As Eoin Morgan relaxes between the sheets in his bed at England’s team hotel on Wednesday night, his mind may be starting to wander.
As a child, hitting the nets on a concrete strip with a beer barrel as stumps at Rush Cricket Club, the seaside commuter town on the outskirts of Dublin. Until he boldly told Irish voters at the age of 13, it was his dream to play for England.
On his first one-day international hundred for Ireland against Canada, on his debut in England. On his appointment as captain of the English white ball. To his blueprints, his vision, his transformation.
To beat the best and reach the top. On his 148 of 71 balls against Afghanistan. To glory of the Cricket World Cup and to its place in history. To his teammates, to the joy of the most beautiful days.
But then his mind can wander a bit more. The problems, the aches and pains. He has played in all matches for half a century in the past 65 innings. To be unsold in the Indian Premier League. At one ball last Friday. Seven unbearable balls on Sunday. To no runs. To rashness, to feet that feel as if they are in lead boots, to body parts that no longer move.
Until the groin injury that kept him out of the ODI final in Amstelveen, and a chance to prove to everyone that he could still do it. He still had it. He could still bat.
On the questions. To the control. To the time away from home. To his wife Tara and son Leo. To doubt yourself. Whether at nearly 36 years old, it’s time to break his own gentlemen’s agreement with English cricket, its paymasters, its fans, its colleagues. To cancel the unwritten pact, he had earned the right to go out on his terms. Or he should resign.
On Sunday, Morgan had bitten his lower lip as he slipped away, his shoulders drooping and staring at the turf, unwilling to make any eye contact with Liam Livingstone, the next man at the VRA Cricket Ground in Amstelveen.
A defense mechanism of forced positivity ensued. He puffed out and smiled sheepishly through soft team questions during post-game media duties with broadcasters. Two days later, he watched as his teammates warmed up in the Dutch sun and kept his poker face.
So far, the England side – his teammates, his friends – have been talking loudly about his demise, spewing out the cricketing platitudes: Morgs looks good in the nets, Morgs just needs a score, Morgs will be fine.
“Everyone has ups and downs in everyone’s career,” his England team-mate Jason Roy had said defiantly. “I’ve had some shocking matches every now and then and at some point things turn around. They have for me and it’s no different with him. He’s an incredible guy in the dressing room. An incredible captain and he works just like that tough as the next man.”
It is a measure of his leadership qualities, the unwavering loyalty he has engendered, that so many of his players are so willing to go before him – with their words off the field and their actions on it. Masking his failures with the cudgel, but subconsciously emphasizing them, in the cruelest of paradoxes.
“He always leads the group really well,” pleaded Sam Curran. “I’m sure it will only take that one knock when he gets back into shape and everyone would have forgotten about it.”
But now surely only the most loyal Morganistas in the English group really believe what they say about his blow. Away from the cameras and dictaphones. In quiet conversations in the narrow streets of Amsterdam, strolling along the canals, over coffee, it must have been not far from their lips. In the back of their minds.
His skills as a captain are undiminished. His mind is still tactically sharp. But how long can he hold others back. They know that Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes will be back when it matters. That they could miss it. That everyone here in the Netherlands made runs in favorable batting conditions. That Sam Hain and Harry Brook are the middle-class batters who smash it in the Blast and knock on the door.
They know that in Jos Buttler there is a ready-made heir. A man in the mold of his life, and perhaps just as tactically astute. That he’s done. That his comments about the drive to make 500 in ODIs are spearheaded by him and not held back by him. That he already has their respect.
They knew that Joe Root was the captain who scored points and couldn’t buy a win. They know Morgan is the winning captain who can’t buy a point.
Now it feels inevitable that something has to give. That the end of days will come. Now he waits. They wait. We are waiting.
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