Eoin Morgan and the Irish Connection

Jon GemmellCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2010

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Eoin Morgan of England looks on during the England nets session at Edgbaston on August 5, 2010 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
Tom Shaw/Getty Images

Eoin Morgan's 130 in the recent Test against Pakistan adds to the congestion in England's middle-order.

His rise over the last 12 months has provided the team with a much appreciated solidity, initially in the one-day version of the sport but now in the longer format as well, which bodes well for the future.

Morgan's presence means that the precarious 65-3 does not herald the inevitable batting collapse. An array of shots defies the textbook, bewilders the onlooker and helps certify cricket as entertainment.

Morgan is the second Irishman to score a century for England—Frederick Fane scored 143 in 1906 against South Africa.

Much has been said about England's cosmopolitan-looking side though the emphasis has usually been on the South African influence rather than the Irish which has been one of cricket's neglected histories.

Irish cricketers, for example, played a significant role in the development of the sport in Australia.

Between 1840 and 1914, about a third of a million Irish emigrated to the Australian colonies and up until the first World War, they were the second largest immigrant group, behind only the English.

According to historian Patrick O'Farrell, an Australian identity was forged out of the contrasting resistance of the Irish minority to the conservatism of the English.

Australia's sporting motivation became the defeat of the "mother country," and with it the opportunity to challenge the English on cultural terms.

This was particularly apt to the Irish diaspora who sought means to contribute to the wider struggle for national self-determination. The Australian setting, therefore, allowed the Irish to make their greatest contribution to cricket.

The batting all-rounder Tom Horan, for example, hailed from County Cork and played in both the first ever Test against England in 1877 and in the historic Ashes match at the Oval in 1882.

He was joined by John Blackham, of Irish descent, who kept wicket in both games and like Horan became Australian captain. Another cricketer with Irish blood was Bill O'Reilly who was considered by Bradman to be the best bowler he ever faced.

Other players whose families were part of the great migration include the fast bowler Ray Lindwall, left-arm spinner Chuck Fleetwood-Smith, and key batters Leo O'Brien, Jack Fingleton and Lindsay Hassett.

His Irish ancestry was hugely important to O'Reilly. The opening chapter of his autobiography is titled simply "Ireland" and in it he makes glowing references to a number of leading Irish nationalists, including "the celebrated Eamon de Valera," "the ill-fated young hero," Robert Emmett and "the great statesman," Daniel O'Connell.

In a biography of O'Reilly, written by Richard Whitington, a whole chapter is given to the Irish antecedents not only of the subject himself but also of Stan McCabe.

2010 marks the centenary of McCabe's birth. His grandparents emigrated to Australia in the 1850s. The son of a barber, McCabe was known to be proficient at either hook, cut or drive.

The Australian cricket historian Jack Pollard notes that "he scored with a freedom that made other batsmen look hacks." Such a narrative could easily have been applied to Morgan's recent innings against Pakistan.

The stroke play of McCabe is said to have brought tears to Don Bradman's eyes when he saw him score a double century against England in 1938.

His innings at Sydney in 1933 though brought the 22-year-old to everyone's attention. Coming in at 82-3 with the Sydney crowd scolding Douglas Jardine's bodyline tactics, McCabe sought to attack.

He wrote later: "With them yelling and cheering, my reaction was to hit almost every ball. It was really an impulsive, senseless innings, a gamble that should not have been made but came off against all the odds."

His 187 not out was described by England's Harold Larwood as the "best I've ever seen." Cricket writer Christian Ryan argues that it was one of "two occasions in all cricket history when you could categorically say that Bradman could not have done it."

Of course, most Irish migration was to England and included the Dublin-born cricketer Leland Hone, who had never played for an English county but kept wicket for England in a Test match against Australia in 1879.

Dublin also provided Timothy O'Brien who won the first of his caps against Australia in 1884.

Joseph McMaster (County Down) played his only first-class game for England in South Africa in 1889, while Fane (County Kildare) would be the only Irish-born to captain England, winning 14 caps in the first decade of the 20th century.

Ireland witnessed the loss of a substantial proportion of its population; however, economic growth in the last decades of the 20th century has resulted in Ireland being a net importer of labour.

Migrants from South Africa, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand have brought the love of cricket and their own particular skills to Irish clubs, helping to bolster the numbers playing and improve standards.

In an age where all-purpose terms like "globalisation" and "identity" predominate social discourse, Irish cricket can bemoan the loss of Eoin Morgan to the wealthier predators across the sea who can offer him a lucrative career in the sport.

At the same time though, the national team will become less "Irish" as players whose birthplace is not Ireland qualify. Just as states come to terms with what it means to be Australian, Irish or English, so inevitably do their sports teams.

Meanwhile, England have their latest cricketing saviour.