England captain “absolutely delighted” after defending 163 against Sri Lanka
But it was also his third-highest score in 37 T20 hits this year, and his partnership of 112 with Jos Buttler dragged England to 163, a total they managed to defend in spite of a wet ball and an injury to Tymal Mills. Bearing in mind the demands of conditions during the first innings, England will hope that it signals a long-awaited run to batting form from their captain ahead of the T20 World Cup’s knockout stages.
“You sort of always have to believe because if you don’t believe, nobody else will,” Morgan said of his first score above 20 in two-and-a-half months. “I always do. Today was a bit of a tougher test. It was nice to be out there with one of my best mates enjoying ourselves – although it was quite tough – but just to get a partnership going and put something on the board to try and defend.
“The guys in the powerplay seemed to hit [the ball] lower on their bat a lot. Even Jos, who’s in unbelievable form, really did find it unbelievably tough and when I got to the wicket he talked about just getting something going. And even he struggled to rotate the strike. So [it was about] taking in all that information and realising how tough it is and believing it will get better or you will get a bad ball, even if you don’t you’re still doing the right thing and trusting the process.
“We talked about it being as hard as we’d faced just to get the ball away, never mind looking for boundaries. A normal risk-taking shot would have been sweeps, but we didn’t feel sweeps were on with the guys they were bowling and the way the wicket didn’t really bounce at that time, and we’re thankful that we just hung in and trusted in our experience, even in really quiet overs. You know, [it was] shocking really, but we just had nowhere to go, literally nothing to do, and it was better than just slogging it up in the air.
“But it was nice being at the other end when he started getting going: he really is unbelievable. [It was] Jos being Jos. From the far end just watching him battle – not as hard as I did – but just battle, and then find rhythm after he took a couple of risks [which] made Sri Lanka bowl differently and then that worked in our favour. But without that absolutely unbelievable knock we’d have been nowhere.”
Buttler suggested in his post-match press conference that Morgan’s lean run with the bat had been in part due to the volatility of his role as a finisher. “I think the position he bats in, in T20 cricket, forms a bit of a myth,” he said. But Morgan played down any suggestions that he had looked like his old self towards the end of his innings, after carving Lahiru Kumara and Wanindu Hasaranga for six over wide long-off and hooking Dushmantha Chameera onto the roof.
“Me? No, no,” he said. “This ground is very challenging. Maybe if I’d have batted second I might have hit the middle of the bat a bit more but we’ve played games here the last month where coming in, because the ball’s older, a bit darker and the bounce is really low, it’s hard to get going and be free-flowing. Even the guys who came in at the end there felt the same. So the value in that partnership to try and take it longer is obviously worth it as well.
“[My acceleration] was after facing a lot of balls and they were due to bowl a bad one. But it’s good, it’s runs on the board, it’s a contribution to winning the game and batting with one of my best mates as well.”
WATCH – Eoin Morgan hits an inside-out six
“I think today he showed an immense amount of character,” Buttler said. “He was very patient. He soaked up balls and gave himself enough time to get us to conditions, and we managed to put together a great partnership. It’s never easy coming in when you’ve lost wickets early on and there’s plenty of the game to go, but I think he certainly enjoyed getting a few out of the middle today and we’re all delighted when we see him play that way.
“Myself and Morgs, we’ve played quite a few games now. We just tried to soak up the pressure and build a partnership. We were finding it tricky, and generally if you’re finding it hard work, the guys behind you would probably find it hard work as well, so we didn’t panic; we allowed ourselves time and tried to take the options against the bowlers we felt more comfortable against, and at the nets we felt more comfortable against, with one shorter side on the ground.”
England’s win was Morgan’s 43rd as a captain in T20 internationals (including Super Overs), taking him clear of Asghar Afghan’s record, and some rare signs of emotion in the field demonstrated his relief at managing to defend a score in a tournament where that has been a challenge. “I’m absolutely delighted,” he said. “We’re having fun. I might not look like it, but yeah, we are.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Recent Match Report – Bangladesh vs Pakistan 1st Test 2021/22
Mehidy Hasan Miraz the only Bangladesh batter to make a mark on the second morning, with a 68-ball 38
Lunch Bangladesh 330 (Liton 114, Mushfiqur 91, Hasan 5-51) v Pakistan
Liton was the first to go – after a wasted review – in the second over of the day, when Hasan beat his forward prod with a delivery that slanted into his pads. It was Liton’s maiden Test hundred, which included 11 fours and a six in in 233 balls.
Yasir, the debutant, showed good judgment for 18 balls before Hasan blew away his off stump with a fine delivery that cut between his bat and pad. Perhaps Yasir was a touch too late bringing down his bat but the movement probably didn’t allow him that time.
Brought back for a second spell, Hasan then removed Jayed and Ebadot in consecutive deliveries. He will be on a hat-trick when Bangladesh resume their second innings.
The first day belonged to the home side after they turned things around from a precarious 49 for 4 in the first session. Pakistan blew away the top four, starting with Afridi getting one to rear into Saif Hassan, who could only fend it to short-leg. Shadman Islam survived two clear-cut chances before being lbw to Hasan. Captain Mominul Haque and Najmul Hossain Shanto fell in the space of two overs, leaving Bangladesh with the possibility of an embarrassing collapse.
But Mushfiqur and Liton battled a tough 40 minutes in the first session, before thriving in the second. They consolidated in the final couple of hours, when Liton battled cramps to reach his Test century. Mushfiqur, however, led the partnership, particularly after tea when he kept the scoreboard ticking despite being on the cautious side.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
Recent Match Report – India vs New Zealand 1st Test 2021/22
The wicket of Kane Williamson at the stroke of lunch left the match beautifully balanced
Lunch New Zealand 197 for 2 (Latham 82*, Young 89, Umesh 1-30, Ashwin 1-57) trail India 345 (Iyer 105, Gill 52, Jadeja 50, Southee 5-69, Jamieson 3-91) by 148 runs
Kane Williamson’s wicket in the last over before lunch on the third morning ensured India shared the session with New Zealand despite the visiting batters looking solid for most part. Bowling with the second new ball, Umesh Yadav got one to nip back to ping Williamson on the back leg. The New Zealand captain decided to review the lbw decision but replays showed the ball would have hit the top of middle stump.
India started the day with their two most experienced bowlers, Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin, while KS Bharat substituted behind the stumps for Wriddhiman Saha, who had a stiff neck. Will Young and Latham didn’t find it easy to score on a slow and low pitch though Young skipped down the track against Ashwin a couple of times, hitting him over mid-on for four on one occasion. But otherwise both batters were forced to wait for the rare loose delivery.
Luck too seemed to be on New Zealand’s side. Ishant and Ashwin drew the outside edges of Young and Latham respectively, and while Young’s went for four through the gap between wide slip and gully, Latham’s fell short of Ajinkya Rahane at first slip.
With the breakthrough still elusive, Ashwin, who had started the day bowling around the wicket to both openers, switched to over the wicket. He broke the 151-run opening stand when Young edged a fuller-length delivery behind the stumps, with Bharat taking an excellent catch staying low. Young fell 11 short of what would have been his maiden Test hundred.
Williamson walked in with three men around the bat, and after a few watchful moments, struck two fours in one Ravindra Jadeja over. In the very next over, Ashwin could have had Latham too. He did everything right, tossed the ball up, got it to spin past the outside edge and hit the batter on the back leg. Umpire Nitin Menon though denied the vociferous appeal for lbw and India chose not to review. Replays showed Latham would have been on his way back had they done so.
A little later, Menon and Ashwin were involved in what seemed like a chat about Ashwin’s follow-through. When bowling from around the wicket, the offspinner was delivering from closer to the stumps and then moving across towards the left-hander’s leg side to avoid stepping onto the danger area. In the process, he seemed to be obstructing the umpire’s view and the non-striker. India’s coach Rahul Dravid too was seen making a visit to match referee Javagal Srinath’s room.
India took the new ball after 84 overs with five minutes to go for lunch. That proved to be just enough time to pick up the big wicket of Williamson.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Steven Smith’s Australia vice-captaincy may not be universally popular, but it makes sense
Despite being only “a heartbeat away” from the United States Presidency, John Nance Garner, Vice-President under Franklin D. Roosevelt, once described his job as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”.
But as of today, Smith has become one of the most powerful vice-captains in Australian Test history and is only a hamstring away from the top job once more.
Australia have rifled through Test vice-captains in the last three years since Smith was last captain, with Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Marsh, Travis Head and Cummins himself all taking turns in a game of musical chairs with Cricket Australia feeling safe in the knowledge that nobody would have to step in at short notice. But the time has come for Cummins and they have appointed Smith as his deputy knowing full well he is likely to be called upon to lead again.
There will be a great many who feel uncomfortable about this fact, especially given he has ascended to the role after his successor, Tim Paine, has resigned in different yet equally ignominious circumstances.
But the fact that Cummins has handpicked Smith as his deputy, adamant that he needs Smith’s experience and guidance, is a sure sign of how far Smith has come. He is not the 26-year-old batting virtuoso who knew nothing but cricket when he was first appointed permanently in 2015, nor is he the 28-year-old burnt-out leader of 2018 who had become isolated from his teammates, and subconsciously or otherwise a little threatened by vice-captain David Warner’s performance as T20I skipper.
Smith is now 32 and has learned some of the harshest lessons any cricketer could ever be made to learn about leadership and life in general.
It would take the coldest of hearts and narrowest of minds to think that he hasn’t learned from those experiences and isn’t better for them. Team-mates speak of him in a different light now. Heading back into the rank and file of the Australian team has been good for his soul. He has become a more willing participant in the fun and frivolity in the rooms. The experiences of Cape Town, and to a far lesser degree but significant in its own way, not being the best player in the T20 World Cup winning side, has taught him humility and given him a different perspective on what the team needs from him.
Smith noted as much when he spoke alongside Cummins after his appointment.
This will be a tightrope for Smith to walk, to do the job his captain asks of him without making the team feel like there are two skippers out there at once pulling the ship in different directions
“I’m truly honoured,” Smith said. “I think there’ll be some negativity from some people around it. I understand that and I get that. But for me, I know that I’ve grown a great deal over the last three or four years. I’m a more rounded individual. And in turn, I think it’s turned me into a better leader and I’m excited to be in this position next to Patrick.”
Smith is the most experienced Australian vice-captain in terms of leadership credentials since Adam Gilchrist was Ricky Ponting’s deputy. The power dynamics between captain and vice-captain have been sources of tension within the Australian rooms ever since. Michael Clarke’s relationship with Ponting, and then his own relationship with Shane Watson, as well as Smith and Warner’s dynamic all prime examples.
Australia’s philosophy on the vice-captaincy has been to use it to develop young leaders. But having aspiring leaders in the role can often be problematic.
Vice-captaincy isn’t a warm bucket of you know what, but it is a very unusual role in a cricket team. While they are officially a leader, the job requires subtlety and subservience. Vice-captain’s need to lead without undermining the captain. They need to be a conduit between the players and the captain while appearing to side with both. It requires emotional intelligence as much as tactical nous, and ego must be checked at the door.
It is a role that Smith can do better than anyone currently in the team. Having led Australia 93 times in all formats and 34 times in Test matches he knows better than anyone what a captain needs from his deputy and what a team needs from theirs.
But Smith has a greater challenge in that Cummins has asked him to be “an elevated vice-captain”. Cummins knows his role as the team’s talismanic fast bowler will require all his energy at times and has already declared that Smith will be called upon like no Australian vice-captain has been before, to make tactical decisions and bowling changes while the captain is on the field.
This will be a tightrope for Smith to walk, to do the job his captain asks of him without making the team feel like there are two skippers out there at once pulling the ship in different directions.
“I’m completely guided by Patrick and whatever he needs out on the field,” Smith said. “That’s my job. If there’s times where Patrick hands to me and wants me to take over and do some different things out in the field, I’m there for that. My job is just to support Patrick as much as I can and ensure that you know, we’re getting the best out of the team.”
It will be a high-wire act, and there will be a great many waiting for the fall.
But as another US President Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”
Steve Smith is now back in the leadership arena.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo
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