Niall O’Brien: Morgan’s taken England from laughing stock to world’s best

His innings against Afghanistan won't be forgotten in hurry, but it's just a sign of the way Ireland's Eoin Morgan has changed English cricket

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Eoin Morgan’s innings was sensational. To come into a game with a bit of a niggle in his back and not be 100%, and then to play with such confidence, skill and power, it was a credit to him.

He even shocked himself that he played so well! Post-match he said he didn’t think he could play an innings like that, but he just keeps getting better. To go out and hit the ball so cleanly from ball one shows a player at the top of his game.

You only have a certain number of those innings’ in your career. That was one for Morgan at Old Trafford and it’ll go down in the folklore of World Cup innings as one of the greatest of all time.

When things are going so well for you like that you just feel you’re untouchable. Everything you touch turns to gold.

Morgan’s a great captain, but first and foremost he’s got to score his runs, and he’s been in superb form for the last 18 months. He’ll always want to be putting scores on the board and he looks very composed at the wicket right now.

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English strength pushing the boundaries

They’ve such a good team now that they’re all egging each other on and they keep getting better – Morgan even said his 57 ball hundred was slow by the standards of the team!

One thing he has going for him over most batsmen is the ability to play the sweep and the reverse sweep. When he comes in to bat, teams always have a field to stop those two shots.

But that’s playing into his hands because he very rarely plays the sweeps and reverses anymore unless he has to. Now, because he played those so well for so long, teams have to block that area and it opens up the field.

That’s just cricket smartness. It shows he’s evolving as a player, even in his early thirties, and he’s learning day in, day out. The more he bats, the more he plays, the better he gets.

And all these England players are all performing at their peak level right now. No one’s dragging their heels. They’re a top-notch outfit.

They keep pushing to get better. That’s why I think they’re going to win the tournament.

Captain Morgan turned England’s ship around

He’s been the main part of turning England’s limited overs cricket around. He’s the most important cog in the machine, there’s no doubt about it. He’s transformed the team with his mindset, his tactical nous and his confidence.

At the World Cup in 2015, they were a laughing stock. Now they’re the best team in the world and favourites to win the World Cup on home soil.

So much of the credit goes to the Dubliner.

If England win the World Cup, he’ll be in the reckoning for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, there’s no doubt about it.

In Ireland, you speak to people generally, they’ll know there’s a lad from Dublin captaining England, so he’s got a following. Among cricket circles in Ireland, there’s huge support and interest in how he’s doing, even if it’s not so prominent in wider sporting public.

But the longer this tournament goes on, and the further he goes with this side, the more attention he’ll get everywhere.

From a cricketing point of view, pretty much every in Ireland thinks very highly of him as a person and player. I’ve said before how, every time he plays well for England, Ireland are still getting a touch off that. It rubs off on Irish cricket because everyone knows he’s a born-and-bred Irishman captaining the England team.

Ireland still get a bit of credit when England do well.

Irish regrets as Afghans flop

Of course, his great innings did come against Afghanistan, one of the weaker nations, but you’ve still got to put the ball away. He was hitting the ball into the stands with ease!

The Afghans were poor tactically. Rashid Khan, one of the best bowlers in the world, wasn’t brought on until the 19th over – by that stage England’s batsmen were well set, their eyes were in and they were used to conditions. With Khan, you’ve got to get him into the attack as soon as possible when batters aren’t set, and then use him in three or four over bursts.

All tournament, Afghanistan have been very disappointing. They’ve been poor with the ball, and they never once tried to chase that score against England. Of course, it was always unlikely. The chances of chasing close to 400 are next to nil, but from ball one they looked like they were batting for practice’s sake and it was very disappointing.

Ireland and Scotland will look at them here and think they’re blowing a golden opportunity to showcase to the world the level of cricket below the big sides. That’d be a fair assessment.

I’m sure Ireland would’ve performed better than the Afghans have so far. Think back to their game against Sri Lanka.

All they needed was a cool set of heads in a run chase to get over the line but they wilted under the pressure.

There’s been trouble in their camp between the players and the staff and board from an organisational point of view. I’d stick my neck on the line and say Ireland would’ve done a lot better than them so far and probably would’ve beaten Sri Lanka.

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