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Morgan opts for England above IPL

David Hopps
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Eoin Morgan has given all this up to concentrate on winning an England Test place © BCCI
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Eoin Morgan has withdrawn from the IPL auction only two days before it is due to take place to try to win a place in the England Test side.

Morgan's reassessment of his career at a time when, at 27, he can be assumed to be reaching his peak comes after the enforced retirement from international cricket of Kevin Pietersen.

Morgan will now spend early season playing Championship cricket for Middlesex in the hope of forcing his way into the England side for home Test series against Sri Lanka and India.

His decision is a considerable switch of emphasis. Morgan has repeatedly spoken about how IPL has enhanced his game and he has been unshakeable in his determination to play it.

The IPL will seek to make light of Morgan's withdrawal. He has rarely set the tournament ablaze, although did have his most successful IPL season at Kolkata Knight Riders in 2013, averaging 27.90 over 14 matches with a strike rate of 127.91. He had a base price of Rs 15 million ($240,000). He is also only ranked 19th in the ICC Twenty20 rankings. But his abilities are regarded as considerably greater within English cricket.

His decision is a huge fillip for England after a challenging week in which the ECB has been widely pilloried for the decision to turn its back on Pietersen because of what has been explained as a breakdown of trust. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, rather than let the ECB manage the announcement, Morgan told people directly on Twitter.

The ECB could not have clearer in expressing their faith in Alastair Cook as Test captain, and would not countenance talk of a change, but for all that Morgan's tactical acumen is highly regarded and if he breaks into the Test side it would be no surprise to see him immediately appointed vice captain.

Many still question whether Morgan has the game for Test cricket - he majors in the sort of deflections and innovations which are the very stuff of the limited-overs game, but if his desire is there he certainly has the mental aptitude.

He played the last of his 16 Tests against Pakistan two years ago, a victim of a disastrous Test series against Pakistan in the Middle East, and his average of 30.45 is a modest one. But he still has time to put that right and the curious crouching stance, which he once adopted to seek extra leverage in T20, has already been eradicated from his game.

There are few mentally-tougher cricketers in the England dressing room and, If he suggests he can make the adjustment, England will be quick to implant him in what is likely to be a rapidly-evolving team.

Morgan always insisted that he would push for Test recognition if he felt he had a serious chance of selection. Somebody presumably has "had a word" in the aftermath of Andy Flower's departure as team director and a change in the national selector with James Whitaker taking over from Geoff Miller.

Miller was adamant that Morgan blew his chances of Test recognition by remaining at IPL last year. At that point, Flower's commitment to an attritional game suggested that Morgan's chances of a comeback were low, but perhaps he feels his time is now.

With England's finest one-day cricketers - potentially Alex Hales apart - all now playing early-season Championship cricket, the likes of Morgan, Ben Stokes at the champions Durham and Jos Buttler, who has moved to newly-promoted Lancashire, will add fresh impetus to the start of the Championship season.

Morgan has also been appointed Middlesex's one-day captain this season but if Middlesex are delighted at his presence in four-day cricket, they must also fear that, if he forces his way into the England side, he will quickly be withdrawn from the T20 Blast - England's relaunched domestic Twenty20 tournament.

Morgan, along with Pietersen, has been the most box office England cricketer at IPL - the list has not been a big one - and it again begs the question as to whether the BBCI and ECB will build on a stronger relationship by negotiating the shift of IPL to early March to avoid a clash with the English season.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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