He’s No Coward…

It was decided in the halls of power at the Daily Mail that Mr Paul Newman and Mr Nasser Hussain were not sufficiently qualified to stick the knife into Eoin Morgan at any given opportunity. Newman tried, oh how he tried. But not well enough. So fresh from a jaunt to Minnesota, the deity that is Oliver Holt, son of Emily Bishop, a top journo back when leather jackets and Jimmy Hill’s kitchen were en vogue, had to fly out on a three day trip to back the boys up. Oliver, or as his lovely friends call him “Ollie” came, he saw, and he wrote. Badly. Away we go.

Eoin Morgan is a lucky man. He is lucky because he has a group of honest, honourable friends in the England one-day side who, through their public displays of support, have shown way more loyalty to him than he has to them.

And away we go. Remember one thing throughout this piece, because it is in his headline. He is NOT, absolutely NOT accusing Eoin Morgan of cowardice. Definition of cowardice is:

lack of bravery.
“my cowardice got the better of me and I crept out of the room”
synonyms: faint-heartedness, spiritlessness, spinelessness, timidity, timorousness, fearfulness,pusillanimity, weakness, feebleness;

informalgutlessness, wimpishness, wimpiness,sissiness;
informalwetness;
archaicpoltroonery, recreancy;
rarecravenness
“he was charged with displaying cowardice in the face of the enemy”

No, maybe not cowardice here, but we’ve got disloyalty out of the way by way of a starter for 10.

He is lucky because in men such as Andrew Strauss, Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace he has bosses at the ECB who have stood by him, even though privately they must be dismayed and disconcerted by his refusal to tour Bangladesh.

How do you know their private thoughts? Is that what Newman told you via the good journalism route? They may have disagreed, but it was they who gave people the option, indicating this wasn’t a slam-dunk decision. But hey, that’s a nicety because Eoin isn’t being accused of cowardice, even though he refused to obey orders (although held privately).

He is lucky because even though he chose to miss the three ODIs in Dhaka and Chittagong, even though stand-in skipper Jos Buttler and the young players thrust into the limelight in his absence performed like heroes, Morgan has been told he will reassume the captaincy in India in January.

Oh my god. “Performed like heroes”. We beat Bangladesh 2-1. A good result. A result if achieved under Morgan’s stewardship would have been run-of-the-mill. The ability to puff up the victories is an English specialism.

We’ve had three paragraphs kicking off on the theme of being “lucky”. Prepare yourself for five paragraphs starting Everyone knew…

Everyone knew, as we walked out of the lobby of the England team hotel in Chittagong last week and down the slope towards the waiting security convoy, that Morgan will be allowed to waltz straight back in to the side for the first ODI against India in Pune.

“I was with the England team” says Mr Sanctimony. I was with them. And because I’m with them I can say that Eoin shouldn’t be when (assistant, look up where the 1st ODI is in January) we take the field in Pune, and I’ll be sitting at home, or commenting on some old football nonsense. If “everyone knew” Sanctimony, why did you feel the need to go there and get some sort of journo purple heart to prove “it’s safe”? What was the point other than a tedious hatchet job.

Everyone knew, as we walked past the heavily-armed Bangladeshi SWAT soldiers, their backs turned to us as they scanned the lush hotel gardens for any possible threat, that even though Morgan had decided this was way too much hassle, he will lead the team out at the start of the next leg of the ODI tour on January 15.

“Way too much hassle”. Because Eoin Morgan took a serious decision, that could jeopardise his place in the England team, because it was too much hassle. Hey, as I say, WE are the ones with an agenda. Also, security. SWAT teams, possible threats. But Eoin isn’t a coward. It’s too much hassle.

Everyone knew, as we watched England’s players climbing onto the coach that would carry them through the teeming destitution of the streets of Chittagong on a journey that Morgan had decided was too dangerous for him to take, that the absent skipper’s place was safe.

I’ve had this discussion already. Not questioning why this is happening in a country racked with poverty, with a political system in meltdown, and a recent terrorist attack on westerners, and whether sums of money should be spent on it. I know this is a debate, there is no right answer, but acknowledge it. Also Morgan has decided it was too dangerous to take. But he’s not a coward. Olly took it, Eoin didn’t. But not a coward.

Everyone knew, as we rode behind the team in the convoy taking us to the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, trucks of Rapid Action Battalion troops at the front of the line of 10 vehicles and an ambulance bringing up the rear, that even though Morgan had said he could not cope with this level of distraction, he had decided the level of distraction in India would be just fine.

Ah, India. Holt has a point. Eoin Morgan cited an incident in India as a reason for not going, but has been to subsequent IPLs. We can go into many scenarios here, and I doubt Holt has, but maybe experience has proven it safe for Morgan, while maybe he wasn’t so sure about this. I mean, trucks of Rapid Action Battalion troops would convince me we’re playing in a non-hostile environment. But hey, I’m funny like that.

Everyone knew, even as England’s band of brothers defied a noisy, excitable and partisan crowd to set a record for a run chase at the ground and seal a 2-1 series victory, that Morgan will be allowed to reassume control when it suits him.

“Band of Brothers”. A bloody cricket team. Why is he, and others, not too subtly inferring that sport is like war. Leading them out to battle, fighting for England, leading from the front. etc. It’s a bloody sport.

The prospect of his recall is hard to stomach. This is a man who still, apparently, considers himself a leader but who, despite the considered advice of the ECB’s trusted and highly-respected security director, Reg Dickason, that it was safe to tour Bangladesh; decided that he would really rather not stand together with his players in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Do you think he might have discussed it with them, as Jos Buttler made clear, and they thought it fine (and will they think the same of Hales, who has given up on his test career for now over this). Or is there “good journalism” going on here too. Or, as I suspect with Holt, he’s making this shit up.

Welcome to England’s first non-playing captain; a guy who waves his team off to foreign climes when the going gets tough and rejoins them when it gets easier. Welcome to the guy who chooses the day his mates land in Dhaka to send out a tweet boasting about the hospitality he has been enjoying from Guinness at a boozy session in Ireland.

Keep this in mind, when you think about a previous England captain who rested for a Bangladesh tour, or another former England stalwart who decided in 1986-7 to not tour with England again, or our upstanding keeper-batsman who opted out of touring India. Morgan missed three ODIs. And in true Daily Mail style, if he wasn’t volunteering, or wearing sackcloth and ashes, he was to be condemned. How dare him have a beer when his colleagues were sweating away in Bangladesh.

Some captain this. Some leader. Some sense of comradeship. Some sense of solidarity. For that tweet alone, the man is an embarrassment. It says a hell of a lot about the loyalty and character of players such as Ben Stokes that they should still seek to defend and support him and it says a hell of a lot about the loyalty of Morgan that he should turn his back on them.

Some captain. One of two to lead us to an overseas ICC tournament final in 24 years. When he did lead, he was seen as a cool head on the field, a decent tactician, a supporter of his players and an evangelical pursuer of a more aggressive, attacking form of cricket which has royally entertained us. He looks like a fine leader to me, and one players might be loyal to. How dare you cast aspersions on that on the back of a three day jaunt, Holt. What the hell do you know. Still, he’s not a coward.

Let’s be honest about Morgan’s decision not to tour Bangladesh: he got it wrong. The evidence of a one-day tour that passed without incident off the field proved he was mistaken.

I pray to God that nothing happens during the test series. If there’s anything going off while we are there, England will be home on the first flight (or at least to Dubai). He did not get it wrong just because nothing has happened. That is absolutely dense logic, and one a newspaper reporter should be ashamed of.

It is important to note, of course, that the England Test team are still in Bangladesh and that a security threat remains. Just as it will remain when the Test tour moves on to India next month and when the one-day tour of the subcontinent resumes in January. Modern sportsmen live with threat now. It is their new reality.

The differences between India and Bangladesh are so stark that Holt’s ignorance is on show. I suppose them, India and Pakistan are all the bleedin’ same, ain’t they?

But it is also important to note that the ECB’s preparations for the tour of Bangladesh have been beyond reproach. They could not have done more to create a safe environment for the players. The team hotel in Dhaka was in the midst of an army-controlled area. The team hotel in Chittagong is in a secure compound.

Terrific. England created this. Not the local government, their military, their police, who could, just possibly, be trying to curtail the trouble going on in Bangladesh. It may be overplayed by us in England, but there are issues. For example, one of the Government’s own son was a participant in the Bakery assault back in July. No-one had a clue he’d been radicalised, and that he was indeed planning to be a part of that attack. Still, military preventatives are all we need and never fail.

So when the one-day players flew out of Chittagong on Thursday evening, bound for London, the ECB had kept their part of the bargain. They had ensured their safety. Morgan would have been on that plane, too, if, he had deigned to pitch up in the first place.

If he isn’t accusing him of cowardice, then what is he? Being lazy? I’m losing the will here.

Let’s be clear about one thing: I am not criticising Morgan or Alex Hales, who also refused to travel, for a failure of courage. It is a failure of logic that I object to. Logic and advice suggested it would be safe to tour Bangladesh. Logic also suggests that if it is not safe to tour Bangladesh, then it is probably not safe to tour India, either.

You must note that despite calling him disloyal, saying that Morgan thought it wasn’t safe, that he hadn’t had his players’ backs, that he wasn’t a leader, that he waves off the team when the going gets tough, he’s not, definitely not accusing him of cowardice. He’s accusing him of the crime of not being logical. Logic defies me that the Mail is our most influential rag, and that women in the main are its target, when it has the Tits and Hate column on its website. But Olly works for that rag, and objects to “a failure of logic”. Don’t be a coward, Sanctimony, call him a coward.

And, I’m sorry, but if you are the captain of a team and you wish to remain as captain, you carry a responsibility to your players. Or you should do. That’s why Morgan should be stripped of the role for the limited-overs tour of India.

What does this even mean? Because here comes a belter…

Ask yourself whether principled captains in our recent cricketing past, men such as Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Strauss would have pulled out of a tour and let the team go without them and you know the answer.

Andrew Strauss pulled out of a tour in 2009 to rest. Someone tell Holt that. It was to Bangladesh which was seen as an “easy” tour. Oh, so if management say so, its OK. If a player, worried about his safety does, he’s not a “principled” captain. On the contrary, Eoin sounds quite principled to me. Just because it doesn’t align with Mr Logical, out there for three days, Holt and his definition, Morgan’s a wrong ‘un.

Remind yourself of the example of current Test skipper Alastair Cook. His wife is about to give birth to their second child but he will still then fly out to Bangladesh to be in Chittagong for the first Test.

Good on Cook for going. Good luck to him. Hope his baby is well, and he scores runs. That’s his decision. But then we are talking St. Alastair here, aren’t we.

If you want to, believe those who say that Morgan’s absence in Bangladesh will make absolutely no difference to his authority with the men who travelled without him on the tour that is universally regarded as the toughest trip for English cricketers.

In the absence of public statements saying that, and every single England player questioned saying they understood it, and that it makes no difference, you carry on with your petty spiteful campaign.

Or consider instead what many senior figures, past and present players, are saying privately: that when the chips are down at some time in the future and Morgan is trying to rally his men, they will look at him and somewhere in their minds they will be thinking: ‘Where were you in Bangladesh when we needed you most?’

But he’s not being accused of cowardice. “Hey! Eoin. I’m not going to fight my hardest because you aren’t logical.”

That’ll do for now. There’s a really good baseball game on at this time.

UPDATE. A very unexpected endorsement.

I can see you, Paul….. How do you feel being undermined by Olly, because, old son, that’s what it looks like from this space. In fact “everyone knows” that.

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Eoin, T20, ECB, ICC, Tired….

As Chris is off around the other side of the world, and my job has gone absolutely hyper, the time to consider and even react to games, news, events is so totally limited. Coming home has been like wandering into a gently soothing cool shower, draining away the aches and pains, but leaving you still tired and needing rest. Such feelings don’t correlate with writing passionate blog materials. Twitter is easier, but also lazier.

Carrying out the duties of a blog like this means a lot of spare time is taken in reading and listening to what is going on. Today is a good example. I bought the Cricket Paper this morning. The only time I’ve even thought about reading it was when Tregaskis asked me if he could see a copy of the front page. I get home and the first time I actually catch up with the Surrey and Middlesex scores is on the bus to my house. I’ve listened to George’s podcast while having one eye on the unbelievable opportunity I have in 9 days time to fulfill one of my dreams.

I sit and read the stuff on Eoin Morgan. My job entails me going around the world, infrequently, and seeing some extraordinary places – I’ve been to Almaty in Kazakhstan, a brilliant experience, and down a coal mine in Illinois. I’ve been to Istanbul a number of times, and even the amazing city of Moscow. I’ve been nervous about many of them. But I went, because I believe I can look after myself, have a huge sense of danger, and feel as though my wits are about me. I don’t guarantee safety, but then again life is too short to worry about everything. I’m sure something will happen some day, but it is as likely to be in Paris as it is in Istanbul, for example.

But I have turned down visits that don’t suit my personal circumstances, or where being a chunky could get me into trouble (i.e. being able to run decent distances). Or, importantly, where they make me nervous. You see, I may have to make the choice of going to Bangladesh soon, and I’m not that keen, but would probably, on balance go. But I am not a high profile international cricket team. I have every sympathy for Eoin Morgan, who has damn good reasons for not going. His own. You don’t walk a mile in his shoes, so don’t you dare judge him for making that decision. It is all perfectly well people saying “he’s the leader, he should show some courage”. Bollocks. There’s too much of this judgmental crap these days, and I’ve had enough of it. I’m sure many of you have too.

Those who like that sort of thing are pointing out Eoin Morgan’s “lack of form”. The irony of that smacks me in the face. Two years ago lack of form was nothing when the other England captain was playing test cricket, and his lack of form at ODI level took more than a few months bad trot to get him out of the team. Morgan will know how much he lost if he is not selected for India. If he isn’t selected in the squad, then I know that this is personal. Morgan is a very good white ball captain. Jos Buttler will not surprise us that much in three games to persuade us that Morgan still isn’t the best white ball captain.

Then there is the T20 stuff. Look, sorry people, but I really haven’t been following it as much as I know you might like me to. Part of me is past caring. The ECB know what they want. They want an 8 team tournament, in prime summer, with international superstars, and it live and exclusive on Sky TV. Yes, you read the last bit. If it ain’t them, it will be BT Sport. That the counties want little to do with it, is not a surprise, but they’ll be told “no nice payouts to keep you going if there isn’t what we want” and we’ll melt down into civil war over cucumber sandwiches. Unlike Australia, on which we are basing our T20 envy, the game has lost its grip on the social fabric of the country because it banned itself from free TV. Australia still reveres it cricket and there is still an audience for it. It also, as I read from someone today, the perfect set up with large urban centres limited in number. What would we do?  Graves seems to have all the negotiating skills of a Sandstone cliff, and Tom Harrison couldn’t persuade me to put the heat on in winter, so what chance do we have? I don’t think the other side of the debate has been all that crash hot either. Why do we need to save the counties? If they didn’t “need” saving we wouldn’t have to help them out. The game is not viable even in the current “massively successful” T20 Blast era. You know my view – players are getting paid above their market value, and unless there’s some damn realism in this sphere, we are going to be in real trouble ad infinitum. There is not a single current non-international cricketer who should be on more than £2k a week in county cricket. There used to be a few at Surrey. I’ll bet they weren’t the only ones.

And as for the ICC. May god have mercy on the souls of the cricket boards of this world. We truly are in the hands of men with little imagination, other than how to try to make money. I’m done with it. What is there left for us to say? What more could Death of a Gentleman do to say, sort this mess out? I’m not sure two divisions would have saved test cricket, nor do I believe it is in as dire a state as some say it is. It most certainly is in certain countries, but that isn’t new. We have the wonderful success story of Pakistan, the world #1 that never plays at home. England are up and down. Australia too. India look to be getting some consistency. Sri Lanka can pull magic out of a hat. South Africa may still have it. The ICC don’t give a shit. Not really. The BCCI run the game and we all know it. It may have sounded like they were moving towards consensus, but that was always transient in my eyes.

So tiredness and weariness, despair and demoralised, we move on to the end of a season where the premier long-form competition is coming down to a thrilling conclusion with the top two meeting in the last fixture and our host broadcaster, with five or six sports channels to fill in midweek, cannot be arsed to cover it. And that’s the broadcaster who #39 put their head chap at #6 in his power list. He should be #1 because if the exclusive broadcaster can’t be bothered to do this and that company is very likely to keep all cricket in the future, then this sport has the wrong priorities. But we knew that.

UPDATE – Paul Newman has written a truly appalling piece on Morgan’s decision. I’m not linking it. If you want to read it, then go ahead. But there is no room in his ivory tower for a shade of grey. The sort of article that plays the man, and not the issue. An issue so serious that the ECB Head of Security went out there for a week and still the ECB said there would be nothing held against anyone who did not travel. I ribbed an Aussie about their non-tour last year, I know. But there’s been some naughtiness since (I’ve learned a hell of a lot about Bangladesh since then) and it’s a judgment call. No more no less. But there isn’t empathy in Newman. Certainly not in his writing. I don’t know if I could be more angry with him.