When Eoin Morgan retires from international cricket on Tuesday, a gap will appear in the England dressing room where once there was greatness. A symbol of the country’s finest ever moment in coloured clothing departs but more than that the one-day team loses its born leader.
The 35-year-old will call time after seven years as England’s one-day international captain and 10 as the T20 chief with eulogies ringing in his ears. If you’re expecting a bad word to be said about him, think again, because Morgan was not only the player who led England to the limited-overs holy grail that was their Cricket World Cup win in 2019, but he was also the person that every single teammate trusted, confided in and believed in.
While his 14 ODI hundreds, average of 39 and strike rate of 91 are impressive, and his T20 average of 28 at a strike rate of 136 reflect an important part of any white-ball middle order, his leadership will be what England miss most. His was a style that made every player better. His was an approach that few could find fault in.
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After that incredible World Cup final back on July 14, 2019, Morgan had the coolest mind among the madness at Lord’s, quickly underlining the importance of harnessing a group of diverse figures as a key to the team getting over the line against New Zealand.
When asked whether the ‘luck of the Irish’ had helped England due to his own heritage, Morgan responded: “We had Allah with us as well. I spoke to Adil Rashid, he said Allah was definitely with us. I said we had the rub of the green. It actually epitomises our team. It has quite diverse backgrounds and cultures.”
In an era when different sectors of society have been run into ruin by leadership figures bumbling their way around with no thought for consequences, Morgan had a way of showing what can be done with a cool head, a critical brain and a humble honesty. His embracing of everyone in the dressing room – players, team staff, ground staff, whoever – meant he commanded a respect other captains have never got close to gaining.
At a time when the Test team was bouncing from success to failure like a yo-yo, it was noticeable how the one-day scene was so stable in comparison. And if you asked people around the squad at the time about Morgan you’d get a sermon on his brilliance as a born leader, the kind of review that was sadly lacking if you turned conversation to the Test team.
That is not to knock what Alastair Cook and Joe Root were able to do with the five-day side at a time when English cricket has left the red-ball game to rot at county level, to such an extent that the new Test skipper Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum have given their players the license to take a one-day approach to getting results. But there has simply been no parallel to what Morgan has achieved as a leader.
So as much as England will miss his big-hitting style in the middle of the order, his ability to change the field placings to great effect, to throw the ball to the right bowler at the right time, more than anything they will miss his presence. He exuded calm in the heat of battle. He backed his players to succeed at every turn. He understood the boom and bust nature of one-day cricket and believed in his team’s ability to get through tough times.
From the pit of despair after their 2015 group-stage exit in Australia, he transformed the way the ODI team was run so that four years later they had the minerals to reach the top of the world. Even when they looked set for elimination with two group matches left, he simply told them to keep playing their own way and showed belief in what they had built as a unit.
Morgan had the temperament and the talent to lead England to glory. He had the people skills to give every single member of the squad exactly the boost they needed at a given time. They could not have become world champions without his hand at the tiller, and now that he is stepping down he will take some replacing.
Born in Ireland, but an adopted son of England, Eoin Morgan will go down among the greats of the country’s sporting history. A captain, a leader, and forever a legend.
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