Basking in the glory of a dramatic, confusing victory at Lord’s, his legacy as England’s greatest white-ball captain secure, Morgan said he would “let the dust settle” before deciding what next. A few weeks later it was clear he would play on.
The circumstances were very different here last night, with New Zealand avenging that unforgettable defeat to knock England out of the T20 World Cup at the penultimate hurdle. But Morgan, now 35 and enduring a form slump, wasted no time expressing his desire to remain in post.
Morgan has been a transformational presence in English cricket, the architect of an unprecedented period of success. He should go out on his own terms. Judging when, where and how is desperately tricky.
The Covid backlog means there is another T20 World Cup next year. England, again, will be strong contenders. Their team will likely look very different. Hopefully Ben Stokes will return, so too Jofra Archer, probably Sam Curran. Jason Roy and Tymal Mills were a major part of England’s success early in this tournament.
Quite when generational change takes place for this side is unclear. After 2019, England’s idea of transition was to unceremoniously dump Liam Plunkett, and to take a raft of young players on a T20 tour of New Zealand, none of whom actually made it to this tournament.
Liam Livingstone, a revelation, was the youngest of the 13 players to represent England in this tournament, and he’s 28. Morgan is the oldest of the cohort he pulled together after 2019, and perhaps only he and Chris Jordan (33) – the fall guy last night, are in the final stretch. Most are 30 to 32, meaning there is life left.
It is easy to say “but there is a World Cup in 2022, now is not the time to make changes, Morgan should stay”. The trouble is there is a World Cup (ODI) in 2023, too. And another (T20) in 2024. Change will need to be incremental until then.
This conversation is taking place after Morgan had a rare poor night tactically (even if he declared he “wouldn’t change anything” about his management of the game).
England frontloaded their bowling, leaving Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid with an over each in the final three of the innings. Woakes was sensational up top, but ended up bowling 18 balls at the death in the tournament, and saw them sail for 57 runs, including seven sixes. And asking Rashid to save the day in the 18th over, with dew set in, was akin to asking him to turn water into wine.
Why did Mark Wood bowl only between the seventh and 15th overs, neither the top or tail of the innings? Why did Moeen Ali not bowl at all?
Morgan should reflect that England’s team was not quite right. Poor Sam Billings came in for the biggest game of his career, and did not bat. In their thumping wins early in the tournament, Dawid Malan (against West Indies) and Moeen (Australia) had “thanks for coming” games, too. Then, it was luxurious. In the knockouts, it felt like flabby wastage.
For their last two games, with Mills injured, England essentially had just one death bowler in their side, Jordan. And in the semi-final, he ended a tournament in which his performances had improved markedly on recent times by getting pasted. This, of course, is a product of the epic injury list, with Archer, Mills and even Curran badly missed at the death. You always want a left-armer, too.
Overall, England were a little off colour. It was unfortunate to lose the toss, and twice their best efforts in the field were not enough, with Jordan and Jonny Bairstow almost pulling off wonder saves on the fence. Fine margins meant these failures cost six. With the bat, they had struggled to time the ball.
Still, this represents an epic opportunity missed. Through the injuries, they patched a team together and, in their four excellent victories to start the tournament, provided a platform to win it. Who knows when India and their staggering talent pool will next exit a tournament at the group stage?
If Morgan were to bow out, there are two things to note. One, is that he would surely be welcomed into England’s off-field team, somewhere, soon. In time, he should be running English white-ball cricket if he wants to. Two, is that he has taught his charges well and there are other sharp tactical minds about. And anyway, if his successor were ever unsure, the analyst Nathan Leamon could just put up one of his signals on the boundary. Captaincy by numbers is allowed.
Ultimately, Morgan must revisit something else he said in 2019. “I think the big question I will have to answer is will I be in the team in four years, will I be good enough?” he wondered. “These guys are improving very quickly. Will I be able to keep up with them?”
This year, he averages 17.71 and strikes at 119 in 39 T20 games. As finisher, he performs a thankless role, his form has always moved mysteriously and was excellent last year, so the decline may not be terminal. Still, with the emergence of Livingstone, the revival of Moeen, and the return of Roy and Stokes, Morgan’s place is under threat.
Either way, surely this is a decision worthy of a little more thought. Because if not now, then when?