OLIVER HOLT: I was wrong to demand Morgan’s removal… he’d deserve to take a place alongside Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson in the pantheon of England World Cup-winning captains
- In the past, England may have wilted after the early setback on Thursday
- However, Eoin Morgan’s side is brimming with self belief and confidence
- That is largely down to the captain, whose influence has grown in last three years
When Jonny Bairstow fell to the second ball of the World Cup on Thursday morning, the capacity crowd bathing in the sunshine at the Oval fell quiet for a few minutes. Ghosts of failures past danced across the rooftops of Archbishop Tenison’s School and perched on the railings of the layer cake pavilion. All the optimism of recent months suddenly seemed terribly fragile.
In the past, England teams in this format might have wilted. A jolt like that in a pressure situation like that against a team like South Africa might have been enough to induce collective panic in a side anointed tournament favourites. But this time, there was no panic. Joe Root was next man in. He crashed the penultimate ball of the next over through cover with one of the sweetest drives you could ever see.
That is the new England. That is Eoin Morgan’s England. This is a team that knows it is too good to succumb to the doubts that beset their predecessors. It is a team that can ride setbacks and get on with the game as if those setbacks had never happened. It is a team that rebuilds and rebounds. It is a team brimming with self-belief.
Eoin Morgan’s England is a team that rebuilds and rebounds – it is brimming with self-belief
It was a tune well chosen when strains of Taylor Swift singing ‘Shake it Off’ reverberated around the old ground as Morgan walked to the wicket later. Because when this England team encounters adversity, that is exactly what they do. Root and Jason Roy responded to the early wicket with a century partnership. Bairstow’s dismissal was an inconvenience. Nothing more.
The headlines on Friday morning were all about Jofra Archer’s explosive bowling performance on his tournament debut for England and the images centred around Ben Stokes’s brilliant catch at deep midwicket to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo.
Almost lost in the exultation of such an uplifting start to cricket’s biggest showcase was the fact that England’s performance was a reflection of Morgan’s leadership and another indication of how pivotal his influence is to the progress of this team.
Look, I was as harsh a critic as anyone when Morgan refused to tour Bangladesh three years ago. I didn’t think he should be allowed to continue as captain principally because I believed it would undermine his authority with players who had made the decision to travel and to play surrounded by heavy security. It became evident some time ago that that view was a misjudgment.
It is evident that Morgan’s influence on this side has continued to grow in the past three years
It became evident some time ago, in fact, that far from waning, Morgan’s influence on the side had continued to grow. He is surrounded by some breathtaking talents in England’s one-day side but it is his captaincy that has transformed them from the basket-case outfit they were in Australia four years ago to the tournament favourites of today.
He is attempting to join an exclusive club of captains who have guided our most high-profile men’s teams to World Cup victory. Only Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, quiet, loyal men, who led by example and abhorred bluster and braggadocio, are members for now but Morgan shares enough of their characteristics to encourage optimism that by next month he will have joined them.
Morgan, who made his 200th ODI appearance on Thursday, has created a culture in the England one-day set-up that empowers his players. They love playing for him because he allows them to play without fear. Fear has crippled so many England teams in the past, particularly the men’s football team, but in the side that is contesting this World Cup, it is absent.
Under Morgan, England’s batsmen are encouraged to express themselves. If they get out to a bad shot, there are no recriminations. There are no reprimands, certainly not in public but not even in the sanctuary of the changing room. Morgan wants the players to trust their talent and in his culture, the only crime is fear.
Morgan is attempting to join an elite group of men to lead England to World Cup glory
His players trust themselves and they trust him. They know that they have his unconditional support. He is straight with them and he is honest with them. They also value the fact that even in the most stressful situations, Morgan is a model of calmness. His serenity is infectious. It was easy to sense its influence in those isolated moments of uncertainty at The Oval on Friday.
It was there in the way England worked out the situation in front of them. The wicket was doing a little bit more than anyone had expected and they gave themselves time to work that out. They realised it was not as flat as they thought and lowered their sights accordingly. It was a thoroughly impressive performance that bodes well for what lies ahead.
There will be more setbacks. There are bound to be. ‘We will get knocked down and have to come back,’ Morgan said on the eve of the tournament. ‘We need to be able to react and get better as the tournament goes on. It will throw up something to test us, maybe being five down early or chasing 150 and we’re eight down for 100. We’re going into it with eyes wide open.’
Morgan practises what he preaches, too. He came to the wicket on Friday at one of those moments of uncertainty. Roy had just fallen and three balls later, Root was out, too. Morgan responded imperiously. He played aggressively without being rash. He hit the first six of the innings over long off and then smashed another one behind square off the next ball on the way to building a century partnership with Stokes.
No Fear is his creed and the creed of this team and if Morgan becomes the first England men’s cricket captain to lift the World Cup, he will deserve his place in that pantheon alongside Moore and Johnson.
A minority of so-called England football supporters turn up in some countries as if they have come to colonise them so the FA’s campaign of short films urging them to behave during the Nations League finals in Portugal this week was both timely and clever.
It is a shame it was needed, though, because it is so different in other sports. There was, for example, a happy atmosphere inside the Oval an hour before the start of the World Cup on Thursday. A group of England supporters formed a slip cordon on part of the concourse while a South African fan wielded a bat. There was a general sense of bonhomie and anticipation.
It was, happily, a world away from the aura of intimidation and aggression that some England football supporters take with them on trips abroad. It would be nice to think that maybe, one day, no one will need to be told: ‘Don’t be that idiot.’
The FA have released a series of short films to remind England fans to behave in Portugal
It will be a blow to the Premier League and to the fans who attend its games if, as expected, Eden Hazard leaves Chelsea for Real Madrid this summer.
Hazard, who signed off with a match-winning performance against Arsenal in the Europa League final, is the most gifted player in English football and it has been a privilege to watch him play.
There is one caveat: there have been prolonged periods in his Chelsea career where his performance level has dipped. For that reason, if asked who has been the best Premier League player of the last five years, I’d pick David Silva ahead of him.
The Premier League and its supporters will miss Eden Hazard when he moves to Real Madrid
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