Eoin Morgan gets his players into a huddle
© Getty Images


The Irishman who became captain of England

How an outsider helped England go from being an embarrassment in ODIs to the world's No. 1 side

Melinda Farrell  |  

"Oh my God, this can't be happening."

In England's dressing room at Adelaide Oval, Eoin Morgan watched as Bangladesh knocked England out of the 2015 World Cup. In the lead-up to the tournament, Stuart Broad had noted that England would have to have "an absolute stinker" of a tournament not to qualify for the quarter-finals. "I hope those words don't come back to haunt me," he had smiled.

England did have an absolute stinker, losing four of their five pool matches, winning only against Scotland. Three of those losses were utter thrashings. Against Bangladesh, ranked ninth in the world and possessing a fraction of the resources available to the ECB, they were set a target of 276, which wasn't easy but was certainly achievable.

England hadn't won a series in the year leading up to the World Cup. Their batsmen were playing a style of cricket that seemed stale and old-fashioned compared to other sides, and the prospect of elimination hovered.

Morgan was in a horror run of form himself. He hadn't made any runs in three of his previous seven innings. It coincided with a blackmail attempt by the boyfriend of an Australian woman Morgan had been involved with five years earlier, when they were both single. The man demanded £35,000 and claimed to possess text messages containing "sexual content". For a new captain under pressure, the timing of the distraction couldn't have been worse.

"I started [the tri-series in Australia just before the World Cup] pretty well and from there fell away, and that was when the initial email from the guy trying to blackmail me came through to the ECB. The longer it went on, the more time it took up of me. It shouldn't have, because the ECB handled everything. Maybe that's just an excuse for going through a bad run."

In Adelaide, he lasted just three balls, caught in the deep while attempting to hook Rubel Hossain. Four ducks in eight innings.

After the defeat, the shattered players slumped in a quiet dressing room. There were few comforting words. Morgan knew, from experience, that it would be months before the players would be able to put it behind them.

Play 01:16

"We have the constant hunger to try and improve ourselves"

And he knew something else, something he had felt for a while: change was desperately needed. England were being left behind, and between the playing group, the coach and the captain, there were going to be casualties.

He just didn't know if he was going to be one of them.

If you were writing a screenplay that ticked all the boxes for what a stereotypical Irish family should be, the Morgans would be the perfect model in every way but one. They were Catholic, had lots of children, weren't flush with money, and lived in a council-owned three-bedroom terrace house in the Dublin suburb of Rush.

The hero of such a movie would play Gaelic football, of course. Or maybe hurling. Possibly even rugby, or at a pinch, the other football.

But by the age of three, when he first picked up a bat, Eoin - the fourth of six children - was consumed by cricket, that quintessentially English game that, in the late '80s, had a small presence in Ireland. In the Morgans' case it was an intergenerational obsession that had started with his great-grandfather, who discovered cricket while living in England and passed on his love of the game to his 15 children. His youngest, Sonny, was to become a family legend, and his passion for cricket was handed down through his son Jody, and from him on to Eoin, his two sisters and three brothers.

With so many about, it was easy to muster a game. Alongside the row of terrace houses was an area of greenery and concrete that became their field of cricket dreams and the backdrop for all Eoin's earliest memories.

"We were mad about cricket," said Morgan. "One of my older brothers came home from school one day and mum and dad asked, 'What are you doing home?' He'd told the teachers that my dad said he could have the day off to go home and watch the cricket because there was a Test or highlights on, and my dad was fine with that. That's how serious cricket was."

Gavin and Gareth, the older boys, would go on to play for Leinster province. Sisters Laura and Gwen would represent Ireland. And a spindly, freckled Eoin, ticking more boxes with his flame hair and blue eyes, was the Irish boy who would grow up to captain England in a World Cup.

Play 01:23

"I remember bowling a lot to my dad back in the day"

The meeting happened by a wall at Malahide Cricket Club.

Eleven-year-old Eoin usually lived in sports clothes but on this day his father urged him to dress more smartly. He wanted to make sure his son left a good impression on Kevin Jennings, the principal of Dublin's Catholic University School (CUS) and a keen cricket fan, who was heavily involved with the sport.

Jennings lived in Malahide, a well-to-do seaside village just to the north of Dublin where an imposing castle dating from the 12th century adjoins the cricket club, both of them just a short stroll from the local pubs, grand houses and the boats in the harbour that demonstrate the area's wealth. It was a cricketing stronghold in a country where such pockets were rare.

"It was the only part of the country where you'd see boys head off to school with a cricket bat," said Jennings. "It was the only part of the country where people would play Gaelic football and cricket with equal passion. It was very much the people's game."

Eoin had progressed from playing cricket in a laneway to joining a club when he was five years old, where he usually played against boys who were several years older. But with little cricket on free-to-air television in Ireland, his education and viewing of the sport was almost entirely centred around the local clubs, and Malahide was where he spent the bulk of his time.

"When I saw him first, he was an Under-11, I think, and it was an Under-13 trial - and he was fantastic," Jennings recalled. "He wasn't tall. He hit the ball to all parts of the ground, and I remember talking to his dad. I said, 'That fella should have a warning sign on him'.

"I'd watched him all summer, playing for Malahide's schoolboy teams, and I noticed, first of all, how talented he was, and secondly, how courteous and polite he was - very well behaved. I said, 'He would fit very well into our school.'"

CUS was a Marist School and Jennings embraced the philosophy that education was as much about creating a good citizen as it was about attaining academic results. The Morgans were also considering another school where there was an emphasis on sport, including cricket. Even by that stage, Eoin had one goal: to become a professional cricketer.

Play 00:45

Morgan recalls his run-out on 99 on debut for Ireland

During the meeting by the wall, the three discussed the prospect of Eoin attending CUS. Jennings even offered a scholarship, something no other CUS student had ever received.

After his first year at CUS, Morgan got a shot at his ultimate goal: to play in England. The Irish school system gave students a month of holidays that overlapped with the English school term. It meant he could play cricket for six weeks at Dulwich College in London without being weighed down by schoolwork.

"I didn't do that well, actually," he said. "Did terribly for Dulwich. But I played a game for London Schools and did really well, and a couple of schools came offering scholarships. Immediately I said no because I didn't want to be away from home. It was just inconceivable for me, growing up in a big family in Ireland."

A 14-year-old cricket-playing Catholic Dublin boy was something of an oddity in a traditional Church of England boarding school, founded in 1619. "It helped that Dulwich had a lot of Chinese students, African students, so in the boarding house it wasn't just English people. I think that probably would have been hard. But it was very diverse."

The following year he got the opportunity to attend a Middlesex pre-season camp, and as soon as he turned 16, Middlesex offered him a contract.

TThe IPL proved to be a good distraction after England's disastrous World Cup campaign in 2015. Morgan flew to India to join the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise, and while he immersed himself in his own game, other changes were afoot. Former England captain Andrew Strauss was installed by the ECB in the newly formed position of director of cricket, and Trevor Bayliss was set to replace Peter Moores as coach.

"The IPL was a chance to get away from everything and reassess where I was at and how things would go," said Morgan. "And then Straussy rang me and told me that I would still be captain."

Strauss' appointment was a significant one. A former England opening batsman and captain in both Tests and ODIs, he had led England's 2011 World Cup campaign, which included defeats against Bangladesh and Ireland before Sri Lanka comprehensively ended England's tournament in the quarter-finals. Strauss retired from ODI cricket soon after. He had been Morgan's England team-mate, and while their approach to batting and captaincy may have differed, they had shared experiences and established a level of trust that made them more contemporaries and colleagues rather than official and player.

I get knocked down but I get up again: Morgan and his England team-mates walk off the field after their devastating exit from the 2015 World Cup

I get knocked down but I get up again: Morgan and his England team-mates walk off the field after their devastating exit from the 2015 World Cup © Getty Images

After a second straight World Cup failure, Strauss was prepared to make ODIs a priority and overhaul England's game. Settling on a long-term captain was the first priority. In 2014, Morgan had risen to the vice-captaincy and led the team when Alastair Cook was unavailable - ironically his first outing as England ODI captain, in 2011, was a win against Ireland in which he was named Player of the Match. He had previously captained the Middlesex limited-overs teams as well as the England Lions and T20 sides; his batting and leadership had impressed.

England had become the No. 1 ODI side in 2012, largely by playing a style of cricket that suited their swing and seam bowlers in their home conditions, led by the popular, if conservative, Cook, also the Test captain. By 2014 they gave the appearance of a team stagnating, as the rest of the field galloped ahead with skills attained and honed in T20 competitions such as the IPL, particularly batting with a white ball on flatter pitches. The ECB had made it difficult for its international players to take part in such tournaments; Morgan himself had fought hard for the right to play.

"The initial plans were, the top four would have to score 60 runs or more each at a strike rate of 80 in one in four games," Morgan said, explaining England's strategy of that era as they tried catching up with the other sides. "Five, six and seven had to strike it at 100 and [each] get to 25 [once every four games]. I was batting at five and I reckon I was averaging maybe late-30s or mid-to-late 30s, but my aim was to get to 25 at a strike rate of 100.

In the six months preceding the 2015 World Cup, the team tried to play more aggressively but struggled to make the new tactics work, leading to frustration, particularly during a series in Sri Lanka in November 2014. Morgan pushed for a more aggressive approach to Moores, who was receptive to new ideas.

"Because we'd been so regimented for so long, we almost undertook a plan that the aggressive players would play aggressively and everybody else would play the same, so nothing actually changed, and it got worse for quite a while," Morgan said.

Paul Farbrace, then England's assistant coach, believes the players were willing to change but reverted to type under pressure. "When you're playing for England and your place is up for grabs, there is a danger that players didn't want to change the way they played and go against something they were comfortable with," he said.

It was hardly ideal to replace a captain just before a World Cup campaign and Cook's removal was bound to be controversial. There were "difficult conversations", according to James Whitaker, then chairman of selectors, but England's poor performance in Sri Lanka proved to be the catalyst. Once the decision was made, choosing his replacement was straightforward. Morgan's Irish heritage was no consideration; he had proved his commitment to the England cause.

Morgan (squatting, second from left) with his CUS team after winning an Under-19 tournament, 2001

Morgan (squatting, second from left) with his CUS team after winning an Under-19 tournament, 2001 © Courtesy the Morgan family

"It sometimes hits you," Whitaker said. "Some people at that level have standout qualities. Morgan stood out by being different. He was always asking questions. He wanted to better himself and the team.

"The man's got a huge amount of integrity, enthusiasm and desire to make the team do well. He had a sense of the players he wanted. He could drive people forward and they would follow him, but he was respectful of people giving him advice."

It is impossible to know if England would have performed any differently under Cook in 2015, but if the World Cup debacle represented the nadir of England's one-day cricket, it also meant they could sink no lower, and Strauss quickly became Morgan's ally as yet another rebuilding began.

"He said, 'You're going to have pretty much a licence to pick new players," Morgan recalled. "We pretty much picked a brand-new squad. That involved dropping the likes of Jimmy [Anderson], Broady, Bellie [Ian Bell], James Tredwell, guys who'd been around a long time. It was about finding different guys, like trying to find a left-arm seamer, trying to find a quick, trying to find a leggie."

A confession: I used to be embarrassingly intimidated by Morgan. More so than by any other professional player I can recall.

The first England captain's press conference I attended was during the ODI tri-series that preceded the 2015 World Cup. The blackmail "scandal" was big news, particularly when coupled with Morgan's failures with the bat.

Sitting behind the desk in front of a room filled with journalists and cameras, Morgan showed all the emotion of a marble sculpture. At one point he turned to an Australian journalist and admonished him in a deliberate and cool voice: "That's a terrible question."

In subsequent press conferences I was a little nervous about raising a hand. I didn't want to ask a terrible question and be subject to that look. I would joke that Morgan's light blue eyes were capable of producing a gaze so Night King-icy, it could freeze your soul. I have heard others describe him as something of a cold fish.

After several informal conversations and one-on-one interviews over the next couple of years, it became clear that he is far warmer, much more humorous and genial away from the formality of public captaincy. The gulf between the persona in front of the cameras and the one at a distance from them is far greater than in the case of most others. In a series of FaceTime chats and a This Is Your Life-inspired shoot at Lord's, he was generous with his time and his thoughts.

And yet, the ability to project a cool exterior is perhaps a reflection of the characteristics that have defined his captaincy. Virat Kohli's emotions - from fury to ecstasy - are never far from his face, and Morgan's England Test counterpart, Joe Root, is cheekily boyish. New Zealand players have often said that Brendon McCullum, naturally a laid-back and gregarious personality, kept them on an even keel by displaying a similar level of emotion whether the team was winning or losing. It's something England players also say about Morgan.

"Every year I played cricket in Ireland, it wasn't a sport. It was laughable. It was seen as British, and you shouldn't be playing an English sport. You'd get slagged off" © AFP

Increasingly, as he has settled into his role, a more relaxed Morgan has emerged. At a press conference after England's victory over India at Trent Bridge in 2018, the Mirror's Dean Wilson posed a question. Morgan replied by asking if the answer was likely to be the focus of journalists' reviews of the match. "You can read all about it in tomorrow's Mirror," Wilson replied. "No f***** chance," Morgan chuckled. Everyone laughed.

India's opening pair Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag had made 46 runs to start their innings against England in their 2003 World Cup group-stage match.

Sixteen*-year-old Morgan sat in the stands at Kingsmead, hardly believing his luck. An exchange programme organised by CUS had led to a three-month stay in South Africa and the timing couldn't have been better. Morgan was playing cricket while staying with a sports-mad family in Durban at the time.

"The whole tournament was [inspiring]," said Morgan. "It was the talk of the school. Every day we'd get to come home from school and watch it. It was awesome."

But this time he was inside the stadium, watching the diminutive Tendulkar tap his bat and crouch at the crease as Andy Caddick ran in and bowled a short ball. Tendulkar swivelled and launched the ball so far over the midwicket boundary that it cleared the park. India won the match by 82 runs.

"Ashish Nehra bowled an unbelievable spell and got a six-for," Morgan said. "But I can hardly remember that. I only remember Sachin hitting one of the biggest sixes I've ever seen in my life. I was like… geez."

The New Zealand team was sexy. They played with a mix of joyful exuberance, calculated risk and generous spirit that appealed to fans worldwide.

McCullum, their captain, was an avatar for their ethos. A tattooed and somewhat wayward firebrand in his younger days, he had become captain amid the controversy over Ross Taylor being ejected and a cultural shake-up. He matured into a leader who was open, good-humoured and self-deprecatingly honest with the media, generous in praise for the opposition, and whole-heartedly tough on the field.

Financially New Zealand cricket was a poor relative to England, India and Australia, and without the lucrative central contracts offered to players from those countries, the New Zealanders were given more leeway to ply their trade in various franchise T20 competitions. Partly as a result, their white-ball skills and tactics were among the best, and McCullum himself was one of the hottest franchise properties in the world.

The first test for the new-look England side was a home series against this exciting New Zealand team, who arrived a few weeks after making it to their first World Cup final.

This time it'll stick: Morgan and Joe Root hug during the 2015 Edgbaston ODI against New Zealand, where England made their first 400-run total

This time it'll stick: Morgan and Joe Root hug during the 2015 Edgbaston ODI against New Zealand, where England made their first 400-run total © Getty Images

The teams drew an enthralling two-match Test series. The first match, especially, was a modern classic, all plot twists, heroic efforts and tugs of war for the upper hand. England's eventual victory late on the fifth day was just the balm they needed after their World Cup shame.

"Australia were probably more brutal, in a way," said Morgan. "New Zealand managed to find a balance to get a classical and an aggressive brand. They had Kane [Williamson] and Ross Taylor and Baz [McCullum] and [Martin] Guptill up the front. With the stability in the middle order, they could still play aggressively. We were probably trying to play the way they'd been playing for two years. And they are a strong side to play against. It doesn't matter how nice they are. That's how they lure you in. We always joke about that."

McCullum and Morgan had forged a friendship, playing together in the IPL and sharing a passion for horse-racing. Three years later, McCullum would emcee at Morgan's wedding.

"We'd talk a lot about horse-racing, but we did talk a lot about cricket as well. I'd pick his brain because his ideas are good and they are pretty simple. You just have to have the balls to pull the trigger on them," Morgan said.

England pulled the trigger in the first ODI, at Edgbaston.

It threatened to backfire when they lost Jason Roy off the first ball of the match, but a century by Root and a fifty by Morgan set the stall out for an outrageous 77-ball 129 by Jos Buttler, who was the kind of precocious talent Morgan wanted to exploit. Six England batsmen scored at a run a ball or faster; it was the kind of performance Morgan had long hoped for. They crossed the 400-run mark for the first time in history and then blasted New Zealand out for 198.

"That mammoth total created belief, and regardless of how we went the rest of the series, that was the way we wanted to play," Morgan said.

The rest of the series, played on wickets conducive to making runs, was a feast of high-scoring entertainment. Morgan had rediscovered his batting mojo, making 50-plus scores in all but one match. His side was blessed with talented allrounders, bowlers like Ben Stokes, Liam Plunkett, David Willey and Adil Rashid, who could all bat aggressively, allowing the batsmen to attack with confidence from the start. They were having fun and so were the crowds. This was a side fans could fall in love with and they did so. England won the series 3-2.

"There were no periods of any of the games we played where there was a cagey five overs," said Morgan. "It was aggressive batting against defensive or attacking bowling. It was great to play in."

England had regularly trumpeted the arrival of a new era in one-day cricket for around 20 years; never before had they ushered one in so dramatically.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Ireland were surpassing expectations at the 2007 World Cup with a tie against Zimbabwe and wins against the vastly more experienced Pakistan and Bangladesh. But Morgan's own form was poor.

"It was far and away the highest standard I'd ever played and I just felt way out of my depth," he said. "On the other side of it, we were going through an amazing experience."

The tournament also marked the first time Morgan, perhaps controversially, publicly stated his wish to play for England, in an interview with Ian Ward of Sky Sports.

"The day before we played England in Guyana, we sat on the outfield and I think he started the interview with, 'Tomorrow which changing room would you rather be in?' said Morgan. "And I said it'd be the opposition. We were having a great time and doing great things for cricket in Ireland, but if I wanted to be the best player I could be, I wanted to play professional cricket."

By June 2009, Morgan was playing for England in both white-ball formats. He wasn't the first Irish player to make the switch - Ed Joyce had done so several years earlier - but there was still a mixed reaction from the public, his team-mates, and Ireland coach Phil Simmons, who reportedly lambasted him in the dressing room for leaving to play county cricket a day before the 2009 World Cup Qualifier final.

"I'd known four or five of the players for quite a long time. There was a big Leinster contingent and we'd grown up playing each other so they always knew what I wanted to do and wished me well."

And the others?

"I really don't know how to sit back and care for what somebody thinks."

This attitude was even more evident in 2016 when his England captaincy was on the line.

Dublin days: young Eoin when he wasn't holding a bat

Dublin days: young Eoin when he wasn't holding a bat © Courtesy the Morgan family

On July 1 that year, just after 9pm, a group of terrorists armed with guns, machetes and bombs walked into the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka and held dozens of locals and foreigners hostage. The attack left 29 people dead; it was the worst terrorist attack Bangladesh had witnessed.

England were due to tour there in October. Cricket Australia had already pulled out of their scheduled tour. The ECB decided to go ahead with England's tour, under strict security, but they gave the players the choice of whether to go on the tour or not.

"For the first time in the seven years that I played international cricket, we sat in a security meeting where we were told about the threat, how it would be negated, and given an outline brief on our protection.

"There was a double-page spread of what our convoy would look like. Normally, when we'd been there before, it would be armoured vehicles on both sides. This time there were three on each, plus army vans, an ambulance, snipers on every corner, and two helicopters on call waiting to protect us the whole way around.

"A situation like that, I sort of step back and go, yes, we're representing our country, yes, we're trying to deter terrorists, but we should not need this amount of security when we are trying to do what we do.'

"Once I made a decision, I would influence other people within the team to go as well. Because they would think, 'Oh well, the captain thinks it is safe.' I called Straussy and I told him, 'Even if I lose the captaincy, if I never play for England again, that still sits fine with me. It doesn't really bother me.'"

Along with Morgan, one other player, Alex Hales, pulled out of the tour, and Buttler was named captain. Morgan's decision was widely condemned by several high-profile commentators and former players, including former England captains Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, who suggested the decision would "undermine his authority".

Vaughan called it "a huge mistake" and was adamant that Morgan would not be able to stand in front of his players in the future, "look them in the eye" and ask them to "go the extra yard". He predicted Morgan would not lead England into the next World Cup.

Many had harboured reservations about England having a captain who wasn't English, and criticised Morgan's silence during pre-match renditions of "God Save the Queen" on social media. The high-profile television personality Piers Morgan was noisiest among them. Now others questioned his commitment, leadership and loyalty. But Morgan had and has no regrets about his choice.

England won the ODI series 2-1 and the tour passed without incident. Morgan was playing in Australia's Big Bash League a few months later when he received a message asking him to dial in to the selection meeting for England's upcoming tour of India.

The captaincy was his once more.

Morgan in his debut Test, against Bangladesh at Lord's in 2010

Morgan in his debut Test, against Bangladesh at Lord's in 2010 © Getty Images

Test cricket had always been the ultimate goal, the reason Morgan had taken the CUS scholarship, travelled to Dulwich and then moved to England to play for Middlesex. Ironically it was his form in the shortest format that would lead to the fulfilment of his Test ambitions.

After making no impact in the first two World T20s, England took a fresh approach for the 2010 edition under captain Paul Collingwood, and defying most expectations, defeated Australia in the final to secure their first title in a world tournament. While it was a significant achievement in itself, it also introduced Morgan to a style of play that would form the basis of his ODI philosophy.

"I'd played a handful of T20 games and there was a big change in bringing Michael Lumb and Craig Keiswetter in, who played in a way that I really liked. I thought, 'This is cool'. And then we had KP [Kevin Pietersen] at three, Colly [Collingwood] at four, who led pretty well.

"The whole atmosphere around just playing the way you do was nice. It had [previously] been a regimented way in which we had to play. Guys who had been there, like Colly and KP, were like, 'We're not going to do that again.'"

Based on his T20 form, Morgan was called into the Test squad for England's home series against Bangladesh in May 2010.

There can be few venues as imposing as Lord's for a Test debutant, but for Morgan it was Middlesex's home ground, a familiar environment. Though that may have helped his own nerves, it didn't make anything easier for his parents, who flew over from Dublin.

"My dad gets really nervous watching," said Morgan. "The flat I used to live in had this one very short corridor in it and from six o'clock in the morning my dad was dressed in his suit with his shoes on, walking up and down the wooden floor, and I was just lying in bed thinking 'That is not helping me.' But he was very nervous - he ended up leaving after three days because he'd had enough."

Jody was there long enough to see his son walk out in the middle for England and acquit himself well with a 44 in the only innings in which he was required to bat.

"It was actually quite funny," said Morgan. "I went out to bat with Jonathan Trott. He was saying the ball wasn't doing anything and what had happened with the wicket, and halfway through he suddenly said, 'Oh f***!' I was like, 'What?' He said, 'I forgot to get my wife a ticket.' That broke the ice fairly quickly."

Morgan and Strauss: from team-mates to architects of a New England

Morgan and Strauss: from team-mates to architects of a New England © PA Photos

Morgan went on to play 16 Tests for England, scoring two centuries along the way, but he never felt completely secure in his position in a strong Test side. He batted down the order at No. 5 or 6. His place was always going to be vulnerable if England wanted more bowling options. By the time England went to the UAE for a series against Pakistan in 2012, he knew the call was coming.

"You are always the first person to realise, and probably three games before anybody else knows. But the third Test we played, I actually thought I was going to be dropped from that Test because I was playing so badly and the team was losing and again I was batting in that position where you could make a change quite easily."

It was to be his final Test match.

When Morgan was ten years old, Jody left his landscaping job for a position as groundsman at the prestigious Trinity College in Dublin.

The head curator is the single most important person in the preparation of a cricket match and sought out by players, coaches and the media looking for clues as to how the pitch might play. But reading pitches can have all the certainty of interpreting tea leaves, even for the son of a head groundsman.

"It's actually impossible," Morgan said with a wry chuckle. "We've talked about this for years and it's impossible. Unless he gets down and takes a soil sample, he hasn't got a clue."

With England about to face Pakistan in the semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, two wins away from their first global 50-over title, on home soil, Morgan inspected the Cardiff pitch with a sinking feeling. Throughout the tournament England had played with what had by now become their signature high-scoring flair on surfaces that had suited their aggressive batsmen and seam bowlers.

But the Cardiff pitch had been used in previous matches, and England had prepared on the assumption that they would be playing on a fresh wicket. Pakistan had worked out how to play in these conditions in their win over Sri Lanka, and after winning the toss, they sent England in to bat. A side that had been posting totals of more than 300 without breaking a sweat was unable to adapt, stymied by Pakistan's superior use of reverse swing on the slow and abrasive surface. They scraped together 211; Pakistan blasted them out of the tournament with almost 13 overs to spare. Some in the England squad think stage fright played a part.

Despite the disappointment, the atmosphere in the dressing room was vastly different to that of 2015 in Adelaide.

"The difference being: 'We are good enough to grow and to do better', as opposed to 'This could have been the end of a cycle here,'" Morgan said.

English or Irish? Morgan may wrestle with questions of identity, but for England he's their unquestioned leader going into the World Cup

English or Irish? Morgan may wrestle with questions of identity, but for England he's their unquestioned leader going into the World Cup © Getty Images

T20 cricket has clearly had an enormous effect on Morgan's ODI batting, both in pacing and the range of shots he produces. It has also developed his ideas and tactics in the 50-over format. But pursuing opportunities in the IPL meant going against the establishment.

Morgan played in the 2013 IPL after being dropped from the Test side. At the time the ECB frowned on any involvement in the IPL by England players, which had led to infamous public stoushes with Pietersen. Morgan faced intense pressure, including from the England coach, Andy Flower, to leave India and return to Middlesex.

"Andy Flower called me and said, 'If you want to get back in the Test team, you have to come back.' And I argued, 'No, I'm learning more here for the last two seasons and this season, even if I'm not playing well, than I've learned in four years of county cricket. So with all due respect I'm going to take this opportunity.'"

The phrase you hear most often when talking to people who know Morgan well is that he is his own man, particularly when it comes to cricket, or as he puts it: "When it comes to cricket, yeah definitely. The rest of it takes a bit longer, cause you have to figure out life. I'll tell you when that is."

While some might call that stubbornness, others see it as strength of mind. As a captain he tries to put things in their compartments and remove emotion. It can make him appear detached but he feels it helps his team-mates as much as it does his own game.

"That's one of the reasons why I spend a bit of time at the end of a bowler's mark, just to make sure he's in the same head space as I am," Morgan said.

Allrounder Chris Woakes believes Morgan's calm is his greatest strength as a captain. "It can be a daunting place at the top of your crease, when someone's smashing you all over the place. He keeps it very simple. It's great to have a captain come up to you who's not spitting feathers or shouting down your ear. He's got a cool head and that keeps you calm under pressure. He's certainly the best captain I've played under."

When Morgan was first made captain, Farbrace felt the change in leadership came too soon, but he believes Morgan was ultimately the obvious choice.

"He's not someone who likes the sound of his own voice or wants to be stood up in front of the group all the time talking, but if he's got something to say, he says it and because he's not someone who wastes words, they are more powerful when he uses them."

From the ashes of the 2015 World Cup, England's refreshed approach has made them the world's top-ranked ODI team, and arguably favourites to lift the trophy at this year's final, at Lord's. But recent results - they drew 2-2 with ninth-ranked West Indies in February-March - suggest that while England initially led by a considerable margin, the field is closing in.

Over time Morgan has grown more comfortable in his role as an England team spokesperson

Over time Morgan has grown more comfortable in his role as an England team spokesperson © Getty Images

England have won most of their recent ODI bilateral series using their aggressive tactics, but those same methods have sometimes led to ugly collapses and dismal losses. As the Champions Trophy demonstrated, in a knockout tournament there is a far greater price to pay when it goes wrong than there is for dropping the odd game during a bilateral series. And the pressure of expectation on England as they enter a home World Cup in a stronger position than they ever have been in before can't be underestimated.

But it's doubtful they will change the high-risk, high-reward approach that has taken them this far. And they will be led by someone who feels he has changed considerably as a player and as a captain since their last campaign.

"I would say I'm clearer in my thought process and my decision-making, and that makes any messages I have to give a lot clearer. Or any decisions I have to make, I can make them quicker, and I don't stand for much shit any more.

"It would mean a huge amount to win the World Cup. More so because of the team and the potential we have. As a captain, you try and achieve the best for your team and give them the best chance of being the best players. And I think this group, or the majority of this group, have the capabilities of winning something significant. If I was to look back at some stage and say, 'Jeez, I won a 50-over World Cup at home, on my home ground', that would be pretty awesome."

Throughout his career, Morgan's identity and loyalty have been questioned: was he willing to do the work to retain a Test career or was he just chasing franchise cash? How could he possibly be captain of one country when he has closely identified with the country of his birth? When it comes to that, what is he - Irish or English?

"Sometimes I feel both. I moved here [to England] first when I was 16. Bear in mind that in Dublin you feel a million miles away from being a cricketer.

"[In England], I thought cricket was the best thing on the planet because it was popular, it was the talk of the town and it was what I wanted to do. I remember thinking at the time, 'This is exactly where I am supposed to be and I hope it works out.' That was the time I actually knew inside I was English but was a little bit embarrassed to say it. And that's how I feel now. You are never going to be able to sell people, and I would never try, because I am not trying to please other people. It's just how you feel.

"Every year I played cricket in Ireland, it wasn't a sport. It was laughable. It was seen as British, and you shouldn't be playing an English sport. You'd get slagged off. I just taught myself not to take any heed of it, or just ignore it."

So the young Irish boy from the council terraces of Dublin, the one who took the road less travelled, will lead the England cricket team into a World Cup on home soil. If it wasn't reality, Morgan himself would hardly believe it.

"Yeah, I take the piss out of it all the time. I think I'm one of the luckiest people on the planet. If any of my mates ask on the phone, "What are you up to?" I just say "I'm hanging around, waiting for a bit of luck, mate."

He pauses and chuckles.

"So unlucky."

With additional reporting by Alan Gardner

*15:39:33 GMT, May 15, 2019: The article earlier said Morgan was 15 when he watched the 2003 World Cup

Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo