Morgan 'relishing' the responsibility
Cricket:Eoin Morgan's senior statesman role for England has perhaps been forced on him - but it is one the Irishman is relishing as crunch time approaches in the ICC World Twenty20.England retain realistic prospects of defending their title only thanks to Sunday's much-needed win over New Zealand, and know that Monday's final Super Eight match against Sri Lanka at Pallekele could yet finish their tournament early.
It was Sri Lanka who ended England's interest in last year's World Cup, with a 10-wicket quarter-final trouncing in Colombo, and they could repeat an unpalatable double in this competition.
England's chances are enhanced, however, by the presence of Morgan - back to form after a lacklustre year in his favoured limited-overs format. He restored England's belief, although not in victory, with his unbeaten 71 from only 36 balls against West Indies last week; then, as Luke Wright hit the most telling blows against the Kiwis, the Irishman also helped to shepherd a successful chase.
At 26, Morgan is one year Wright's junior and has also played seven fewer Twenty20 internationals. Both have been notable performers in Twenty20 leagues around the world, making their presence so key in an England top six otherwise full of youthful potential but not relevant experience.
Morgan's billing as the wise head, as well as pivotal force, in England's middle order is one consequence of Kevin Pietersen's controversial absence.
While the latter continues his role instead as a television pundit - and as of tomorrow will no longer hold an England and Wales Cricket Board central contract either - it is ever more incumbent on Morgan to organise and encourage the apprentices around him.
"I think the role that I play within the side has changed over the last six to 12 months," he said. "The responsibility on my shoulders is one that I enjoy. I relish batting in the middle order and towards the end of the innings, and nurturing guys along and getting us over the line.
"It's a role I enjoy a hell of a lot."
England promoted Jonny Bairstow, to no avail, ahead of Morgan against the West Indies - and captain Stuart Broad, and the man himself, have since pointed out his suitability to batting after the six-over powerplay once the ring field retreats.
"My skills as a middle-order batter - and the stats back it up - the success I've had all guide towards batting from six to 20 overs," said Morgan. "When I get in early in those six overs, I don't seem to do well. Having looked at my strengths within the side - when we do well, and I do well - everything seems to point to me batting in the middle order, seeing things through and enjoying the responsibility and playing the situations.
"It's a role I've thrived on. It's worked really well, and we'll stick with it. For some random reason, I like it. I think it's built on the experience I've had in the past. What I know best is doing that."
However England deploy Morgan, they will go into tomorrow's must-win match with confidence renewed after their comfortable win over the Kiwis. Morgan was especially impressed with number three Wright, who has been a revelation since returning to the team just this month.
"The way Luke played last night was fantastic," he said. "He struck the ball really, really well - as well as anyone in the tournament so far. Seeing him in the form he's in is great for us."
England know nonetheless they face no easy task against opponents with honed skills in their own climate.
"It's a great opportunity for us to test ourselves in very tough conditions," added Morgan, who is convinced England can beat anyone on their day.
Asked that very question, he said: "Yes, absolutely. We have a huge amount of match-winners. The performances from the guys last night summed that up. Three or four of us played exceptionally well - and world-class players, like Brendon McCullum, found it very difficult to deal with us. In crunch games, producing a performance at this time of the tournament is crucial."
England will not be fazed either by what is sure to be a full house of noisy home support.
"It's brilliant; it's cricket in the sub-Continent - the home teams out here get absolutely huge crowds, noise like you've never heard as a cricketer. It really gets the blood flowing. It will be a great experience for the young guys in particular, and I hope we'll thrive on it."
Captain Mahela Jayawardene led Sri Lanka to their second successive win yesterday, over the Windies, and knows his team will lap up the attention from their vocal following.
"We have enjoyed the crowds," he said. "The way they go with the music, it's part and parcel of our cricket. We grew up with our school cricket with those kind of bands playing in our big matches, so everybody enjoys that kind of atmosphere."
He will not under-estimate England either, though.
"They are a very exciting team. They have some quality players and are good with the ball as well," he said. "They are defending champions and will throw us a different challenge."
Teams for Monday's ICC World Twenty20 Super Eight match (3pm Irish Time)
England (from): SCJ Broad (captain), C Kieswetter (wkt), AD Hales, LJ Wright, EJG Morgan, JM Bairstow, JC Buttler, SR Patel, GP Swann, ST Finn, JW Dernbach, DR Briggs, TT Bresnan
Sri Lanka (from): M Jayawardene (captain), T Dilshan, K Sangakkara (wkt), A Mathews, J Mendis, L Thirimanne, T Perera, N Kulasekera, L Malinga, R Herath, A Mendis, A Dananjaya, D Chandimal