Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Joy of Six... or The Case for Morgan

Tomorrow, we'll learn the identity of the man picked to bat at six for England in the first test against Sri Lanka next week. While not that long ago it seemed to be a four-horse race between Bopara, Morgan, Hildreth and Taylor, it seems that the latter two have dropped out, leaving it a straight choice between Ravi and Eoin.

When I wrote something about the announcement of the Lions squad, I spoke of how it looked like being the highest run scorer to take the spot. And with Morgan getting 193 and Bopara only 17, it would seem that Morgan would have won that particular battle fairly convincingly.

However, the journos and general people in the know reported that the performance in the Lions game was academic, as Bopara had already been pencilled in before the match even began. It appears that Andy Flower wanted to reward Bopara's committment to his test future by shunning the IPL to play county cricket, and thought that Bopara would be in better nick with the red ball. And if, as believed, Andy Flower thought that on Thursday, it would probably still be the case this evening. This England regime is not one that makes knee-jerk reactions after one good performance.

While Ravi's stance to play for Essex in the early months of the county season must be applauded (he is finally showing the maturity that appeared to be lacking in the early years of his international career), I don't think that this alone should be why he plays at Cardiff next week. In cricketing terms, England have to decide who will make more test runs in the long run - Ravi Bopara or Eoin Morgan? Yes, Bopara's willingness to play in the tests should be praised, but not at the expense of a player in Eoin Morgan who for my money would consistently outscore Ravi Bopara in test cricket.

It may well be the case that Morgan's actions over the past few weeks may be "punished" by overlooking him for the test. While nobody has begrudged Morgan the chance to cash in on his T20 abilities (of which he is arguably the world's best batsman), the timing of his comments the other day just appear odd and out of character. By stating that if he isn't picked for Cardiff he intends to return to the IPL for the Knight Riders is putting out the message to the ECB that he'd prefer to earn a few more rupees than play for Middlesex and fight for his place in subsequent tests in the series. What if Bopara breaks his finger on Thursday morning and a replacement is needed? Morgan won't be much use if he's on a plane over the Indian Ocean.

As a batsman, Morgan's mentality is unquestioned. He is clearly mentally ready for a prolonged run in test cricket - something that is probably the biggest question mark over Ravi Bopara. Morgan's technique probably isn't completely ready for test cricket, but we saw last summer against Pakistan at Trent Bridge that when it all comes together, Morgan is as good as they come. Morgan is a batsman who moves absolutely seamlessly through the gears and is as comfortable with his back against the wall as he is with the foot against the throat. Bopara may be the better batsman, but Morgan would be far more consistent and is a better player. And don't forget, he has just scored as-near-as-dammit a double hundred against Sri Lanka. Who would the Sri Lankan bowlers least prefer to see walking out onto the pitch with England four down next week - Ravi Bopara or the guy who made them toil for for a day and a half?

The word on the street is that Ravi Bopara will be selected tomorrow, and while I have no doubts that Bopara will be a very good test batsman for England, I just think that Eoin Morgan could be one of the very best.

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