Why English cricket’s greatest captain is actually Irish

It was a warm summers’ evening at Lord’s. The opening night of the first T20 World Cup to be held in England, and Irishman Eoin Morgan was making his England debut.

A fixture against the Netherlands shouldn’t have been too much of a challenge for Morgan and his new teammates. But they were left embarrassed as Ryan ten Doeschate and Edgar Shiferli scampered two off the final ball, with Stuart Broad missing a simple run-out, to seal a historic upset. 

Morgan made only six, failing to make an impact on the game – you would have been forgiven for wandering what all the fuss was about. But from that inauspicious beginning Morgan has gone on to change English cricket forever. Last summer’s dramatic World Cup triumph, led my Morgan, will live long in the memory of English sport fans who were glued to the edge of their seats as the game went down to the wire.

He grew up in Rush, a small town about 20 miles north of Dublin. His father, Jody, was a keen player for Rush Cricket Club and encouraged Eoin along with his three brothers and two sisters to take up the game. 

He appeared 26 times for the country of his birth, making 99 on debut against Scotland. It was Ed Joyce who was the first Irishman to switch allegiances to England, while Joyce wasn’t unsuccessful, he didn’t establish himself in the same way Morgan has. 

On the eve of the 2015 World Cup, England decided that their white-ball teams needed a new leader. Alastair Cook was out, Morgan was in. To say the World Cup that followed was a disappointment would be an understatement. England crashed out of the tournament in the group stage. In an interview with Sky Sports, Morgan described this moment as, “Certainly the lowest point in my career, but I think in English cricket history.” 

It was on the plane journey home from that World Cup that Morgan began to plan the next four years of white-ball English cricket. He kept a diary throughout the tournament about how he thought the team needed to improve. It was clear to him and many onlookers that England needed to attack with the bat and the ball.

New players were selected from the domestic set-up, so when England took the field on June 9, 2015 against New Zealand for their first post-World Cup match, there was much excitement. The improvement was obvious as England passed the 400-run milestone for the first time in one-day internationals. 

“This is Morgan’s team and there is an awe in the way that the team-mates speak of his firm but fair leadership.” John Westerby, The Times.

New Zealand had lost in the World Cup final to Australia just a few months earlier and they were the team that inspired Morgan. His friendship with New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum was no secret. In an interview with BBC’s Test Match Special, Morgan said: “New Zealand had embodied playing fun cricket under McCullum.”

The players that took to the field at Edgbaston that day became staples for the new-look England side with seven of them going on to play in last year’s World Cup Final. 

After four years of continued success, England entered last year’s home World Cup as strong favourites. Their journey to the tournament wasn’t free from controversy, though. 

Opening batsman Alex Hales failed a drugs test and was dealt with in the sort of ruthless manner that left nobody wandering who was the boss of this team. Superstar bowler Jofra Archer also became available for England for the first time before the tournament. Morgan opted to include Archer and leave out David Willey, who had been integral to England’s success over the past four years. The fact that Archer was so seamlessly integrated into the team is a credit to Morgan’s leadership and the team spirit he had created. 

“More than anyone, Morgan transformed England’s ailing one-day cricket and that, surely, means he has earned the right to lead his team as he sees fit.” Mike Atherton, Cricket Correspondent, The Times.

We all know how the 2019 World Cup ended, with England triumphing over New Zealand by, as commentator Ian Smith said: “The barest of all margins.” Morgan had done what no England captain had done before him and won the World Cup. They had made it to the final three times before, but Mike Brearley, Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch all failed to get their teams over the line. 

Since his World Cup final triumph, Morgan has taken an even greater role in English cricket becoming a statesman-like figure, in a way that no England captain has before. 

“He is the best white-ball captain in the world.” Paul Farbrace, former England coach, Wisden Cricket Monthly.

In a piece for Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Morgan spoke in great detail about how he felt the multicultural setup of the England team had helped them win. He raised eyebrows in his post-final press conference when he said: “Allah was with us today”.

In his Wisden article, he wrote: “It seemed to sum up the kind of team we had become: a team with different backgrounds, races and religions, a team which draws strength from diversity and represented the best of our country.” And he was right: of the 11 players that took the field that day, Archer was born and raised in Barbados; Jason Roy is from South Africa; Ben Stokes spent his early years in New Zealand; Adil Rashid is a Muslin whose family is from Pakistan, and then there’s Morgan himself, from Ireland. “England’s World Cup winners stand for us all,” said Morgan.

He has also recently spoke passionately about the need to eradicate racism from cricket. Azeem Rafiq, a former Yorkshire off-spinner, recently spoke about his recent experiences with racism in the game. Morgan was keen to lead the conversation and said: “Our ambition is to try and create more sustainable awareness around our fight against racism, it is important to drive that forward because it shouldn’t exist in our society.”

What’s next for Morgan? He is desperate to add the T20 World Cup to his 50-over trophy and complete a historic double. Until then though, the man from Rush will be tackling racism and inequality head-on – and who would want to stand in his way? 

By Alex Brinton

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