10 innings, 107 runs at an average of 11.9 with the strike-rate lingering at 100.9. These are the numbers of Kolkata Knight Riders’ skipper, Eoin Morgan in IPL 2021 thus far. Club these with his numbers from last season and the average inflates to 27.6 and the strike-rate moves to 128.7. The second set of statistics engender a decent viewing but they are still under-par numbers for an overseas player bought at INR 5.25 crore who is also donning the captain’s hat.
Morgan was bought back by Kolkata in December, 2019 with high hopes. The expectations were laid at the back of his rising stocks in international cricket. Alongside leading England to the elusive World Cup win, Morgan also scored 609 runs in T20s in 2019, averaging 43.5 while striking at 170.6. These are heavenly numbers without requiring any comparison.
Consequently, Morgan induced a bidding war between Delhi Capitals and Kolkata, two teams in dire need of a star middle-order batsman and there were few choices as good as him. The hopes were that he will resurrect his IPL numbers. Instead, he has fallen in a category of international stars who just cannot crack the code in IPL.
Amongst the 27 overseas players who have batted in 60 innings or more in the IPL, Morgan’s run tally (1379) is better than only Sunil Narine’s 923 runs. His average (23.4) betters only Narine (15.9) and Dwayne Bravo (22.9), both of whom are bowling all-rounders. His strike-rate (123.9) is fifth lowest.
“I am not worried about my form”, said Morgan at the toss ahead of Kolkata’s clash with Delhi Capitals on Tuesday (September 28). He later got out for a second ball duck, leaving his team in a tricky position. Fortunately, for Kolkata, the subsequent batsmen stepped up to take the side home. Unfortunately for Morgan, he is moving towards a territory where his form should worry his team, both Kolkata and England.
After a brilliant 2019, Morgan’s form went south when cricket resumed post the Covid break. Kolkata can deem themselves unlucky as the pandemic postponed the 2020 IPL to September.
This dip has coincided with Morgan demoting himself in the batting order. Batting majorly at four until then, Morgan resumed international duties in T20s at number five in the three T20Is against Australia. In England’s next assignment, he moved to number six. His reason was that he wants to take the finisher’s role being a more natural striker of the ball and promote Ben Stokes to number five. In between, he batted 12 out of his 14 innings in IPL 2020 at five or six.
In T20s, batting gets tougher the deeper you go in the batting order. Morgan is amongst England’s finest finishers in white-ball cricket. That is the role he was brought for when he began his journey in England colors in 2009. But he always had a lot more time in ODIs and batting mostly at four in T20s.
Moving to six, he was perishing in need to swing the bat too early. This year, his attacking shot percentage in the first 15 balls of his innings is 61.6, his highest in the last six years. Consequently, 15 of his 22 T20 innings in 2021 have been cut down within the first 15 balls.
Morgan doesn’t back away from playing his shots irrespective of the situation he has walked in. That vindicates the approach he has injected in the England batting line-up to reinvigorate it from the humdrums of the pre-2015 World Cup era.
It also underlies in his treatment of the short ball. The left-hander averages only 17.1 against short or back of a length ball by pacers since July 2020. He is dismissed seven times. However, instead of a weakness, it highlights his attacking instincts. All the seven dismissals have come while playing the pull or the hook shot, where he averages 13.6. The below graphic is dominated by either singles, sixes or dismissals.
Go back to Kolkata’s win over Mumbai. Kolkata needed only 28 runs off 50 balls when Morgan walked in. He had already struck a six. Yet, he pulled Bumrah, one of the leading pacers, and top-edged it to deep square leg. He was out for 7. Against Chennai, he charged down to Josh Hazlewood with 12 overs left in the innings. What was a pretty good shot ended up in him being holed out at long-on, for 8. Against Delhi, he was out playing a rare defensive stroke, losing the match-up battle to Ashwin.
It feels as if what rendered the rise of Eoin Morgan in his full spectrum is now bringing his downfall.
Morgan’s ‘high-risk, high-returns’ approach always got the leeway but it is now testing its ultimate strength. Primarily, because of the availability of more consistent options.
England are staring at their most enriched lot of white-ball batting talent. There is no space for mediocre performers ahead of the T20 World Cup. A batsman averaging 17.1 in the last 15 months, even though at a strike-rate of 146.1 would miss out of the squad in all probability, except Morgan is still there by the virtue of his captaincy role. On similar terms, Kolkata have an in-form Tim Seifert waiting in the wings for his debut.
Overseas captains have had to drop themselves before in IPL. Morgan might escape the axe since his team is on a winning track. But there are repercussions moving forward.
“Time and tide waits for no one, except Rahul Dravid,” read a MTV tickr line years ago. But Dravid himself acknowledged his situation when he won the Player of the Series award in England aged 38, “You want to be making contributions at this stage in your career.” Morgan is in a similar position now. He is 35. As old as David Warner. In the IPL circle, he does not have a similar legacy as that of Warner to help him lengthen his IPL career despite an underwhelming season. We might be seeing the last of him in IPL, even with a 10-team IPL from 2022 onwards.
On the England front, his inconsistency is often camouflaged by the limitless success of the top-order. The talent pool England swim in, he is the only batsman in their T20 World Cup squad who should be benched. In 2018, Morgan told Sky Sports that he won’t mind dropping himself for the betterment of the team. That was stated for the 2019 World Cup. We might see it happen in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
In a longer term, being the only captain to lead them to a World Cup title, Morgan might have a concealed equation with the ECB that may allow him the rope till the 2022 T20 World Cup or the ODI World Cup in 2023. He might also enjoy the support of his teammates given he has backed them to the hilt in the previous World Cup cycle. But whatever the case, Morgan, the batsman is up against time to find his mojo back.