1971-1987 = 7.8 Tests per year 
  • Younis Khan played* 115 Tests between 2000-2017 = 6.7 Tests per year 
  • Graeme Smith played 117 Tests between 2002-2014  = 9.75 Tests per year
  • Graham Gooch – played 118 Tests between 1975-1995 = 5.9 Tests per year 

Alastair Cook played* 140 Tests between 2006-2016 = 140 Tests  in 10 years = 14 Tests per year.

A mind-boggling amount of cricket.

In other words, Cook is a great player, of that there is no question.

But he is also a player that has had, in some cases, double the amount of playing time as others in the same bracket.

If any other batsman on this distinguished list, with a bigger average (all of them) or a more dominating batting style (again, probably all of them), had the opportunity to play 14 Tests a year, they’d get a lot more runs, obviously.

Not for one moment would I challenge Cook’s right to be in the upper-echelons of cricketing greatness.  He’s the best batsman England have ever had arguably. But if he ends up at the top of the pile at the end of his career, it doesn’t make him the greatest.

When looking at ‘the best’, it’s not just about numbers.

It’s about how. It’s about the rate at which greats accumulated their greatness.

A legacy over a goodbye

Every fan is invested in the career of their favourite players, and I’d rather remember a great legacy like that of Kumar Sangakkara than a grand goodbye like Sachin’s.

I loved watching Brian Lara.

I was upset when Lara retired, not just because he would be no more, but because I felt he went prematurely. He retired in 2006/7, when he was 36, but when I was just 13.

This feeling of being robbed of some sumptuous Lara runs was compounded when contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Shiv Chanderpaul and others, continued right until they were 40.

The question of when to go is really a dilemma that bugs fans as well as players.

On the one hand, you want to see your favourite players play on and on, but on the other hand, everyone forges a legacy, that must end at some point.

I remember Lara walking off in his final innings, thinking that he could have carried on, but in recent years, I’ve had to change my view.

His abrupt ending was not right, but at the same time, Sachin Tendulkar’s legacy was arguably tarnished by his decision to play on too long.

He played on until 2013, when he was 40. But he had scored just over 500 runs in his last 15 Tests. He was playing for numbers and records, chasing a nice figures, like getting to 200 Tests, 100 international hundreds, and 15,000 runs.

Like the three bears, if Sachin played too long, Lara was cut off prematurely, one batsman got it just right, and is perhaps the model for future great retirees.

Despite being fifth on the all-time Test run scoring list, Kumar Sangakkara is so often overlooked as a true ‘great’.

But, perhaps one hallmark of greatness, is knowing when to quit.

His exit was slow, starting with International retirement in 2015, done at a time when he could have continued. He scored 1,400runs in 2014, averaging over 70. He left us wanting more.

Despite no more international ambition, unlike Sachin and Brian Lara, after retiring Kumar Sangakkara climbed down to domestic cricket. He scored a thousand First Class runs for Surrey, averaged in the mid-forties in List A cricket, and got through 46 T20s in 2016.

He recognised that retirement is a process that requires the sequential relinquishing of responsibilities.

This week, in an interview with Island Cricket, the Sri Lankan Legend shows no regrets. Speaking about his retirement, he said: “..my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish [to continue].

“..in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it..”

He fulfilled his desire to carry on in some capacity, whilst not jeopardising the legacy he’d built up.

Sadly, he has got to the bottom rung of the ladder.

He has just been dropped by his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes after scoring just 173 runs at 14.41 without a fifty.

Damian Wright, the coach spoke about dropping Sangakkara, saying it “was comfortably the hardest thing I’ve had to do… because of the quality person that he is”. He says: “You could feel he probably knew it was coming. He was pretty apologetic that he hasn’t gone as well he would have liked it.’”

Retirement might be hard, but remembering a batsman’s retirement is the biggest curse a player can have.

I’ll remember Sachin walking down the steps for the last time, and I’ll remember Lara walking off for the last time. I can’t remember Sanga’s last Test.

He showed no regrets about retirement or bitterness from his decline. He showed no greed to carry on for Sri Lanka, but a hunger to continue in another capacity.

Not being able to remember Sangakkara’s finale is the biggest complement one can pay him.

Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor.

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

screenshot-2016-11-15-23-06-43

screenshot-2016-11-15-23-07-12

India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

Taskin should play county cricket, before Tests

Bangladesh produce plenty of talent, but too often it’s squandered and ground into the dirt. With their latest new hope, they should take some time to nurture that potential instead of throwing him prematurely into the lion’s den.

Taskin Ahmed is just 21-years old, but after moderate limited overs success, he is already being drafted into the Banglesh side’s squad for the longest format against England.

He would be an ideal Test bowler. He has good pace, the ability to move the ball and a very economical action. Having had success in limited overs cricket, it’s also clear he knows how to use variations and keep his nerve.

He is reminiscent of a young right-arm Chaminda Vaas in some respects.

The prospect of drafting this young seamer into the Test side has been criticised as having the capacity to ‘destroy‘ him, by Head coach Chandika Hathurusingha.

Hathurusingha says the move would be damaging because Taskin isn’t accostomed to the format, having last played a First Class game in 2013.

If Bangladesh want to see Taskin have a long and prosperous career, which one would assume they do, then airlifting him into Test cricket isn’t a good idea.

I know it’s months away, but the best option for a bowler of his ability and that his stage of his career, is to hone his skills for the long term future.

He should be playing some domestic cricket in more seamer friendly conditions, the UK.

Taskin would be ideal for county cricket, and it would perhaps a watershed moment for Bangladesh, in having an overseas player in England, which isn’t common.

Over the last 20-years, Bangladesh have snatched at young talent.

They’ve smothered their ability to grow, and one once-exciting prospect after another has fizzled away, because they were thrown into the deep end too early.

Taskin is a bowler of immense potential, and needs to be given more time and experience to hone his skills.

I know it is hard to stomach for Bangladesh fans, as they want their star man to be ready now. But he should wait a little longer, and build up both the hunger and skills necessary for longer-form cricket.

All he’d need is a county willing to take on a young enthusiastic bowler, and for Taskin to be willing to travel.

 

England and Pakistan – opposites attract

For all the professionalism that defines the rigid structure of English cricket, Pakistan are a reminder that there is another way to the top.

Modern cricket can feel a world away from the game we all play on weekends as amateurs.

But with Pakistan, there is a certain sense of rawness and unorthodoxy, that I certainly identify with.

The international format is a saturated with non-cricketing elements, which ‘ordinary’ players and fans don’t have access too. The coaches, the equipment, analysis  and predictions (what’s WASP?!), the data, and of course, not to mention facilities.

It all feels a little sterile – like the cricket just needs to be played out like some kind of formula that’s been predetermined. 

The logic behind the professionalisation of cricket, is to not just turn up on the day and play your best, as was the case 40-years ago.

But, it was for players try to ready themselves for any situation. They work on their techniques, plan ahead, predict what’s going to happen to outthink the opponent. 

But England are up against a side which has a similar skill level, but a different approach. They have largely been bought up on a diet of informal cricket, and it colours the way they play. 

They learned to play through street cricket, tape ball cricket, and playing with poorer access to facilities. They aren’t a team that have been prepped at private schools, before being sent to Loughborough Academy, spending hours in batting clinics.

There’s nothing wrong with that method – but Pakistani cricketers haven’t had it. Their experience is one of being moulded by their conditions, and learning their skills without needing the professionalised structures.

They have got to where they are with less than the English cricketers in general.

Their cricket is more unconventional and raw; rooted in natural ability, as opposed to honed skill.

It has its benefits and drawbacks. It caught England off guard at Lord’s, and England were able to do their homework and bounce back hard in the second and third Tests.

This series’ over the summer hasn’t just been between England and Pakistan.

It’s also been between orthodoxy and professionalism against a heartier form of unconventional cricket.

England’s rigid approach and Pakistan’s more fluid and unpredictable nature, has made this series’ and intriguing encounter.

In many ways, these sides are polar opposites – in style and approach – but there’s also a clear comparison between their abilities that makes for a compelling and attractive form of Test cricket.