Friday, September 30, 2022

Eoin Morgan takes his leave as England captain with one last act of self-awareness

On the evening of Sunday, 19 June, just after scoring his second duck on England’s tour of the Netherlands, he was sitting in his room at the Westcord Fashion Hotel making notes on the upcoming T20 World Cup. How England will get there, what will they be prepared to do – “the usual run-of-the-mill stuff that I do”, as he said. He went to bed, slept soundly, woke up and decided to retire from international cricket.

Morgan had done a lot of research on the topic of retirement, because of course he had. Over the past three years, he has spoken to various former players about how they came to their decision. “The most common theme is a feeling,” he revealed his findings while sitting in an ECB conference room at Lord’s, before giving his original conclusion: “I always thought they were full of s**t.” Now he knows they weren’t.

“Actually, I used to sit there thinking ‘I’m not sure about that’ … but that’s how it felt on Monday.”

As always in these cases, the feeling was as physical as it was mental. That morning Morgan felt a recurrence of the groin injury. Having previously woken up with that or other injuries (especially in his back), he, at age 35, had developed a system for getting out of bed, then getting through the day. The third and final ODI was due on Wednesday, and perhaps in isolation, Morgan was able to wake himself up to play. But there was no temptation to play, especially not just another one for the road.

“It’s totally unfair,” he said of the prospect of a self-appointed swansong, “and it goes against everything I stand for. I would have just felt like a cheater.

“I had reached the end of the road. Yes, I was out of form. But earlier when I was out of form I was able to see a picture of it. If the team was bullshit, I could Look at a picture of it. I couldn’t even look. And the spirit of the day where the World Cup is in October… It felt a million miles away.”

Stick to your principles. Ruthless for the good of the team. Doing it on your own terms. Controlling an ultimate controllable. If ever there was an Eoin Morgan step-away, it was this one.

The runs had dried up, with just one fifty in 48 domestic and international white-ball innings since the start of 2021. As sharp as his mind was, the command he once held on his noble hands and feet had diminished. Nevertheless, he leaves him as England’s leading run-scorer in men’s ODI and T20I cricket and as the highest run-scorer in both formats. And it speaks to his leadership and the cultural shift he achieved in the white-ball format – now fully entering the red-ball set-up with the help of good friend Brendon McCullum and longtime collaborator Ben Stokes – that his attendance and scoring record would not last long. For example: 36 percent of England’s ODIs have come in his seven-and-a-half years as captain.

The most likely to grab him in the near future is his replacement Jos Buttler. Other challengers will come: those already within the ODI set-up or the county game, those just starting out in the professional game, or those just feeling cricket could be their thing. Such has been Morgan’s influence, the next great white-ball batsman may not have even been born. But when they are, they will reach a world where playing selfless, entertaining cricket is the hallmark of the English. Not so long ago, they weren’t.

In another meeting room of the Lords, not far from where he was sitting, Morgan set out this vision. A year or so before the 2019 World Cup, Morgan attended an ECB marketing meeting where he was interviewed about what he believed his side should represent.

“To encourage respect and unity,” he believed, should be among the performance elements to express himself, which has since led the reformation after the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. He was the cornerstone of the team. None of this would have been good without his tactical prowess on the field.

He spoke with assurance about the next steps: first as a pundit for Sky Sports in the upcoming one-day series, before assessing his domestic and franchise options before completing his postgraduate diploma in strategic leadership and governance, One that will lead to potential opportunities at the boardroom level. He feels it is too early to play a role with the England team, and is happy to advise future captains, but does not want to impose himself or be the sole guiding voice.

In that respect, it felt like one of the better cricket retirements. So many people leave the game for what happens next, who they really are and the worst part is they have left something out there. Here, however, Morgan smiled with the smile of a man without any regret or concern, giving you the sense that he was going to be okay. He reiterated that there will be no fear of winning a possible T20 World Cup this winter or missing out on a 50-over match next year. Apart from sadness, when he realized his retirement that Monday morning, there has been nothing but peace.

It was hard not to be jealous of him. A pathfinder for his game, a totem of elite-level talent, inexhaustible material – being all that and respected by peers and opponents alike. And to be able to walk away from it, no one would have made him, except for comments from the sidelines. Some might say this is another example of his cold, calculating personality, but above all it is his self-awareness: a harsh, emotional call he previously made on others, now for himself.

Because there’s nothing cool in Eoin Morgan’s story. A kid from Rush Cricket Club in County Dublin, whose international debut was at the age of 17 for Ireland against Scotland, who moved to England to do something else, and changed the game forever.

A few feet from Morgan’s seat among the crowd of journalists were the 2010 T20 World Cup and the 2019 50-over World Cup. As a key player in the first and the architect of the second, his attention was drawn to both of them. After leading them inside for a few seconds, remarking how nice it was that they were with him, he noticed something. “I think it’s a replica,” he said. “I do. I don’t think it’s the real thing.” What it represented, however, was something real.

“It just reminded me of the journey, four years or whatever until 2018. Hardest, most challenging times but most enjoyable. And then what was 2019, it ended here in the finals, just unbelievable. With the best people If possible, then yes, good timing.”

Morgan told those “best people” about his decision last week since he was back in the United Kingdom. “It was so emotional. I thought they would all be happy to kick me out the door, but I’m so lucky to get to know some of the characters in the group and go through those moments in their lives on the farm.”

The response to the people he described was widely disappointing, ranging from “really disappointed” to the admission of fighting to tears. To him, Morgan has been more than a captain. He’s been a brother in arms, topping the invitation list for weddings and christenings for the longest time. He was dubbed “The Baby Whisperer” by some families in the England set-up because of how good he is with children, and it was especially pleasing to see his wife and daughter by his side for his announcement.

Of course, Morgan has been there for many of them, even during difficult times. And there is no doubt that the generation of England players who won or contributed to the success of the 2019 World Cup will still be as close in 20 years’ time as the environment Morgan has created.

“Whatever the World Cup means, we don’t necessarily talk about this moment the whole time,” Morgan said. “It could be the day someone made their debut, the day someone had a baby and missed a match. Just different experiences. Those are the moments you share and cherish.”

Morgan will go down in the books as a captain who changed English cricket for the better, an influence whose influence will resonate for generations. But he was basically a man who thought that cricket was a sport that could be enjoyed by all and questioned why things needed to be done a certain way. And in doing so, he enriched the lives of those he led and, in turn, enriched the lives of those who watched. No matter how cold, calculative and unremarkable he seemed by the end, there was nothing but warmth at its core.

ESPNcricinfo. Vithushan Ehanthraja is a Sportswriter for

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