Is Eoin Morgan truly committed to playing for Ireland? That perhaps seems a strange question to ask, but several things have caused me to ask that question.
Last year, Ireland played their first ever ODI. The opponents were England, and the venue was Stormont. Missing from the Ireland side was Middlesex batsman Eoin Morgan. At the time, we all blamed Middlesex for not releasing Morgan. However, the person we should be blaming is Morgan himself.
Sound strange? Allow me to quote Morgan directly. Writing in his World Cup blog on CricketEurope before the World Cup Super 8 game against England, he talks about how strange it will be to see his old team-mate Ed Joyce walking out in the blue of England. He mentions that he wasn't able to do this in June last year, and then says:
'I made my county debut although, contrary to what has been written, I was not barred from playing for Ireland by Middlesex. Emburey came up to me a few days before the game and said they were willing to release me for international duty, but I knew I had to take my county chance because my working life is with them.'
So there you have it. Middlesex were willing to release him for international duty, but Morgan didn't want to play for Ireland. Despite being given a free choice, Morgan chose his county over his country. In addition to this, he speaks of his desire to play for England at almost every given opportunity. It seems to me that Morgan sees playing for Ireland as an inconvenience on his route to an England career. A chance to put himself in the shop window, so to speak.
If I was the captain or coach of a team, I would want to be sure that every one of my players was 100% committed to my team's cause. Can Ireland really say this about Eoin Morgan? I don't think they can.
And now, twelve months after that historic first ODI, with Ireland fresh from their remarkable World Cup run that has undoubtedly put Morgan (and all his team mates) in the shop window, Ireland have two ODI's on the 23rd and 24th of June, against South Africa and India. Eoin Morgan is not named in the squad. Middlesex have to release him, but Morgan has made himself unavailable due to his county commitments.
And what are these county commitments? A Twenty20 match against Sussex. Not 'two One-day games' as Morgan claims in his CricketEurope interview. (Link) To Eoin Morgan, a Twenty20 match is more important than two One-Day Internationals against Test playing opposition.
To be frank, this is a disgrace. He says playing for Middlesex is his career, and he has a point. But which is going to help the development of a 20 year old batsman's game more? A Twenty20 match, or two matches against two of the finest one-day sides in the world?
In what is reminiscent of what Kent told Niall O'Brien before the ICC Trophy back in 2005, Middlesex have told Morgan that if his replacement performs well, he may not get his place in the side back. Is this really a fair assumption? Does anyone think that Andrew Strauss won't walk straight into the Middlesex side when he is not on England duty, no matter how well his replacement plays?
There is also the rather bizarre situation where Middlesex are encouraging one of their players to not test himself against the best in the business, and are, essentially, telling the Irish selectors when they can and can't pick their players. Let's compare this with another sport. The captain of the Irish Republic's football team, John O'Shea, plays for Manchester United. If Manchester United encouraged O'Shea to not play for his country because they wanted to play him in a Premier League game, they'd be subject to all sorts of sanctions such as a fine and/or docking of championship points. Why should cricket be any different?
Morgan wants to play Test cricket. I'm sure every professional cricketer does. But why does this have to be for England? If Eoin Morgan follows Ed Joyce, and others follow Eoin Morgan, how are Ireland going to have a team that is at the playing standards to get Test status if any world class players Irish cricket produces end up playing for England? There is a bigger picture here that Morgan is ignoring. He's only twenty. Even if it takes another ten years for Ireland to get Test status, Morgan will still be 30 and at the prime of his career.
Morgan does say that he is still willing to play for Ireland when there are no clashes with his Middlesex commitments, but is this enough?
I say no. He either wants to play for Ireland, or he doesn't. There should be no middle ground. Morgan clearly is not 100% committed to Irish cricket now, and a team can not afford to have a player who is even 99% committed in it. All eleven men need to be 100% committed. Consistency of selection also comes into it. If Ireland can't have a guarantee that a player will be available for every match, except in emergencies of whatever sort, that player should not be playing for Ireland. It simply doesn't lead to a balanced team.
It's time Ireland put a stop to the player drain. How many more will 'do a Joyce'? It's time for the Irish Cricket Union to tell their county contracted players that if they make themselves unavailable for selection and still play county cricket, they won't be considered for selection in future. Cricket is primarily an international game, and hence a players loyalty should be to their national side first, and not their domestic side.
It's also time the Irish Cricket Union to ask their players, 'Do you want to play for England?' Any who answer yes, show them the door. Harsh maybe, but a side needs its players to be 100% behind the teams cause. Morgan isn't. Show him the door.