He is the man who led England to their first 50-over World Cup triumph and now has his sights on securing a double with next year’s Twenty20 World Cup in India.
Ahead of England’s return to white-ball action with three T20s against South Africa, Eoin Morgan speaks to Sportsmail columnist and former England captain Nasser Hussain about leadership, the England team and his future…
England captain Eoin Morgan (left) sat down for a chat with Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain (right)
Nasser Hussain: First, let’s go back to the days after that incredible World Cup victory. How close, if at all, were you to retirement? You could have gone out on the ultimate high.
Eoin Morgan: I always take time to make any big decision I face. Given the dramatic way the whole day unfolded, things couldn’t have gone any better.
So the overall feeling of elation along with the way I was feeling with my back and the up and down tournament I’d had meant I needed to make a good decision for myself and the team.
I had to ask myself if I’d continue to add value to the team over the next two, three, four-year period and whether my fitness would become an underlying issue if I continued. I played for three weeks for Middlesex after the World Cup and about a week after that things settled down and I’d had some reassurances about my back. I tied that in with my desire to continue and here we are.
Hussain: You’re your own man and can be very single-minded. Are there people you go to about a decision like that or is it a case of knowing your own mind?
Morgan (centre) helped England to World Cup glory on home soil last year at Lord’s
Morgan returned to Middlesex after the World Cup, he decided to continue playing for England
Morgan: There are always people I speak to. Since day one my family have been there for me whether it was when leaving Dublin to come to London or going to school in South Africa for a bit.
My dad and older sister are particularly strong characters who have given me good advice over the years. They’ve always pushed me in the direction my instinct would always take me.
Hussain: You say you had to consider your value to the team. Well, you’ve certainly been good value since the World Cup. How pleased have you been with your form? Are you doing anything differently?
Morgan: I’ve been delighted. You know that if you’re on top of your form as a captain, it’s one less thing to put more thought or work into. If things are coming off, you want to ride with it as long as you possibly can. I’m not actually doing things any differently.
The batsman is delighted with his form and is using his experience to keep things simple
If anything I’m trying to keep it simple and use every bit of experience I’ve had over the years to benefit my own performance. It’s the same way I try to use that experience for the benefit of the team, but it certainly does help if you’re in good form.
Hussain: When Covid struck there were certain rhythm players like Joe Root I was worried about, but not Eoin Morgan. You seem to be able to cope with periods away from batting. Have you always been like that or is that too simplistic and you’re working your nuts off behind the scenes?
Morgan: I think I do work hard. I probably work smarter than a lot of others. The work I put in always has a huge purpose behind it and that purpose is specifically for me and what I’m trying to work on at the time.
To get to the position I’m in I’ve gone through about 15 training methods. It’s just trying to find your own way and taking on the responsibility of the captaincy has allowed me to be my own man a bit more.
Morgan feels he works ‘smarter’ as opposed to harder when it comes to working on his game
Hussain: You are playing so well. Would you like to go back up the order, or do you see yourself as a finisher for England now in T20?
Morgan: The conundrum we have with our batting order was the same in the IPL this year. In hindsight, I’d probably have pushed myself up the order a bit (with Kolkata Knight Riders). But the difference with England is that we’re building towards a World Cup and we don’t know our best 11 yet. We know our best eight or nine batsmen but we can only fit them in six positions. Trying to find roles for them where they most add value is extremely important and you have to correlate that with flexibility.
Certainly I’m a guy who can bat four, five or six and not tying myself to one position before the World Cup is crucial. We need to keep on exploring to get more out of every member of the team.
Hussain: How about the Jos Buttler conundrum? He’s one of the great finishers but since you’ve moved him to the top of the order he’s been outstanding. What do you do with him?
Jos Buttler’s (left) outstanding form has posed a conundrum ahead of next year’s World Cup
Morgan: You’re talking about one of the best white-ball players of our generation and the guy hasn’t reached the top of his game yet. We’d be doing him a disservice if we said, ‘Open the batting for the rest of your career’, or, ‘Bat at five or six for the rest of your career’. If we keep it open-ended it actually takes pressure away from Jos. He gives us flexibility by batting anywhere from one to six. He’s been magnificent opening the batting but his position might change in the next year.
Hussain: How about Joe Root? The next T20 World Cup is in India, where he played brilliantly for you in the last one. He was also brilliant in the intra-squad warm-ups here in South Africa. Where are you on Joe’s future?
Morgan: Joe’s an outstanding player and everyone in the world knows that. And in T20 he adds weight by scoring runs with low risk. We know a lot more about Joe Root than we do a few more people in and around the side. We need to know what they’re like on the international stage. Fast forward to the World Cup and we want as many options as possible.
If we are able to play our best side for the next 18 games then great, but if we have two or three injuries we will need people to come in and step up. We want those people to have experience on an international stage and to do that players might have to miss out at different stages.
Joe Root was a key player for England during their triumph in last year’s T20 World Cup
Hussain: A year out from the 2019 World Cup you probably knew nine or 10 of your first-choice side. Jofra Archer was a late addition. Where are you with less than a year to go before the T20 World Cup?
Morgan: If the World Cup started tomorrow, I could pen in eight or nine guys. There are two positions in our best 11 that might be dependent on conditions — a bit of extra pace here or a certain batsman there for a different scenario. I don’t think we’re that far away, but once you look beyond those eight or nine guys there are about another 10 in the same boat.
Hussain: The warm-up games showed what you have achieved in white-ball cricket. I looked at those two England sides and said, ‘Wow’. A decade or 15 years ago we would have given our right arm to have half of one of those sides! Is that culture change unstoppable?
Morgan: That culture should be transient. The team has changed quite a lot but guys coming in have had a stake or a share in what is going on because they know the way they are being asked to play and know it’s an enjoyable way. The hope is that it continues regardless of players or leaders within the side.
Jofra Archer (left) was a late selection for England ahead of last year’s World Cup
Hussain: Did you always think you’d be a great captain? Are you born a leader or made into one?
Morgan: I didn’t think I’d be a good leader. It has only come with experience. You’re not born a leader. I think you are made into one and that can come through failings and messing up.
You have to come back with, ‘How can I learn? How can I be hungrier? How can we make this better for the side?’ The biggest mistake is to ignore the mistakes you make along the way.
Hussain: Do you ever doubt yourself?
Morgan: Rarely, because in the moment I tend to think quite clearly. If I get a decision wrong it isn’t because I wasn’t thinking clearly, it was because we had the wrong game-plan. I may have judged the wicket wrongly or something like that. Because I take time and try to be logical with decisions, it’s hard to mess things up completely. You have Plan Bs, Cs and things like that. They enable you to have a good feel.
Morgan didn’t believe he’d be a good leader, but has developed the skills through experience
Hussain: You are crystal clear in your thought processes, but you are not afraid to let things out in the press when you want things changing or to make a point. I can think of the Alex Hales situation and Dawid Malan in Napier. Is that premeditated because you want to make it clear you weren’t happy or does it come from the heart?
Morgan: My best description of leadership is taking a group of people from point A to point B. It might not be a straight line and there are points along the way where it can all be derailed. I like to let everybody know how we feel because it holds us accountable as to what we are about and what we’ve committed to moving forward.
Hussain: I read an article the other day suggesting English cricket might have got a bit too dependent on your leadership. Do you think the team would fail if you weren’t there?
Morgan: No, I completely disagree with that. I’d be a terrible leader if that happened. One of the things I’ve been conscious of doing is trying to let guys grow as cricketers, people and leaders. The great leaders do that.
I’ve given opportunities to guys that may have been questioned at the time but it’s been done with an eye on the longevity of the team.
Players such as Moeen Ali have been given responsibility and a voice in the dressing room
Moeen Ali was vice-captain last summer, Sam Billings the winter before and Jos has stepped in on numerous occasions. We’re giving guys a voice in the changing room so it’s not always me. If the guys don’t lead in the changing room they won’t lead on the field.
Hussain: Is anyone ever scared of saying no to you?
Morgan: No, they question me all the time and I’m the first person to put my hand up if I’ve got anything wrong. I have plenty of heated discussions with players and management.
Hussain: You’re playing as well as you’ve ever done. How long do you see yourself carrying on as a player and captain? Do you take it game by game?
Morgan: It’s probably more six months to six months. And Covid has contributed to that. I spent the first lockdown with my family not playing or watching cricket and it has re-energised everything about my outlook.
Eoin Morgan feels the first lockdown enabled him to rest which has ultimately benefitted him
Before that I would have looked at my future every couple of series but now, with two T20 World Cups on the horizon, I’m focusing everything on them. As that continues we will be getting closer to the next 50-over World Cup as well.
Getting to choose when you go is a luxury not many people have so I envisage it will be taken away from me if we don’t do well in those two T20 World Cups. Equally, if we do extremely well in them I’ll go through the same process.
Hussain: When you’re not playing cricket we don’t really hear from you. You’re a private man. What about your long-term future? Will you go away from the game?
The 34-year-old potentially seems himself going into coaching once his playing days are over
Morgan: I don’t see myself going away from the game completely. Initially I thought I’d leave and you wouldn’t see me again. But the experience of the last five or six years has encouraged me to think I might have something to add to a team at whatever level. I’m not sure in what role exactly. Coaching with as broad a title as possible could be on the cards.
Hussain: One last question. You were an over away from winning the last T20 World Cup in India. Are you the favourites for the next one?
Morgan: I think we’ve got a chance but I don’t think we’re favourites. India are the firm favourites and I would have us joint second with Australia.
When we got so close in 2016, people felt we came from left-field and could have gone out early.
Morgan has tipped India as the favourites to win next years World Cup which they are hosting
But going into a tournament as a big outsider like then would make me more uneasy than being one of the favourites in 10 or 11 months’ time. Trust me, being a big outsider is not a great place to be.
Hussain: Welcome to my career!
Morgan: You can relate to that? You know the feeling. You’re trying to push crap up a hill. But when you go in with a strong, solid chance of winning it breeds confidence. We talk as a team about being in this privileged position and to go out there and be ourselves.
To play cricket the way we play puts people on the back foot and that’s not nice to play against.
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