What a mess. For those who only tune into English cricket when it lurches into crisis mode, grab the popcorn. After two of the country’s leading players took up what they believed to be the option not to tour Bangladesh this winter, they now find themselves in the eye of a storm.
Eoin Morgan, the one-day captain, and Alex Hales are the two dissenters in question. They have gone against the assurances presented to them by England’s security expert, Reg Dickason, and made themselves unavailable for selection due to a personal preference to not play their cricket within a ring of steel and in a country where, according to government advice, foreigners, in particular westerners, may be directly targeted by terrorism.
The mistake, perhaps, was in offering a choice in the first place. Offer it they did and, on Sunday evening, England’s director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, said the England and Wales Cricket Board was disappointed. What this truly means is yet to be fully established. Simple disappointment is fine in itself and shared by most who follow the team, but anything deeper than this, having told players they could make a personal choice without prejudice, would be a trifle vindictive.
Strauss stated last week on the eve of decision time that we are not trying to coerce people into touring and that an understanding would follow whatever call was made. It is a sentiment that should be remembered just as much as his other warning that, from a cricketing perspective, the absent players risk losing a place to a hungry understudy.
Morgan and Hales have now become cricket’s answer to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, pondering what they thought to be their free will as events now hurtle along beyond their control and their futures are now shaped by others. Morgan’s long-term captaincy is being questioned despite 18 months of dramatic, thrilling improvement by the one-day side under his leadership. Will his authority really be diminished? Or are those suggesting it labouring under the mentality of a past era, as opposed to the more touchy-feely mindset of the current generation of millennial cricketers?
This England team – specifically the one-day side – is a talented collection of young cricketers high on confidence, but is one that, thus far, feels largely ego-free. For all the personal drive that fires their performances, the main pillars beneath Mo rgan – Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler – are not currently the types to make internal capital from the situation.
Where those three go, the rest tend to follow and it was Stokes – the very heartbeat of the side, irrespective of Buttler being handed the stripes temporarily – who was quick to react on Twitter shortly after Morgan and Hales officially withdrew. He cited the need for their decisions to be respected and reasserted his support for the captain in particular. If the talisman is going out of his way to say this, as opposed to trotting it out at a press conference, you fancy it is probably on trend behind the scenes.
As Stokes pointed out, neither player will have taken the decision lightly. Morgan scarcely appears to care how he is perceived by the public, but he will know he has exposed his place to the burgeoning talents of Sam Billings and Ben Duckett, not to mention the glowing form of the previously squeezed out Jonny Bairstow. Runs flowing for one of these thrusters in Dhaka and Chittagong would lead to awkward questions if Morgan’s return to lead the side in India came at their expense.
While Hales should be more assured of his one-day place as the second-highest run-scorer in the format since the last World Cup, his career is heading for white-ball specialism. He perhaps beat the Test selectors to the punch in this regard, but even so, he has still theoretically shouldered arms to a format where he craves success. Given Nottinghamshire’s relegation to Division Two, he faces a long road back.
This situation is certainly a first major bump in the road for a 50-over side that, under Morgan, has risen from the ashes of the harrowing 2015 World Cup, but none of the above is to rule out the team dynamic being affected as a result. All we can hope for is that when the question of his return for India in January arises, the decision is reached from a cricketing perspective, rather than any grudge held or feeling that his leadership has been diminished as a result.
Morgan is known to have shared his intention to not travel with his team-mates early in the recent series with Pakistan and England still crushed their opponents 4-1, hitting a world record 444 for three at Trent Bridge on the way, suggesting his leadership was not a problem then.
Morgan and Hales may well regret their decision in years to come. They may not. But ultimately they were granted the option by the England management in the first place and so, unlike the locked-in fate of Tom Stoppard’s two confused courtiers, none of the outcomes from this tangled affair should already have been written.
News Source TheGuardianNews