It could not have been more fitting that, of all the England stars who might have been invited to award Eoin Morgan the special cap to commemorate his 200th One-day International appearance at The Oval last week, Andrew Strauss was the one who handed it over.
Four years ago, after they had shuffled away from the last World Cup red with embarrassment at how prehistoric their thinking had been revealed to be, and green at the prospect of having to watch most of the other teams rub it in, the newly appointed Director Of England Cricket knew he had some tough choices to make.
Along with the sacking of coach Peter Moores, no one would have been surprised if Strauss had asked Morgan to step aside too.
But the ex-England captain believed that, far from being the problem, his former Middlesex teammate might just be the key to the solution.
“There was a lot of talk that Eoin had to go,” said Strauss just before the start of England’s World Cup opener against South Africa, “but I thought he was the perfect guy to take us forward because he knew what not to do.
“He’d never been afraid to stand apart from the crowd and to do things differently and he has presence. When he walks into a room, people pay attention.
“I felt we just had to back him.”
And how right Strauss turned out to be was underlined shortly before the start of play in the competition for which the bookies have made Morgan’s England the favourites, when he described how significant a blow it could be to their chances of finally winning a World Cup if the finger injury the skipper suffered in the warm-ups flared up badly enough to force his absence. Strauss said simply:” That would be a disaster.”
Realising a fraction too late that honesty may have overcome discretion (why does that sound familiar?), the now former Director did attempt to row back when he added: “… not a disaster we couldn’t get over,” before explaining that Morgan had sat out a couple of matches to give deputy Jos Buttler the experience of filling.
But there is no avoiding the feeling that, of all the possible “disasters” that could befall England, in the form of injury to key players, no-one, not Buttler, nor Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, Joe Root or Jofra Archer would be so badly missed as the man whose leadership has enabled them to ascend to the position of the No.1 ODI team in world cricket.
And yesterday Morgan once again demonstrated the courage to stick to his conviction to be aggressive and play without fear, even when such tactics appear wholly inappropriate, that has fuelled their rise from World Cup no-hopers to potential World Cup winners, for with his first three shots in anger he reminded England supporters just how far they have travelled with him at the helm.
He had arrived at the wicket in between the loss of Roy and Root, which, following the first-ball departure of Bairstow had left England 111-3.
In years gone by, this distinctly unpromising situation would surely have ben the signal for England to reject all thoughts of attack, opt instead for consolidation and patience and set their sights on a total of around 270.
Morgan, of course, was having none of it.
He announced his refusal to be fazed when, after playing and missing his first ball from Andile Phehlukawayo, he eased his second to the cover boundary with the utter certainty of a man who had spent the last year playing the same shot to the same ball.
Then, having moved to 14 from 18 balls, he slapped Lungi Ngidi for consecutive sixes, first advancing down the track and smashing him over long-off, then rocking back and hoisting him over fine leg, and the counter-attack was on.
According to former assistant coach Paul Farbrace: ”I’ve said all along Eoin Morgan is the man most responsible for the development of the team.
“He said he wanted the team to play a certain way, not taking a backward step. That’s easy to say and very difficult to do. But he lives the talk and that is why the players respect him so much:”
As usual, Morgan’s face betrayed nothing, not a smile, not a flicker, not a twitch, just the trademark tightly zipped-lips, the steely blue eyes just visible through the narrow gap between eyelids, a live contender for the role of a young Night King should the producers of Game of Thrones feel the need for a prequel.
We’ve always known he is the Iceman of England cricket but this was almost impossibly cool.
Where does this sang-froid come from? Here’s what Morgan told The Cricket Paper back in 2012.
“Having an emotionless frame of mind is key really. And I think it is a skill you can develop.
“Cricket is one of the few sports, cricket and probably golf, where emotion can throw you. You can’t concentrate on what you need to do.
“It’s worked for me for as long as I can remember. So if it ever stops working I’ll just leave cricket.”
If that sounds a bit ruthless, it should, for this is a side of Morgan his players know they underestimate at their peril.
When Alex Hales was discovered to have failed a drugs test for the second time, it was Morgan who led moves to have him dropped from England’s provisional World cup squad.
“Unfortunately Alex’s actions have shown complete disregard for those (team) values,” Morgan said. “This has created a lack of trust between Alex and the team.
“We all agreed the best decision for the team was for Alex to be deselected.”
Those with longer memories will also recall what happened prior to the World Cup of 2015 when, on arrival Down Under, he was informed that the exiled Kevin Pietersen had claimed Morgan wanted him in the squad.
Asked if Pietersen would improve England’s chances he replied: “Kevin’s not in the side and he won’t be in the side for the foreseeable future.”
If further evidence were needed, surely the very presence of Archer in his squad in place of David Willey supplies it.
The Iceman cometh?
This one keeps on coming.