Former Ireland batsman Eoin Morgan to captain England at World Cup
Alastair Cook relieved of captaincy after poor run of form
Former Ireland batsman Eoin Morgan is set to captain England at next year’s World Cup after Alastair Cook was relieved of the captaincy. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA
Alastair Cook’s dream of leading England into the World Cup in February and March came to an end when the English national selector, James Whitaker, informed him that he was being relieved of the position and replaced by his vice-captain, the former Ireland batsman Eoin Morgan.
Cook is likely to be devastated but scarcely surprised at what is a brave decision by Whitaker and his co-selectors Angus Fraser and Mick Newell. Only this week, Cook had been given unequivocal support both by the England coach, Peter Moores, and Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket.
It brings to an end a year of turmoil for Cook, whose batting in both Tests and 50-over cricket has deteriorated to such an extent that had he not been captain he could not possibly have been retained. The dissenting voices, even those who have supported him during the year, have been increasing in volume for some time: quite simply he had to go. No England captain has led the side more in one-day internationals than Cook, who did so 69 times, but given that it was anticipated he would stand down after the World Cup in any case, it is almost certain now that he will not play.
The appointment of Dubliner Morgan is by no means free of controversy in itself, for while Cook’s travails have been given the highest profile,the form of the 28-year-old Middlesex batsman, once regarded as one of the most dangerous one-day players in the world and an ice-cool calculator of a run chase, has also been a major cause for concern. England will be hoping that the stimulation of leading the side will bring out the best in him. For Cook it is surely the best decision, not just for the progress of the one-day side but for the batsman himself, for him to be able to return to what he does best: scoring big Test runs.
Morgan will now lead a 15-man squad into the tri-series next month, involving Australia and India, which precedes the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in February and March.
Morgan played in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean during his 63-cap career with Ireland, and was called up for the latter stages of England’s 2011 World Cup after making a quicker than expected return from a broken finger.
It seems likely that the Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance, who made such an impact in last summer’s Test matches, will come into the reckoning as a replacement for Cook, and there could be a recall for the Yorkshire fast bowler Liam Plunkett, who has not played an ODI for almost four years but who played four Tests last summer against Sri Lanka and India, taking nine wickets in the match against the former at Headingley.
There will be casualties though and these could include Ian Bell, who did not play in the last five matches in Sri Lanka but would surely have done so were he being considered, and Ben Stokes, whose massive all-round potential has not been matched by performance since his return from the hand injury suffered in Barbados in the spring.
Cook has been given every opportunity to make the decision himself but doggedly has maintained his determination to lead the side even as his form deteriorated. His last 22 innings have produced a single half-century, and in 2014, 20 innings have brought him 523 runs at an average of 27.5 against a career average of 36.4, while his strike rate, 77 runs per hundred balls overall, has dipped to 71 at a time when the tempo of the game, in which 300 and more is becoming no more than par, is demanding considerably better.
In Sri Lanka, where England were thoroughly outplayed and managed to win only two of the seven matches, Cook cut an increasingly sorry figure, troubled in the field and floundering with the bat.
For all the predictable party-line backing from his team and the management, who could scarcely say different, there can only have been disquiet when players were omitted to accommodate someone who was patently not justifying his place in playing terms.
There is now an opportunity to create some real dynamism at the top of the order, with Moeen Ali already established and the possibility that Alex Hales could adapt from being one of the game’s leading T20 batsmen to a match-winner in ODIs.
Cook, meanwhile, can spend the next few months reacquainting himself with the techniques of batting that made him into one of England’s most formidable run scorers in Test matches. Far from being a personal disaster for Cook, the decision taken by Whitaker and his fellow selectors may well be the making of him.