England: Eoin Morgan foils the Selectors

One wondered whether in the midst of their gargantuan partnership for England Lions against Sri Lanka whether Samit Patel was tempted to turn to Eoin Morgan and utter as Graham Gooch once did to Ian Botham, “who writes your scripts?” Because this was certainly one of those moments of which star turns are made, despite the relatively humble surroundings in which it came.

Eoin Morgan flown back from the IPL last week where he was shunted around, failed to score runs, without little more than practice against net bowling to get him into the groove for first class cricket was being thrown in at the deep end for what was effectively a straight shootout for a Test spot against a man who has made all the right noises, done all the right things and scored all the right runs.

Yet despite all those odds, those questionmarks, once he got out into the middle they all quickly melted away. His form was good, his eye importantly was good. That aura and authority which has been eroded after more than six months kicking his heels on tour with England was back. Suddenly you remembered quite why he was the likely candidate for the Test team as he dominated spin and seam with that touch of class and steely glint in his eye which is now his trademark.

If this were a straight shoot-out then Morgan would be winning it. Perhaps not considerably, but certainly on points after Ravi Bopara lucked out and left for a low score. Yet the fact remains, that this was never a straight shootout. It was never going to be Morgan vs Bopara, or Bopara vs Hildreth vs Morgan vs Taylor because the selectors have made their bed, and Bopara is going to lie in it.

They were probably hoping, deep down that Morgan would fail here. It would make it all the more easier to pick Bopara over him on the basis of batting form. Yet now that’s gone, and if Bopara is picked and fails against opposition he has struggled in against Test cricket before, then the clamour for Morgan will intensify even further especially after an innings like this.

England selectors may have hoped for things to become that little bit clearer after their Derby trip, yet Morgan has simply muddied the waters even further.

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The IPL Auction: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For the purists the IPL is the work of cricket’s version is an evil, a Twenty20 cashcow corrupting the purer form of the game. Yet look beyond the hyperbole (which the IPL does very well) and there is something about it, a strange alluring attraction of seeing the world’s best players congregated together.

Nothing is more attractive than seeing the world’s best players being valued and sold off to the highest bidder at will. It is a means of quantifying value and skill-something normally measured purely by runs and wickets.

Meanwhile it also throws up the intriguing prospect of spicy encounters ensuing, Shane Warne and Paul Collingwood or Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds will certainly enjoy sharing dressing rooms.

So here’s a look at the IPL auction and those who could prove value for money, those that probably won’t and those who probably never would have in the first place.

The Hits

Shakib Ul-Hasan ($425,000: Kolkata Knight Riders)

The world’s best all-rounder according to ICC and a steal at that price. Capable spinner, capable batsmen and a proven international who has been pivotal in Bangladesh’s recent resurgence. This could be the tournament which catapults him onto the world stage.

Davy Jacobs ($190,000: Mumbai Indians)

Proven T20 performer with the Warriors and an explosive opening batsman who showed his capability in last year’s Champions League. With other big hitters fetching top dollar, the South African could prove to be a steal at that price.

Aaron Finch ($300,000: Delhi Daredevils)

About to make his Australia T20 debut and you can be sure that his value will skyrocket if he performs well. Delhi will be delighted to have snapped him up before he can showcase his talents.

Eoin Morgan ($350,000: Kolkata Knight Riders)

Before Morgan came along England were mere Twenty20 contenders but now they are world champions thanks in no small part to the wristy Irish genius. Hits the ball in unusual areas-a nightmare for opposing captains-and a brilliant finisher in all forms of the game who any team would want coming in at two or three wickets down.

JP Duminy ($300,000: Deccan Chargers)

A surprise, mainly that he went for such a low price. After fetching $950,000 previously it’s a surprise to see his value drop so far. Sure his recent international form has been disappointing but he’s a class act capable of exploding with the bat in long or short form and a superb fielder to boot.

The Misses

Johan Botha ($950,000: Rajasthan Royals)

So much for a consistent if unspectacular off-spinner. A solid performer, capable of hitting lower order runs and fielding well to boot but it’ll be intriguing to see whether he can live up to the price tag.

Adam Gilchrist ($900,000: Kings XI Punjab)

The guy’s a bona fide legend and a one-time explosive batsmen. Sad thing is that those times were probably four or five years ago. Averaged only 30 in the English T20 season for Middlesex so why, bar experience and leadership qualities and his name, he is worth so much is head scratchingly mystifying.

Robin Uthappa ($2.1 million: Pune Warriors)

On his day he’s a match-winner, but for that price you could pick up a Dwayne Bravo, Graeme Smith, Ishant Sharma and Michael Hussey. Has much to prove and obviously has the talent to perform but does he have the consistency to justify that price tag?

Subramaniam Badrinath ($850,000: Chennai Super Kings)

A run-scorer for sure, and a good one at that. But he has precious little in the way of Twenty20 pedigree and lacks the explosive ability of say Kieron Pollard or AB De Villiers who fetched a similar price.

Ravindra Jadeja ($950,000: Kochi)

The very definition of a bits and pieces player, a decent batsmen and a decent spinner but he scarcely does both facets to be a match-winner which at that price he’d need to be. With Jayawardene and Muralitheran purchased at higher prices by the Kochi franchise it seems they have bought him to support both, but have they paid too much for a utility man?

The Ugly

Brian Lara (Unsold)

Quite what a 41 year old who has been retired from the international game for 4 years and who recently flopped on his comeback in Zimbabwe was expecting is up for debate. His continued presence in the contest was a surprise, and perhaps now it’s time the legend started looking at that great cricketing gig in the sky.

Graeme Swann (Unsold)

Pure English politik. Indian teams were worried about his involvement, though that didn’t stop the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad getting snapped up. Rumours of a lack of a doosra or mystery seem slightly mystifying given that he has risen to the pinnacle of the game using his own method of spin bowling magic.

Tamim Iqbal (Unsold)

The next Sehwag according to some. His absence is a loss for the tournament, as he’ll probably go on and become a star over the next 12 months and have people begging for him to come back next year.

Jesse Ryder (Unsold)

An explosive batsmen, capable bowler and by all accounts readily available for service. His inability to find suitors is frankly bizarre, especially given that he has recently excelled on the sub-continent with New Zealand.

James Anderson (Unsold)

The second best fast bowler in the world behind Dale Steyn who cost $1.2 million, and a recent Ashes winner and match winner to boot. Another capable performer who is a real victim of English politik. While he lacks the versatility with the ball in the shorter form as his team-mate Broad, as he’s recently shown he’s in the prime of his life and would have been a real asset to any team.

Eoin Morgan provides answers to England’s testing questions

As he trotted off the field at Trent Bridge with his first test match hundred in the bag, the smile on Eoin Morgan’s face was telling. Not just relief, it was reassurance that here he had proved beyond all doubt that he belongs in Test cricket.

England have invested plenty of faith in Morgan, and quite understandably so. That talent and temperament which had been on show in limited overs international cricket throughout his formative year have caused quite a stir.

Perhaps Andy Flower, himself a nugget of a left handed batsmen who was adept at manoeuvring all and sundry in all forms of the game sees something of himself in the young Irishman.

But after scores of 37 and 44 against Bangladesh, the question remained, could Morgan make the step up in Test Cricket?

The critics pointed at a technical flaw outside off-stump, a lack of first class cricket where he averaged 24 for Middlesex last year, and an array of unorthodox strokes which could prove his undoing.

But here was an innings which answered many of the doubts, if not all of them. England have rarely seen a batsman perform so well in their international career, less so in all forms of cricket. Pietersen was the last one, but Morgan on this evidence deserves no lesser billing than his counterpart.

While Pietersen’s innings was a scattergun approach, betraying ring rustiness and a lack of preparation, Morgan’s was as cool and collected an innings as any in living memory. The fires of county cricket have warmed him up nicely for this, Pietersen would do well to heed that lesson.

And he needed to be on form, coming in with his team four wickets down and with the bal doing plenty, it needed Morgan to be watchful. So he was, playing watchfully and without alarm.

Then as he saw off the quicker men, he cut loose against the spinners who could not match the pressure of Asif and Aamer. There were shots of all varieties, sweeps, reverse sweeps, cuts and cover drives-the only thing missing was the pull stroke which his critics may argue he still needs to show he can play well, unlike Michael Bevan who he is so often compared to.

Yet this was not a day for the critics, as all doubts melted away. Morgan had performed as England believed he could, with their team in trouble Morgan-ably supported by Collingwood-led his side away from danger, as he has so often already in One Day Cricket.

Suddenly the doubts, the shot selection, the supposed weakness outside off stump and the poor first class records, have simply melted away. When he was asked afterwards what it was about international cricket which so inspired him, he simply shrugged his shoulder’s and smiled.

It was a telling statement if only because it confirmed that Morgan has simply proved himself a man for the big occasion. If England are looking ahead to the Ashes, Morgan has furthered his cause considerably. Because despite the most testing of questions, Morgan appears to have all the answers.

Eoin Morgan once again proves to be England’s man for the big occasion

Eoin Morgan once again delivers for England

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and for Eoin Morgan the past year has certainly been nothing less than a whirlwind.

Little over a week ago Ricky Ponting was calling on the ICC to halt the exodus of Irish cricketers from Ireland to England, now having watched his side by picked apart by another gem of an innings from Morgan, he may be repeating those remarks with far more urgency.

Because it was a truly remarkable innings, worthy of being remembered as one of the finest in England’s ODI history-as he recalled the ghost of England’s finest finisher Neil Fairbrother with a magnificent century to see his side home. One wonders whether Ponting was reminded of two of the finest finishers of all-time in Mike Hussey and the legendary Michael Bevan.

Such talk may seem hyperbolic, yet by the standards which Morgan has set this year, it is a company which he has earned the right to be mentioned with, and should he match their effectiveness with their longevity, he will be rightly remembered so.

He has only been in international cricket one season, yet few players-bar perhaps Kevin Pietersen-can have had such a dramatic impact on England’s fortune’s so quickly.

Since his debut last year—he has scored two one day hundreds, scored 669 runs in 20 innings at an average of 55.75, statistically it is a phenomenal record, but they tell only half the story.

Here is a player who has played innings of both the cavalier and the consolidator-often once after the other. He boasts a range of strokes, which have left even an experienced captain like Graeme Smith wondering where to put fielders, as he mixes both the orthodox and the unorthodox with a subtle mix of power and precision.

This was fully on display today-where he cut ferociously; reverse swept with audacity and hit cover drives which even the watching David Gower would have approved of. Never did the scoreboard lie dormant, as an inexperienced attack, bar the impressive Ryan Harris, were put to the sword.

Yet the most remarkable thing of all was, and remains, his cool head. With wickets tumbling, and his senior partner Paul Collingwood out early, Morgan simply remained composed.

Taking time to settle down, he simply took the scoring options when they presented themselves and remained conscious of the run rate, and the need to consolidate, and when to accelerate-an impressive thing for a player of such relative inexperience-both in terms of age and international games.

One man who was certainly impressed was his captain Andrew Strauss, who said: “It was an outstanding innings today and certainly one of the very best I’ve seen in an England shirt.”

“We’ve been looking for a Michael Bevan-type character for quite a long time, Morgs has shown a few times now, in both 50-over and 20-over cricket, that he can play in a similar fashion – and probably even a little bit more aggressively than Bevan.”

While he may never surpass Bevan’s limited over’s feats, England will hope he can go one better in the Test arena. This was the only area in his career where Bevan failed, and still represents Morgan’s biggest challenge to date.

After a couple of middling 40’s against Bangladesh, some wonder whether he may yet crack the foibles of Test Cricket. Yet the true test will come when he faces a situation akin to what his side face today.

Whether he gets his chance to show qualities like these in Test Cricket again will be down to the England selectors.

Yet after an innings like that, few would argue it would be foolish to ignore him because quite clearly Eoin Morgan’s taste for the big occasion is worthy of any stage in the world.

England’s Selectors Should Stick With Eoin Morgan

It’s quite a time to be an English cricket follower that’s for certain. An Ashes victory, an unnervingly accomplished winter against South Africa and Bangladesh and now the T20 World Cup victory in the West Indies.

It’s been so good, it’s tempting to ask when are we going to wake up?

Judging by Bangladesh’s recent demise at the hands of the England Lions, it won’t be coming at Lords on Thursday. Yet history preaches caution-it would be typical England to stumble when things appear to be running ever so smoothly.

But such is the calm which has engulfed the England set up that the selectors are giving Stuart Broad and Paul Collingwood (deserved) rests.

Given that these two will continue to be lynch pins of the team throughout what promises to be a busy 2010, such a move is welcome and gives others the chance to impress.

While Broad’s place in the set up is likely to be contested by a straight shootout between Steven Finn-bounce and lots of it-and Ajmal Shazhad, quicker but skidier, the spot to replace Collingwood has been given to Eoin Morgan.

It caps a remarkable 12 months for the Irishman, who has now firmly established himself as a vital cog in England’s middle order in the One Day team. The question is now is can he do the same in the Test team.

Judging by his cool head, unorthodox technique and dazzling array of strokes, England should have little to fear. While critics may point to his underwhelming first class record, it is worth remembering that neither Michael Vaughan or Marcus Trescothick were setting the county scene ablaze before they stepped up into international cricket.

Should Morgan do well, and Collingwood returns, the most obvious casualties will be Jonathan Trott and Ravi Bopara.

Both are good batsmen, but both with question marks hanging over their heads-though Trott will have some cause for complaint should he miss out.

But should the Irishman fail, the England selectors should not be so quick to cast him aside. The old adage that form is temporary, class is permanent remains as true in sport today as it ever has before.

As Morgan as already shown in his short international career so far, he has class in abundance. If England stick by him, they will not go far wrong.