Eoin Morgan interview: Bowlers more important in shorter formats, England lucky to have all-rounders
Over the past few years, England have had a deep impact on the way white ball cricket is being played around the world. Their method of naming a batting-heavy lineup and going after the bowlers from start to finish has led to average team totals increasing significantly. Their revolution, of course, was complete with a first 50-over World Cup triumph earlier this year.
The man at the center of it all is Eoin Morgan. The 33-year-old was at the forefront as England decided to change the way they approached One-Day Internationals back in 2015.
The skipper, though, believes he was fortunate to have three quality all-rounders in his side. According to Morgan, England’s ultra-aggressive approach with the bat wouldn’t be possible without them.
At an event organised by the T10 Abu Dhabi League in Mumbai on Tuesday, Morgan spoke with Scroll.in about the importance of bowlers in the shorter formats of the game, why it’s difficult to be an all-format batsman, the potential of T10 cricket, and more.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Recently, India dropped their two wrist spinners for T20Is and decided to go with a batting-heavy lineup. England, of course, have successfully used this tactic of bulking up the batting order in ODIs over the past few years. Do you think this is the way to go forward in shorter formats?
I think formats differ. The shorter the format is, the more important a bowler becomes. A world-class bowler can change the game in T10s and T20s because taking wickets is the only real way of stopping runs. There are very few bowlers around the world who have low economy rates but don’t get wickets. I think one follows the other. So bowlers become very important the shorter the format.
We, in fact, are very fortunate when it comes to our batting. There are three people who changed our lineup massively – Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes. When these three play, the strength of our batting is immense. They’re genuine all-rounders and it’s forgotten sometimes that they changed the balance of our lineup. Because if one or two of these guys are injured, we are then forced to decide which is the key role.
I think when you have one-dimensional cricketers like me, I’m a batsman, it makes things more difficult for a captain. Because you need to find extra overs from a sixth bowler, who you might not have in the XI. So then that sixth bowler might become somebody like Joe Root, who is very capable but isn’t Ben Stokes or Moeen Ali. So I think these three players make our lives as selectors and a captain much easier.
Ashley Giles, England’s Director of Cricket, recently said that you’ll need to address the balance between red and white ball cricket. Do you, too, feel the need for that?
I think there has been a balance. A lot of people have said that the focus has been on fifty-over cricket but if we’d won the Ashes, people would’ve said the balance is actually equal and everything’s fine again. People are driven a lot by results and that’s absolutely fine with me. I think Test match cricket is still our priority, it’s the pinnacle.
Every young cricketer who plays at home says it, and as long as they continue to say it and believe it, Test cricket will continue to remain the be all and end all. That, for me, is most important. I think there’s nothing to suggest that the balance has tipped one way. It will remain the same in the future, I don’t see it changing.
How difficult do you think it is to be an all-format batsman in this day and age? We’ve seen only a few batsmen dominate Tests, ODIs and T20s, how difficult do you think it is to do that?
I suppose being an all-format cricketer is challenging in not only the way you play but even in terms of the amount of time you spend away from home and on the road. That, itself, poses a huge challenge. It would be interesting to see if people are prioritising one format. They may be playing all three of them, but secretly they may be thinking I’m going to score hundreds in this particular Test series or give it my all in another ODI competition.
But such cricketers who can play all formats are becoming fewer and fewer. People like Root, [Virat] Kohli, [Kane] Williamson and [Steve] Smith are the ones you should ask, because they have mastered it. I suppose everyone else is struggling with it. Ben Stokes is doing it, but not on the level of these guys. They’re averaging fifty in all formats which is extraordinary. They’ve clearly found a way but I think everybody else is struggling.
South African spinner Tabraiz Shamsi recently said that the pressure in the shorter formats is often only on the batsmen and bowlers are there just to spoil the party. Do you agree with that? Do you think bowlers have become side artists in white-ball cricket?
It’s interesting for him to say that because he’s a very good bowler in shorter formats. He spins it both ways and is one of the most sought-after bowlers in the world in the shorter formats. But I think it’s different, especially when it comes to fifty-over cricket.
The World Cup wasn’t what everyone imagined it would be. Everybody thought, and so did I, that 350-375 would be the average score. As it turned out, the wickets weren’t as good or as flat as we’d thought and the games were very competitive. The final was probably the best example of that, where the pitch was bowler-friendly and they dominated the match. So like I said earlier, I think bowlers become more important in the shorter formats.
Do feel the shorter the format, it becomes more important for a bowler or batsman to have explosive sort-of energy? Where they can go full throttle from the get-go...
When you scout for players in the shorter formats, you look for impact. Average might go out of the window sometimes and strike-rate comes right into it. How a batsman can perform in a particular phase of the game, against a particular bowler, becomes the be all and end all. As far as bowlers are concerned, they must be able to get wickets. If I had to pick either a world-class batsman or say a world-class leg-spinner, I’d 100% go for the bowler as my first pick in a tournament. Because they’re just so important.
So is data analysis becoming more and more important in the shorter formats? We saw England use a lot of it successfully in the World Cup.
It all depends on how you use it. All the data is out there, it’s about finding the most pertinent thing about that game, on that venue, on that day, against that particular player. That’s the key. Everything could be generic and people could do the exact same thing, but it all needs to change if it’s not working and isn’t relevant. It’s data backed by instinct.
You have to be able to take it all in and find the relevance. It’s hard to describe. You could sit in a meeting for hours and hours and suddenly find what you were looking for. You feel it’s perfect, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You then go with that and scrap the rest of it.
Finally, we have several new shorter formats coming into the game. T20 has, of course, been very successful and now we have T10 and The Hundred as well. What do you think is the main advantage of having these formats? What are we trying to achieve with them?
Having played two seasons of T10 cricket, specifically, I think it has brought an incredible reaction from the fans as well as the players. It’s been challenging but extremely entertaining, and that’s very important because otherwise people won’t come and watch and you’re not doing anything for the game.
But the biggest point is the fact that you can have a full tournament with eight or ten teams in a span of ten days or two weeks. If you’re considering cricket going into the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, I think T10 is the most relevant format. We’re still unsure about The Hundred because we haven’t had a season of it yet but if you talk about a T20 tournament, it could take five or six weeks. And when you’re talking about the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, you have a tiny little window where you can grab people’s imagination and hopefully get them to grab a bat or ball.
When I watch the most random of sports in the Olympics, I find myself judging everything. It could be badminton, gymnastics or any other sport, I’m interested and intrigued the entire time I’m watching. So I think cricket will be a huge benefactor if T10 gets that sort of exposure.