Plight of Eoin Morgan a Symptom of England's Batting Malaise

Rick James@@RickJamesSportsContributor IAugust 30, 2014

England's Eoin Morgan hits a ball bowled by India's Ravindra Jadeja during their One Day International cricket match at the SWALEC cricket ground in Cardiff, Wales, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP Photo / Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

As England stuttered their way to another sub-par total en route to a second consecutive limp defeat, England's top order selection and the role of captain Alastair Cook will once again come under the spotlight.

But while many will focus on those such as Cook and Ian Bell who are in the side on the strength of stellar Test records, a far more serious concern is the form of Eoin Morgan, the one proven world-class performer in this format.

Former England cricketers have been falling over each other to lay into England's approach, with Michael Vaughan particularly critical, highlighting the flawed selection policy of picking players based on their exploits in the Test arena.

Whilst England continue to pick ODI teams on Test performance we will go further and further behind the other Top ODI teams...

— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) August 30, 2014

Graeme Swann has outright dismissed England's chances of winning the World Cup for the same reason.

Despite being a strong supporter of Cook's Test Captaincy credentials, he did not hide his feeling that the selection of three of England's top four from the recent Test series in the ODI squad was misguided, as per BBC Sport: "Cook, Bell and Ballance are not players who will win you a World Cup." At the top of the order, Swann insisted Cook's ODI strike rate of 78.16 was too slow in the modern game.

In the second ODI this proved prophetic, as the captain made 44 runs from 65 balls—a strike rate of 67.79—to provide what appeared at the time a solid start, but in reality failed to give the innings any sort of impetus. This was compounded by the middle order crumbling against India's spinners, with a total of 227 looking inadequate long before India cruised to victory with 42 balls to spare.

Essentially, this reflects a problem that goes beyond the top three, currently made up of Alex Hales—unanimously seen as a positive selection—and Cook and Bell, seen as a further sign that England are behind the times.

Even when the policy of building a platform works, as it did to some degree at Trent Bridge as Cook and Hales steadily combined to help England reach 82/0 in the 18th over, it is utterly dependent on the middle order firing, and this puts unnecessary pressure on them to up the scoring rate as soon as they come to the crease.

The carefully calibrated game-plan seems to be stifling the more inventive and powerful players, something picked up on by Kevin Pietersen, the man who many feel should still be providing fireworks in the ODI side.

In his column for The Telegraph before the series, Pietersen echoed the thoughts of Vaughan and Swann. Intriguingly though, as well as criticising the selection of batsmen with skills more suited to the longer format, he also highlighted the negative impact this can have on those with creative and destructive tendencies:

In one-day cricket you have to strike the ball with positive intent. In my opinion from Joe Root, Cook, Ian Bell and Gary Ballance there is only room for two of those players in the side not four. It puts an awful lot of pressure on guys like Eoin Morgan and [Jos] Buttler to come off. If they do not, then England make scores of 250-280 and it is curtains.

The first power-hitter highlighted Eoin Morgan is the one man in the current side who has proven to be a regular match-winner in ODI cricket, and yet England are failing to get anything like the best out of him right now.

No England player has scored more runs at a better strike rate than his 3,110 runs at 91.47 per 100 balls, and only Kevin Pietersen in a list of England batsman's top ten strike rates in this format has averaged better than Morgan's 39.51 for England, according to ESPNcricinfo.

The problem for England is that Morgan's consistency has dropped markedly in the last two years following a prolonged period of brisk run-scoring at the start of his England career.

He was once England's Mr. Reliable in the middle order, settling quickly before dipping into a bewildering array of shots all around the wicket that would not be easily found in any coaching manual. But more recently his form has tended towards long stretches of mediocrity punctuated by hugely productive purple patches.

It is highly plausible, as Pietersen suggests, that the pressure of England's out-dated approach is weighing heavily on his shoulders and the constant need to up the scoring rate is preventing him from being able to build an innings and accelerate at his own highly impressive speed.

Morgan's uncharacteristic 10 runs from 18 balls in the 3rd ODI against India, containing no boundaries, was his tenth innings without reaching 50 since the highly effective home and away series versus Australia.

Eoin Morgan's most recent contributions in ODI's are 33, 39, 1, 31, 3, 40, 12, 17, 28 and 10 today.

— Dan Viggers (@dvig9) August 30, 2014

Going back further, Morgan's average since 2013 is fully ten runs below what he mustered in his first four years as an international cricketer for England.

Eoin Morgan's Batting Average for England
England Career to December 201358186143.27312
England Career since January 20133398433.9324


And yet he remains a formidable ODI player, evidenced by an impressive run of form between September 2013 and January 2014 where Morgan briefly flickered to remind everyone of his immense talent.

The two centuries and four fifties he has registered since 2013 all came within eight innings, taking in seven games against Australia at home and away, including a century in Brisbane at a strike rate of more than 100 to help England post 300.

Prior to that rich vein of form, Morgan went 15 completed innings without making a half century, albeit in among them were scores of 36 and 40 not out in closing out successful run-chases for England.

That in itself offers hope that his current barren run will prove a blip, but also suggests Morgan is no longer somebody England can rely on to kick-start their innings should the top order either fail to get runs on the board or take too long in doing so.

A more positive outlook, advocated by the likes of Swann, Vaughan and Pietersen, would take the pressure off the likes of Morgan and the less experienced Hales and Buttler. A more explosive top order perhaps including James Vince and Jason Roy alongside Alex Hales could be exactly what is needed to bring England's ODI batting out of its current malaise.

A fresh approach, making players like Morgan, Buttler and Hales the rule rather than the exception, may well allow players with the talent to succeed at this level to flourish and fulfil their highly exciting potential without the added, unnecessary pressure of making up for slower scoring early in the innings.

That would give England a glimmer of hope going into next year's World Cup, and at the very least, render the performance of the England team a little less predictable than it is at present.


All statistics sourced from ESPNcricinfo unless stated otherwise.



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