Has Morgan Passed The Test ?Paul Wood |
Outstanding performances in the limited overs game can act as a springboard to earning the right to have a crack at the sport?s most demanding format – Test cricket. Despite not possessing particularly flattering first-class statistics, Eoin Morgan is seen as a Test cricketer in the making.
His Test match debut against Bangladesh in May of this year came by virtue of his eye-catching ODI and Twenty20 performances that saw him shunted above a number of candidates and into the Test squad. It is not so much due to the fact he has made runs in limited-overs cricket, it is more how he has done so.
A brief overview of Morgan?s career will show he handles the tense situations in one-day cricket exceptionally well, he has played in 50 ODI?s and has an average of just under 40, with a strike rate of around 80. His standing in the ODI game has improved at a dramatic rate.
Comparisons, in terms of First-Class statistics at the time of being handed a Test debut, can be made with Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, two of England?s finest from the last decade. Vaughan was averaging in the mid 30?s when he was first selected for the Test side during that infamous Test in South Africa (Vaughan came to the crease for the first time with England stumbling on 2 for 4), while Trescothick was averaging a tick over 30 when he debuted. Morgan surpasses both with a First-Class average of 36.65 (prior to his inclusion in the Pakistan series).
The point is, Vaughan and Trescothick were identified as potential Test players, they had the requisite qualities to thrive on the biggest stage of all, and Duncan Fletcher?s hunch was indeed proven to be correct, whether Andy Flower?s intuition has the same success, we shall see in due course.
A steely look about the Irishman, and a calm assuredness at the crease in high pressure situations suggest he is made ?of the right stuff?, this is of course true in the shorter formats, Test match cricket brings with it a whole host of new pressures in which Morgan must tick the appropriate boxes, it must be said, the early indications are promising.
His 130 at Trent Bridge came at a time when his side needed him. England had slumped to 118-4, with Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir enjoying the favourable bowling conditions, but it was his partnership of 219 with England?s regular man for a crisis, Paul Collingwood, that turned their innings around.
Much is made of Morgan?s innovative strokeplay, and rightly so. His ability to mess with bowler?s plans by not allowing the bowler to build any pressure with an ability to find the gaps, rotate the strike, and hit the ball into areas captains would not dream of placing a fielder.
His reverse sweep is struck with authority and power, yet this is not, to Morgan, a high risk stroke due to the length of time he spends working on such unorthodoxy. He has forearms like Popeye, the wrist work in some of his shots demonstrate the huge amount of power he possesses. These skills were transferred from the limited-overs arena and onto the Test stage in the aforementioned knock at Nottingham.
Yet along with the innovation, comes a solid ability in nailing the basics as well. His century in the ODI series against Australia saw him combining inventive strokeplay with well timed orthodox cover drives, on the up. Kevin Pietersen captured the imagination of the country with his extravagance, but the foundation of his play was based around a sound conventional skill base.
The injury to Ian Bell in the recent Bangladesh ODI series, gave Flower the opportunity to have an extended look at Morgan, if indeed he was to be the unfortunate one that would have missed out on the starting XI. His performance in the first Test should guarantee he features in all four matches of the series.
My personal concern for Morgan in the longer format is the pace he looks to play his innings. Naturally in one-day cricket he can regularly tick the board over, innovation comes as second nature, the gaps present are comfortably exploited during the middle overs of a 50 over game, the added pressures and scrutiny that come with Test cricket may have Morgan second guessing himself.
He will inevitably be reluctant to take too high a risk with his strokeplay, yet it this that has brought his success in the other forms of the sport. Five day cricket generally influences a more circumspect approach, but should Morgan remain true to his own unique style ?
Andrew Symonds and Yuvraj Singh, two exhilarating ODI performers, are recent examples of players that initially struggled to come to terms with the way to construct Test innings. Unsure in whether they should exhibit their natural positivity, or attempt to remain more patient in true Test style.
Just when Symonds had seemingly mastered the conundrum, his off-field indiscretions brought his Test career to a premature end. With Yuvraj, I suppose the battle continues. He has played 34 Tests but is yet to cement himself in the Indian middle order, and with the impending retirements of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, India will hope he reaches a higher degree of consistency and a deeper understanding of his role and his own game.
It is down to Morgan to strike the right balance. His game will come under much scrutiny during the remaining two Tests of this Pakistan series, how will he cope if Pakistan can keep him quiet during his stay at the crease? Are they able to stop him manipulating the ball into gaps? Is there a weakness in the channel outside his off stump ? We?ll have a clearer idea to the answers of these questions when the selectors convene to discuss the options for Australia.
I anticipate Morgan will become a permenent fixture in this England Test side, but with the competition around for places in the middle order, he may have to continue developing his game and remain patient for a lengthy run in the side. Ian Bell will return to the line-up for the Ashes, and Jonathan Trott is now proving his worth at number three following a winter that raised one or two questions about his form in Test cricket. There will be a scramble for places, and you cannot discount the players currently outside of this squad, like Ravi Bopara for example.
Whatever England’s top six will be in Brisbane for the opening Ashes Test, you know Morgan will get his chance at some stage to show his capabilities on the highest possible stage, and you certainly would not bet against him taking it.