Eoin Morgan insists blackmail plot did not affect performance against Australia

Dublin-born English captain bags a golden duck in Canberra defeat

Eoin Morgan found himself at the centre of a foiled blackmail plot on the eve of the three-wicket defeat to Australia in Hobart on Friday, but England's one-day captain is confident the matter is now closed and will not prove a distraction to the team before the World Cup.

The Irishman was out for a first-ball duck, but Morgan insisted the bizarre attempt to extort money from the England and Wales Cricket Board did not affect his performance.

The ECB received a demand for £35,000 (€46,700) from a man threatening to reveal details of a relationship five years ago between the recently installed ODI captain and an Australian woman.

The man, revealed as Hobart workplace safety consultant Nick Emery, is believed to have threatened to reveal embarrassing details of the liaison, including videos. Emery, who has since apologised after the ECB reported the incident to the Metropolitan police, said he was in possession of “sexually based” messages exchanged between his partner and Morgan. But having left the situation in the hands of the ECB’s lawyers, Morgan believes the episode is over and will not interfere with preparation for the World Cup, which England start with a match against Australia on February 14th.

“It hasn’t been distracting at all,” Morgan said. “I spoke with the ECB on Saturday and I was very happy for them to deal with it and they told me just to focus on the cricket 100 per cent and I’ve done that. I was very comfortable with them looking after the situation.

“I’m happy it’s all been cleared and everything is over and I can get on with my cricket, which I managed to do today.”

Asked if the controversy had played any part in his first-ball dismissal to Australia’s Gurinder Sandhu, Morgan, who scored a century in England’s previous game against Australia in Sydney, said: “No. I don’t think it was easy coming in. The ball was reverse swinging right throughout the innings. I nicked one. It happens.”

Ian Bell made 141, his highest score in one-day internationals, to help England amass a total of 303 batting first at the Bellerive Oval. The 32-year-old was moved back up the order to open on this trip and this latest innings follows the 88 he hit during England's nine-wicket Tri-Series win against India in Brisbane last Tuesday and 187 in a warm-up match against a Prime Minister's XI in Canberra the previous week.

“Belly’s been awesome,” Morgan said. “Since we’ve touched down he’s really showed his huge experience and his class. He’s led from the front in training and it’s really paid off and is great to see.”

England paid the price for a disappointing final 10 overs of their innings, when only 59 runs saw them fall short of a total well in excess of 300.

“We were very dominant in the first 40 overs and set ourselves up for a commanding total,” Morgan said. “Somewhere around 340-plus would have been the score we were looking for but we didn’t manage to get there. It is frustrating but it’s still very early in the trip and we are making strides. Today is a learning curve for us.”

Steven Smith’s fifth international century of the Australian summer saw the stand-in captain lead his side to their third successive win in this Tri-Series.

The 25-year-old’s 102 in 95 balls was the perfect way to mark his first match in charge of Australia’s ODI team, the 25-year-old filling in for George Bailey who was banned for the slow over-rate against India.

“I guess it’s all going well at the moment,” he said. “I know the game can change pretty quickly, I’ve got to keep trying to score as many runs as I can while I’m in this kind of form.”

Smith confirmed Mitchell Johnson is likely to play in Australia’s next game against India in Sydney on Monday, the fast bowler having not played so far during the Tri-Series.

(Guardian service)