If Eoin Morgan the Irishman lifts the cricket World Cup for England on Sunday it can no longer be considered an irony. Instead, it will be a refreshing change from the nationalist debate that seems to be giving Europe so much grief at the moment.
Morgan represents an adaptation of the classic Irish sporting tale – growing up one of six in a terrace house in Rush, a small town north of Dublin, honing his prodigious skills on the street outside with his siblings and friends. The fact that cricket is the sport he was perfecting represents the twist.
There were more than a few who felt rankled when Morgan first publicly declared that it was his ambition to be a professional for England. This was understandable, given he chose the eve of the sides’ first World Cup meeting in 2007 as the time to make this declaration.
Aside from the timing of the announcement, the 32 year old is to be commended for his approach to playing for his adopted country. He has been clear and concise in his ambition, never wavering, even after his home nation secured full-member ICC status in 2017. He has stated in interviews that he knew as young as 13 that he wanted to play for England, and that he ‘feels English’ inside. Not to be discounted is the fact that he has an English mother, something that has allowed him to have had the career that he has thus far.
As a power hitting middle order batsman Morgan has more ODI centuries than any other English captain, and has pioneered an innovative ‘all-guns blazing’ approach that has led to the number one ranking in the world. But his biggest mark on the game will be if he can lead England to its first World Cup victory on Sunday, no mean feat given they first encounter a tough semi-final with Australia on Thursday.
As Ireland prepare for their first Test Match at Lords, the spiritual home of cricket, one can’t help but imagine the futile thought of how the 32 year old would have been able to assist.
In its best light, the Irish top six is talented, if slightly brittle. Kevin O’Brien averages 56 in Tests (from an admittedly small sample size), skipper Will Porterfield is a determined type who was part of a County Championship winning team. Andy Balbirnie has five international centuries, James McCollum averages over 50 at first-class level and on his day Paul Stirling can massacre any attack, such is the precocious talents of the ‘Fat Irish Bradman’.
All of those players have shown they have the aptitude at different times, but there is a lack of consistency, a proven performer. It also falls away steeply from there, with a slew of bowling all-rounders, part-timers and youngsters queuing up to fill the remaining positions. An experienced, but not ageing batsmen like Morgan would make an extraordinary difference to the side’s fortunes.
It is however a pointless exercise as Morgan is English through and through, in cricketing terms at the very least. Only the most antediluvian and bitter would turn up their nose at Morgan lifting the trophy on Sunday. We want our sportsmen to be dedicated to representing their country. In an era of Brexit chaos and unification/nationalist debate in this country, and right-wing extremism in others not so far away, it is a pleasant change to see a sportsman who is dedicated to his career first and foremost.
Ireland’s own team features a number of English born players, such as the fast bowling warhorse Tim Murtagh. It also features a complete disregard for any border on the island as a whole with an equal number of Northern and Republican contributors. This commitment too, to the sport rather than the badge, should not be underestimated.
So while Irish cricket prepares for what is probably the biggest day in its history, so too is England preparing for one of the biggest days in theirs. There’s no doubting which side of the fence Morgan will be on for both of those, but then again, there never has been.