Some mighty cricketers are returning to the fray. For West Indies’ Chris Gayle is about to play his first one-day international since the World Cup of 2015. His fellow Jamaican, Marlon Samuels, the expert Ben Stokes provocateur, also returns to add some spice to the five ODIs that commence at Old Trafford on Tuesday. And for England prepare for a rare sighting of the captain, Eoin Morgan.
Recently one has had to be pretty sharp to glimpse Morgan at the crease. Since England lost against Pakistan at Cardiff on 14 June in the Champions Trophy semi‑final Morgan has played some cricket but not in any match that has lasted longer than 40 overs.
He captained Middlesex in their Twenty20 campaign – they finished seventh in the South Group – then he popped off to the Caribbean, where he had four innings for the Tridents (the team based in Barbados, since you ask) and then he appeared in the frozen north at Chester-le-Street for Saturday’s T20 match, which was won by West Indies by 21 runs.
We would be alarmed by Morgan’s recent form if it applied to anyone else. In his past seven innings his output does not even resemble a mobile phone number since he has never reached a score as lofty as seven. For the record those innings have produced 12 runs: two for England last Saturday; two, two, five and a duck for the Tridents while his efforts with Middlesex were one and another duck.
If anyone can cope with this little drought Morgan can. He has fashioned a unique career path among England cricketers – even Jos Buttler turns out for Lancashire in red-ball cricket when he can – and so far it has worked. He plays for various T20 teams and captains England in white-ball cricket. Fifty overs in the field may seem like an eternity to him over the next 10 days.
Morgan played well in the Champions Trophy and the ODIs against South Africa when his preparation was a few outings in the Indian Premier League. For him time in the middle, the old mantra of every batsman in history, does not seem to be essential. He has scored runs without what most would view as adequate preparation before and he is unassailable as England’s ODI captain. However such a schedule makes him vulnerable if the magic disappears. As so many of England’s ODI captains have discovered it is a tough job without runs; moreover it is tough to drop anyone if your own contribution is minimal.
As ever Morgan adopts a positive outlook. “There’s five opportunities to turn that [bad form] around”, he said. “I’m desperate to do it.”
It feels as if England have dropped Jason Roy for the first match of the series in Manchester, though technically this is not the case. In June Roy was omitted from that semi-final against Pakistan and was replaced by Jonny Bairstow and that remains the case for Tuesday’s game. “He [Roy] is certainly in our plans for the future,” said Morgan, who has always advocated consistency in selection and the virtues of giving players the security of a long run. Hence the suggestion is that Bairstow will now be given plenty of chances to demonstrate that he has successfully converted into an ODI opener.
“We feel Jonny deserves a chance. He’s been waiting in the wings for quite a while,” Morgan said. “He will open with Alex Hales. This is an opportunity to make the opening position his. We feel it is the right time to make a change. Jonny has been in fantastic form for some time and has never let us down regardless of the role we have asked him to play”.
Bairstow has never hidden his eagerness to be involved in every format and this is mirrored by other members of the squad, which is a healthy reflection of the mood of England’s best players. There may have been a temptation for Joe Root, the Test captain, and Stokes, his vice‑captain, to have a pre-Ashes break. But both of them want to keep playing, whatever the format.
Morgan is conscious that with their senior reinforcements on board West Indies are “a strong team and we don’t take them lightly. It is going to be a tough test”. But in recent years the longer the game, the more fragile West Indies become. Even in 50-over cricket they are ranked No9 in the world and they probably need to win all five matches to qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup.
If they manage that then Morgan will be confronted with some awkward questions on what we hope (rather than expect) will be a balmy night at the Ageas Bowl on 29 September. It is more likely that England with their experienced squad – Tom Curran is the solitary novice – will prevail more often than not.