Eoin Morgan: Is England captain’s reign coming to an end?

Eoin Morgan addresses his England team as they stand in a circle around him
Eoin Morgan has led England’s white ball resurgence but has struggled for runs, making two ducks in the first two ODIs against the Netherlands

As Eoin Morgan eases himself between the sheets in his bed at the England team hotel on Wednesday evening his mind may start to wander.

To batting in the nets on a concrete strip with a beer keg as stumps at Rush Cricket Club, the seaside commuter town on the outskirts of Dublin, as a youngster. To the time he boldly told Ireland’s selectors aged 13 his dream was to play for England.

To his maiden one-day international hundred for Ireland against Canada, to his England debut. To his appointment of him as England white-ball captain. To his blueprints of him, his vision of him, his transformation of him.

To beat the best and reach the top. To his 148 from 71 balls against Afghanistan. To Cricket World Cup glory and to his place in history. To his team-mates of him, to the joy of the greatest days.

But then his thoughts may drift some more. To the niggles, the aches and pains. To one half-century in the past 65 innings he’s played in all matches. To be unsold in the Indian Premier League. To one ball last Friday. To seven excruciating balls on Sunday. To not run. To rashness, to feet that feel like they are in lead boots, to parts of the body not quite moving in unison anymore.

To the groin injury which ruled him out of the final ODI in Amstelveen, and a chance to prove to everyone he could still do it. I have still had it. He could still bat.

To the questions. To the scrutiny. To the time away from home. To his wife of him Tara and young son Leo. To self-doubt. To whether, at nearly 36, it is time to break his own gentleman’s agreement with English cricket, his paymasters, his fans, his colleagues. To cancel the unwritten pact he had earned the right to go out on his terms. To whether he should resign.

On Sunday, Morgan had bitten his bottom lip as he traipsed off, shoulders slumped forward staring at the turf, unwilling to make any hint of eye contact with Liam Livingstone, the next man in at the VRA Cricket Ground in Amstelveen.

A defense mechanism of forced positivity followed. He puffed his chest out then sheepishly smiled his way through soft team questions in the post-match media duties with television broadcasters. I have watched on two days later as his team-mates warmed up in the Dutch sunshine, keeping his poker face from him.

So far, the England camp – his team-mates, his friends – have dead-batted talk of his demise, trotting out the cricketing platitudes: Morgs looks good in the nets, Morgs just needs a score, Morgs will come good.

“There’s ups and downs in everyone’s careers,” his England team-mate Jason Roy had said with defiance. “I’ve had a shocking few games at times and at some stage things turn around. They have for me and it’s no different with him. He’s an incredible guy around the changing room. An incredible captain and he’s working just as hard as the nextman.”

It’s a measure of his leadership qualities, the unswerving loyalty he has engendered, that so many of his players are so willing to go out to bat for him – with their words off the field and their actions on it. Masking his failures of him with the bat, yet unwittingly highlighting them, in the cruelest of paradoxes.

“He’s always leading the group really well,” Sam Curran pleaded. “I’m very certain it just takes that one knock when he gets back into form and everyone would have forgotten about it.”

Yet surely now only the most loyal Morganists in England’s group truly believe what they say about his batting. Away from the cameras and dictaphones. In hushed conversations in the narrow streets of Amsterdam, strolling along the canals, over coffee, it will not have been far from their lips. In the back of their minds.

His skills as a captain are undiminished. His mind still tactically sharp. Yet, how much longer can he hold others back. They know that Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes will come back in when it matters. That they could miss out. That everyone else here in the Netherlands has made runs in favorable batting conditions. That Sam Hain and Harry Brook are middle-order batters back home smashing it in the Blast, knocking on the door.

They know that in Jos Buttler there is a readymade heir. A man in the form of his life, and arguably just as tactically astute. That he is ready. That his comments from him about pushing to make 500 in ODIs will be spearheaded by him, not held back by him. That he already has their respect for him.

They knew that Joe Root was the run-scoring captain who couldn’t buy a win. They know Morgan is the winning captain who can’t buy a run.

Now it feels inevitable that something has to give. That the end of days are coming. Now he waits. They wait. We wait.

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