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Eoin Morgan: Maverick, pioneer, game-changer

Eoin Morgan holds the World Cup surrounded by his squad Daniel Leal Olivas / © AFP/Getty Images

After an international career spanning more than 15 years, Eoin Morgan has called time. Here we look back on the matches that marked the major staging posts on his journey to becoming an England great, and one of the most influential captains of his era.

Dynamic debut - Ireland vs Scotland, Ayr, 2006
There is no questioning the credentials of England's greatest white-ball captain, but it is vital too to acknowledge the outsider status that his Irish heritage offered him as his career took shape. Like his team-mate Kevin Pietersen, as well as the quartet of overseas coaches - Duncan Fletcher, Andy Flower, Trevor Bayliss and now Brendon McCullum - whose influence has been felt on the teams that he has been involved in, Morgan's ability to look askance at the system and stay true to his own methods was one of the most priceless attributes in his career.

And, as he showed on his international debut - a superb 99 against Scotland as a 19-year-old in August 2006 - his natural abilities were often head and shoulders above his peers. His competitive spirit shone through that day too, with the ICC slapping him with an official reprimand for an audible obscenity, after he was run out going for his hundred off the final ball of Ireland's innings.

London calling - England vs Netherlands, Lord's, 2009
An inauspicious England debut - and an apposite one too - in light of Morgan's two ducks against Netherlands last week that have now bookended his transformative England career. His new team made a rip-roaring start to their World T20 curtain-raiser at Lord's, and while Ravi Bopara and Luke Wright were rushing along to 100 for 0 after 11 overs, the Dutch were "anticipating a hiding".

But with Pietersen crucially absent with injury, England's innings dissolved into uncertainty. Morgan himself made 6 from eight balls in his only match of the campaign, before falling to his favourite reverse sweep, as an insubstantial 62 runs came from the last nine overs. "It felt like they had this fear about getting out to the Dutch," Dirk Nannes noted afterwards. There is little doubt the new boy was already taking mental notes.

Catching fire - South Africa vs England, 2009

Results-wise, Morgan's maiden home summer as an Englishman didn't get much better, especially when Australia atoned for their Ashes loss by meting out a 6-1 shellacking in the subsequent ODI series. But a change of scene provided a change of mentality as the team decamped for the Champions Trophy in South Africa, where Morgan's 67 from 34 balls against the hosts was instrumental in an unexpected run to the semi-finals.

In the first T20I of the subsequent South Africa tour, however, he unfurled his true colours for arguably the first time. An extraordinary innings of 85 not out from 44 balls included one of the biggest straight sixes that the great Dale Steyn can ever have suffered, and confirmed - once again in Pietersen's absence - that this was a talent that England could not do without.

Maiden England century - Bangladesh vs England, Mirpur, 2010
By the time England toured Bangladesh in the spring of 2010, their hosts were just beginning to shed their long-held image of whipping boys, and in one-day cricket in particular, it was only a matter of time before they secured the victory that most teams crave above all other. In Mirpur in the second ODI, it seemed that time was nigh.

Chasing a stiff 261, England collapsed to 229 for 8 with four overs remaining, and still needed 16 from the last two with the stadium approaching fever pitch. Morgan's response was ice-cold. After taking ten runs from Shafiul Islam's first four balls, and barely acknowledging his feat of becoming the first man to score ODI hundreds for two nations, he launched the fifth into the square-leg scoreboard to destroy a third nation's dreams. "We came into the dressing-room and cried like babies," Tamim Iqbal later told ESPNcricinfo.

First global trophy - England vs Australia, World T20 final, Barbados
England had waited 35 years to land their maiden global trophy, but Morgan needed less than a year as an England cricketer to lift his first ICC silverware. Whereas the 50-over title in 2019 would be four long years in the making, the World T20 victory in the Caribbean was a triumph of ad-hocism, and one in which the big decision stemmed from England's short but seminal stop-over in the UAE just months before.

Morgan and Pietersen had played just four matches alongside each other until they came together at 18 for 3 in the first T20I against Pakistan. Neither man blinked as they picked off the remaining 112 runs of their chase in 85 balls. It confirmed the growing belief that England's middle order was something rare and special, and in binning off the safety-first opening pairing of Jonathan Trott and Joe Denly in favour of the explosive Lions pairing of Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb, England suddenly - if briefly - found the means to unlock their potential.

Maiden Test hundred - England vs Pakistan, Trent Bridge, 2010
Morgan's Test record - 700 runs at 30.43 in 16 matches - wasn't a stand-out aspect of his career, but it was still significantly better than many England debutants of the past decade, which was why there were even un-ironic calls for him to lead the Test team in the wake of Joe Root's resignation. The second of his two Test centuries - against India at Edgbaston in 2011 - came as England approached their coronation as the No. 1 Test team in the world, but it was his first - against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2010 - that truly stands out.

Not only did it come in his third Test - and against the might of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir - but it was also achieved in spite of next-to-no first-class opportunities. After a busy white-ball schedule in June and early July, including an exceptional hundred against Australia, Morgan returned to Middlesex for his first Championship appearance of the season, picked off a brace of fifties against Sussex, and transferred his mindset straight to the main event. It was a harbinger of the modern multi-format approach.

The one that got away - England vs India, Champions Trophy final, 2013
It seems extraordinary to look back now, knowing everything that came crashing down at the 2015 World Cup, and recall that England could - and probably should - have won the ICC's preceding 50-over trophy, the 2013 Champions Trophy. Their antediluvian approach - with the build-it-slow batting of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott - allied to the old-school seam and swing of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, made capital of a damp English summer to book a place in the final against India at Edgbaston.

But after England won the toss and chose to bowl first, it rained, and rained, and rained. And when the game was eventually reframed as a T20 - with 50-over playing conditions - such tactics no longer looked so smart. Even so, the game remained in Morgan's grasp with 20 still needed from 16, but when he holed out to Ishant Sharma, the rest, including Jos Buttler, absurdly under-utilised at No.7, were rounded up with ease.

In the long run, however, it may have been a blessing in disguise. The coming revolution would have been harder to instigate with silverware in the cupboard.

Captain Morgan - Australia vs England, Sydney, 2015
And lo, it came to pass, that six years after his first England appearance, and after deputising on 15 previous occasions across formats - including when he made a century against his former countrymen in 2013 - Morgan was handed the official one-day captaincy; and that, with a matter of months to go until the 2015 World Cup.

His chance arose because of Cook's unrelentingly poor form, and he inherited a side that, self-evidently, did not play in its new captain's image; it was quickly made clear to him that Pietersen would remain blackballed. But at the very first time of asking - against Australia at Sydney in a triangular tournament in the World Cup build-up - Morgan laid down his marker with a teeth-baring century. He arrived at 12 for 3 in the fourth over, and departed at 234 for 9 in the 48th - but his 121 from 136 balls couldn't prevent a three-wicket defeat.

Rock-bottom - England vs Bangladesh, Adelaide, 2015
England's miserably timid World Cup campaign ended with one of the most ignominious losses in the team's history - and with Morgan himself now deep into one of those habitual form slumps that would eventually be priced into his reign. His fifth duck in nine innings proved a seminal moment in a chase that never got going, as Mahmudullah's emotional century proved sufficient to secure Bangladesh a famous 15-run win, and a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.

The recriminations began almost as soon as Rubel Hossain's match-sealing fourth wicket. Peter Moores was pilloried for a BBC interview in which he may or may not have used the word "data" - he certainly said similar to Sky moments later - while Morgan was dangled in the media as a handy scapegoat, both for his loss of form and, bizarrely, for his apparent refusal to sing the national anthem. But crucially, Andrew Strauss, the incoming director of cricket, kept faith with him as the right man to lead the revival from rock-bottom. And the rest was soon to be history.

Brand new beginning - England vs New Zealand, Edgbaston, 2015
When asked, in the wake of his retirement, about the highlight of his career, Morgan veered away from the obvious moment of glory in 2019, and focused instead on the very start of England's journey from zeroes to heroes: the summer of 2015, and most significantly, the first ODI against New Zealand at Edgbaston, when all that World Cup baggage was dumped in one glorious, unrelenting rampage.

England's first 400-run total was sealed by Jos Buttler's imperious 129 from 77 balls, but it was made possible - in Buttler's words - because he was given licence to "go out and have a swing". Joe Root did likewise in making a far-from-pedestrian 104 from 78 balls, while Morgan himself cracked three sixes in a 46-ball 50.

By the time England had sealed a hugely cathartic 3-2 series win in a gripping finale at Chester-le-Street, the captain had shown the way he wanted his team to go with 322 runs from 258 balls all told, and a total of 16 sixes - the most he would ever hit in a bilateral white-ball series. And from the outset, he'd done it with the core group of players who would go every step of the way with him.

Embrace the naivety - England vs South Africa, World T20, Mumbai
In many respects, the 2016 World T20 came too soon for England's white-ball rookies. Morgan's mantra as they flew out to India to duke it out with T20's big boys was "embrace the naivety" - as if they were a bunch of wide-eyed gap-year kids on their first big trip away from home.

At the first time of asking, they were fleeced by the most streetwise opponent of them all - Chris Gayle's matchwinning 47-ball century included a monstrous 11 sixes - but when, two days later, South Africa seemed to have left England on the brink of elimination by posting a massive 229, the response was utterly startling.

Root paced the chase to perfection with a thrilling 83 from 44 deliveries after a flying start from Jason Roy in the powerplay, and though Morgan had begun the evening as one of England's few IPL exports, by the match's final throes, more than a few of his team-mates were starting to turn heads.

Remember the name - England vs West Indies, World T20 final, Kolkata
Regrets? He will have a few. And perhaps none more galling than the 2016 World T20 final, the game in which the limits of England's naïve vibes-driven campaign were ruthlessly exposed by the same West Indies team that had done them over in the tournament opener.

Before the match, Morgan had attempted to prepare his rookies for the reality that was about to hit them: "It is important we are in the right frame of mind to slow it down when needed and more importantly execute our skills," he said.

They would prove fateful words in light of Carlos Brathwaite's four-sixes assault on Ben Stokes' final over, and Morgan later blamed himself for not stepping in to give his man some breathing space. But the lesson was not forgotten, and three years on, in an even more fraught finale at Lord's, Morgan - and Stokes - were both there for Jofra Archer when the pressure was at its most intense.

Undaunted in chase - India vs England, Cuttack, 2017
England's white-ball bandwagon picked up pace through the course of the 2016 summer, with seven ODI wins out of eight including the first of now three world-record totals of 444 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge. But nothing could test the mettle of Morgan's burgeoning side quite like a return to India - a venue where they had lost 19 of their last 23 ODIs, and most of them by crushing margins.

Sure enough they lost 2-1, but in a scintillating tussle that stretched their capabilities to the max, and included - in their consecutive defeats in Pune and Cuttack - scores of 350 or more in all four innings. Morgan himself made 102 from 81 in England's second-match run-chase, but could take no pleasure in his own performance, after a toothless mid-innings bowling display had allowed India to recover from 25 for 3 to a massive 381 for 6.

Crucially, however, he kept faith with his players, but simply demanded better - most particularly from Liam Plunkett, whose bruising figures of 2 for 91 would be the worst of his pivotal career.

Learning from defeat - England vs Pakistan, Champions Trophy semi-final, 2017
Another vital staging post on the road to World Cup glory. After the treatment Morgan's team had meted out to Pakistan the previous summer, England might already have been eyeing up their trip to The Oval for another Champions Trophy final. But they allowed themselves to be spooked by a used surface in Cardiff, and for all that the performance of Hasan Ali in particular was immense, the deep reticence of England's performance was entirely out of kilter with their no-holds-barred batting of the previous two years.

In their entire innings, they managed 15 fours and not a single six, their lowest boundary count since the 2015 World Cup, and though Morgan deflected attention in the aftermath by complaining about England's lack of "home advantage" and the difficulty going from the run-laden Edgbaston at short notice, he knew deep down that neither excuse would wash come England's planned tour of nine different venues during the World Cup group stages. The onus was on them to factor some adaptability into their game.

Meltdown in Adelaide - Australia vs England, Adelaide, 2018
When Brendon McCullum called for his Test team to go "too far" in order to test the limits of their new gung-ho mentality, he might have had the white-ball team's car-crash moment at Adelaide in mind - a similarly instructive disaster that nevertheless showed their character in adversity.

The previous summer, England had skidded to 20 for 6 against South Africa at Lord's; now they were reduced to 8 for 5 by Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins in similarly helpful conditions in Adelaide. Chris Woakes, however, dug deep to make 78 from 82, and Australia - who were already 3-0 down in the five-match series - made rather a meal of their 197-run chase as they fell over the line with three wickets to spare.

It was another match for Morgan to chalk up to experience as the World Cup loomed closer. "We don't want to lose our positive mindset but it's a balancing act," he said. "I'd rather probably be 40 for 2 than 20 for 0."

The greatest dead-rubber - England vs Australia, Old Trafford, 2018
By 2018, there was no pretence any more. England were World Cup favourites, and Morgan's message to his players was that it was time to start embracing that reality. The arrival of Australia for another five-match series was the perfect opportunity to start perfecting those Alpha credentials, and when they roasted the Aussies to the tune of 481 runs in a gobsmacking world-record at Trent Bridge, they could scarcely have seemed more fine-tuned.

There was, however, one important cherry to place on top of the series. At 4-0 up, an apparent dead-rubber at Old Trafford turned into a matter of life or death, as England gunned for the whitewash that had eluded them in Australia earlier that year. Part one was a formality as Moeen Ali bowled the reigning World Champions out for 205, but when England slumped to 114 for 8 in reply, with Morgan himself making a duck, it was as if the title itself was at stake.

Cue Buttler at his ruthless, dogged best - whose sixth ODI century included 63 of the remaining 94 runs - first in partnership with Adil Rashid, and then with Jake Ball refusing to yield for 1 from 10 balls. The winning boundary, blazed through the covers, completed the perfect dress rehearsal.

Unequivocal faith - West Indies vs England, 2019
The new year brought a high-octane reunion with West Indies' mean machine, and most specifically Gayle, who bade a pre-World Cup farewell to his Caribbean public with a series haul of 424 runs from 316 balls, including two centuries and two fifties in four innings.

The second of his hundreds - a massive 162 from 97 balls - lit the fuse for an extraordinary cock-fight in Grenada, as West Indies kept coming, and coming, and coming at England's hefty 418 for 7 - a total in which Buttler's 150 from 77 balls had made Morgan's 103 from 88 seem run-of-the-mill.

But not for the first time, Morgan's captaincy outshone his impact with the bat. Although Rashid came in for some fearful tap - from Gayle in the first instance then that man Brathwaite in the final ten - Morgan kept faith in his trump card, to the very bitter end. With 32 needed from three overs, and Rashid's figures already a bloodied 1 for 83 from nine overs, back he came to complete his spell… and seal the game.

A first-ball drop gave way to four wickets in five balls, as West Indies imploded in a rash of slogs, and England's legspinner had completed the most expensive five-wicket haul in one-day history.

Point of no return - England vs India, Edgbaston, 2019
This was the match for which England had trained their mentality - a do-or-die clash with perhaps their single most obvious rivals for the title, and at a stage of the tournament when everything for which they had worked was suddenly beginning to unravel.

England had fallen short in a stiff chase against Pakistan, then run into an inspired Lasith Malinga at Headingley, but when they were bloodied by Australia at Lord's - the team they had beaten in nine of their previous ten encounters - panic seemed about to set in, especially when Jonny Bairstow told a newspaper round-table that "the media wanted England to fail".

Not for the first time, however, Bairstow's responded to the furore with a fierce and an unequivocal century. With Jason Roy rushed back from a hamstring injury, England's openers slashed a 160-run stand in the first 22 overs, before Stokes confirmed the quiet burgeoning of his own form with 79 not out from 54.

Inevitably, India's pursuit of 338 was relentless and threatening, but so too was England's bowling - not least the restored Plunkett, back with a remit to own those middle overs, and delivering at the key moments with three priceless wickets.

Nirvana - England vs New Zealand, World Cup final, Lord's 2019
They will be writing retrospectives of this match until the day that cricket dies, for it was the final that had it all - except a clear and an unequivocal winner. But amid all the chaos of deflected boundaries and spurious tie-breakers, the irony of England's triumph was lost on no-one, least of all its main instigator.

For New Zealand were the team on which Morgan had modelled England's rebirth, and now they were the team that England had to undo in the most remarkable World Cup clash ever staged. At Wellington four years earlier, Morgan's friend and mentor, McCullum, had meted out England's single biggest hiding of that abject 2015 campaign, and when asked on the eve of the 2019 final what lessons he had taken from McCullum's New Zealand stewardship, Morgan said that he had proved "you can get to the top by being yourself, not trying to be somebody else".

For all that he needed some luck in the critical moments, Morgan's determination to stay true to himself and his principles delivered the ultimate prize.

Epitaph - England vs Pakistan, 2021 On reflection, there isn't a whole lot to be read into Morgan's post-2019 performances. The peculiarities of lockdown on the one hand, and the ECB's virtual sidelining of 50-over cricket on the other, have made for a disjointed couple of years, and had it taken place when originally scheduled, in the winter of 2020, the T20 World Cup in Australia might already have been his swansong.

But with that in mind, perhaps Morgan's greatest triumph was the series that he played no part in - the Covid-ravaged ODI campaign against Pakistan in 2021, when England's first-choice squad had to be quarantined and replaced with effectively a County Select XI led by a barely-fit Stokes.

England won handsomely by three games to nil, including a thrilling 332-run chase at Edgbaston that the main men could scarcely have bettered. It was an early indication of the truth that Morgan has now accepted, that the revolution that he set in motion had taken mainstream root, and therefore his work here was already done.