Cricket: Dropped Eoin Morgan faces hard road back
Dublin-born Morgan paid the price for a disappointing tour of the United Arab Emirates, where he struggled for runs across all three formats against Pakistan.
While he has plenty of pedigree in one-day international and Twenty20 cricket to fall back on, and remains vice-captain of the side in the shortest form, Morgan has yet to prove himself as a Test batsman.
In 16 matches, and 24 innings, he averages just 30.43 and managed only 82 runs in six knocks in the UAE as spin duo Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman picked holes in his distinctive technique.
Yesterday, he was the major omission from a 16-man party for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka, with his recent understudy Ravi Bopara retained and all-rounder Samit Patel handed the chance to battle for a place.
Morgan was selected ahead of Bopara as Paul Collingwood’s replacement last summer, despite heading to the Indian Premier League while the Essex man excelled in first-class cricket, but Flower has suggested his route back into the team will not be as straightforward.
“He’s had a tough tour of the UAE, we’ve been here for two months and it’s been hard work for him,” said Flower, whose side secured a 2-1 T20 success over Pakistan on Monday.
“He has got some work to do, I think, on his Test game and that’s going to be quite difficult for him considering his next cricket is going to be IPL cricket. When he comes back, he’ll have limited exposure to opportunities to get four-day cricket under his belt so he has got to go away and give some serious thought to his method in Test cricket.
“He has been severely tested out there by the Pakistan spinners, as have all our batsmen.”
While demotion will be a bitter pill to swallow for a man who quit his native Ireland in a bid to play Test cricket, there were also some encouraging words from Flower, who has previously spoken of highly of Morgan’s leadership potential.
“I still think he has a very exciting future in Test cricket,” Flower continued. “He’s only 25 years old and he’s a very talented player, a very confident player and a very dangerous player. If he can get his game in order so that the next time he gets a game in Test cricket he can grab it with both hands then he will fulfil his wishes for his cricket career and England will be a better side for it.”
The remainder of the batting unit was as expected, with Patel’s steady left-arm spin earning him the nod ahead of the likes of James Taylor, Jos Buttler and Johnny Bairstow.
Surrey’s Steven Davies again travels as back-up for first-choice wicketkeeper Matt Prior, while the importance of slow bowling has been underlined by the selection of Kent’s James Tredwell, who previous Test experience came in Bangladesh in 2010.
With Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Patel also involved, England’s spin contingent for the matches in Colombo and Galle is the largest spin contingent in recent memory.
Tredwell is a like-for-like replacement for Swann, who is likely to be complimented by a rejuvenated Panesar. “I’m pretty sure Sri Lanka will produce spinning conditions for us,” said Flower. “James Tredwell is in the side as cover for Graeme Swann – we think the off spinning position is a very important one and he’s there in case Swann goes down with injury or illness.
“I couldn’t see them both playing in the XI and Samit Patel gets his first chance in the Test squad. He will be competing for the number six batting spot with Ravi Bopara and it gives us the option of playing a fifth bowler.”
The two-Test tour opens with a game against a Sri Lanka Board XI, which starts on 15 March. England then meet a Sri Lanka Cricket Development XI on 20 March with the first Test starting six days later in Galle. The second Test in Colombo is on 3 April. Batting coach Graham Gooch will lead an advance party of seven to Sri Lanka, with the remainder of the squad following on 10 March.