The new boy: Eoin Morgan in 2009 shortly after his first call-up for England © Getty Images
When Eoin Morgan takes to the field for the World T20 final, he will again be crossing swords with West Indies coach Phil Simmons, once his coach with Ireland. Neither will have fond memories of their previous alliance, which culminated in a blazing dressing-room row and Morgan, Ireland’s best player, being dropped.
“There will be no love lost,” says one former Irish player.
Morgan’s final day as an Irish cricketer was on April 17, 2009. He spent the day running the drinks against Kenya, brooding under his shades after being left out of the team by Simmons, who was furious that Morgan would leave the next day, the day before the final of the World Cup Qualifier, to play county cricket instead.
This sad epitaph to Morgan’s Ireland career reflected the breakdown of his relationship with Simmons.
When he arrived in South Africa for the qualifying tournament, some detected in Morgan a man who thought that he had outgrown Ireland. “He wanted to go home, he didn’t really have any interest in being there, he’d just come off an England Lions tour,” says one player.
The sense of Morgan passing by was intensified on April 6. He hit 84 not out to help Ireland defeat Canada, but the day seemed more memorable to Morgan for another reason: he was named in England’s 30-man list of probables for the World T20.
Immediately after his Man-of-the-Match performance, Morgan declared himself “delighted” and “looking forward to it, if I do get selected”.
Even with Morgan in brilliant form, the relationship between him and Simmons was increasingly untenable: a man using Ireland as a stepping-stone to Test cricket with England against a proud man building a team who aspired to become a Test nation.
On April 11, Ireland suffered their first tournament defeat, against Afghanistan. Morgan had made 20 off 41 balls on a day in which, according to one of his then associates, he gave the impression that playing for Ireland no longer held much appeal.
“He was more worried about getting the next flight home than the game,” says the insider. Morgan had made his desire to prepare for the county season clear, even as Ireland’s other county players had committed to staying for the duration of the tournament.
Simmons had had enough. In the dressing room “he gave Morgan a spray in front of the whole squad,” one player recalls, berating him for not caring enough about representing the country of his birth.
“Both were to blame,” the player believes, reckoning that Simmons erred in lambasting Morgan in front of the whole team. A week later, few members of Ireland’s squad rose early to thank Morgan for his outstanding batting in the tournament. The shame, as another player now reflects, is, “both men helped Ireland qualify for the 2011 World Cup. Both are Irish cricket legends.”
The tawdry end to the Ireland career of one of the most brilliant cricketing talents to ever emerge from the Emerald Isle was years in the making, for Morgan had always regarded playing for Ireland as a temporary step.
At the age of 22, Morgan was then one of the most talented young batsmen in the world game, and he could hardly be blamed for feeling that the Ireland set-up as it was then, with limited opportunities that haven’t exactly burgeoned in the intervening seven years, was not sufficiently established to provide him with the career that his abilities clearly warranted.
“From the age of 13, I wanted to play cricket for England,” he later told The Sunday Times. “I’ve never felt any shame in saying this is what I wanted to do. And the people at home involved in cricket, they were like, ‘Fair play, it’s going to be unbelievable if you make it’. So I’ve never had any shame about this and my father’s never had any shame about it.”
But at times such manifest ambition irked his team-mates. In one of Morgan’s first Ireland matches, as a callow 16-year-old, the entire team were left waiting on the bus for 10 minutes while he met his agent.
After Simmons joined, he detected in Morgan a man who prioritised his England ambitions over Ireland’s interests. In 2007 he turned down a spot in Ireland’s ODI with India to focus on cementing his Middlesex place. Morgan was not selected for the World T20 Qualifiers in Ireland the following year, after insisting on leaving the tournament for a day to play a televised limited-overs match for Middlesex.
And yet, all the while, Morgan’s run-making ability remained undimmed. Indeed, his best-ever form for Ireland came in the World Cup Qualifiers in 2009: a glimpse of the single-mindedness and imperviousness to pressure that has sustained Morgan throughout his England career.
Morgan and Simmons have crossed passed previously since their Ireland days, not least earlier in this tournament when West Indies came out on top, and Morgan twice captained England in Dublin while Simmons was still Ireland coach. But none of those matches had such significance.
Morgan will hope to show his qualities again at Eden Gardens and, in so doing, deny Simmons the WT20 crown.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo