Morgan aiming to shoot down Zimbabwe

EOIN MORGAN knew the Cricket World Cup was a big deal but he never realised how big until a platoon of guards armed with sub-machine guns trooped into the team hotel.

This wasn’t the West Indies in 2007. It was Bangladesh in 2004 where 16-year old Morgan was part of an Ireland side that fell just four runs short of toppling the West Indies and 49 runs short of the Australians.

Despite those achievements, the education off the pitch stood to Morgan every bit as much as the lessons learnt on it in a competition where crowds of 10-15,000 routinely clicked through the turnstiles.

“We were carted around for a month with armed guards. We were asking people ‘do we really need that?’ They said we did. There was an armed guard on each floor. It was a bit intimidating but eventually you got used to walking by it without batting an eyelid. Extraordinary.”

He was Ireland captain by the time he renewed acquaintances with the U19 competition in Sri Lanka two years later and his apprenticeship has taken in academy stints in India and South Africa as well.

With a CV like that, not to mention his status as a prized employee with Middlesex, it isn’t difficult to understand why he will shoulder an inordinate amount of expectation when Ireland face Zimbabwe in their first ever World Cup fixture in Kingston today.

A potentially lethal left-handed batsman, his form since arrival in the Caribbean — 14 runs against South Africa and 18 against Canada — pales beside the Irish record of 209 he amassed against the UAE last month.

Similar struggles would place the Irish batting order under considerable pressure but Morgan is determined to do his considerable talents justice against the Africans, Pakistan and the West Indies.

“Going into any major competition, no matter what the sport, you want to be playing to the top of your abilities, you want to be playing against the best players in the world.

“It is very easy to have your attention diverted by the media and other things but your main priority is to stay cool and collected when you take to the pitch. I don’t want to be putting pressure on myself but it will be a fantastic opportunity for me and the team to go out and showcase Irish cricket.”

The irony for Morgan is that the better he plays this month the greater the likelihood he will never play for Ireland again.

Like Ed Joyce, the Dubliner is being talked of as a potential England recruit Many observers claim he is an even better prospect and he will be eligible to declare for Michael Vaughan’s side later this year.

His cause won’t be harmed by the fact that Middlesex batting colleagues Joyce, Jamie Dalrymple and Andrew Strauss will spend chunks of the summer away on international duty, leaving him with more room in which to shine in the county environment.

“I want my game to go forward as an Irish cricketer, no matter who I play with,” said Morgan, “whether that is with Middlesex or, potentially, England. Either way it’s going to have a positive affect on Irish cricket. That’s plain to see from the enormous coverage Ed got playing in the one-day internationals in Australia.”

That it took an Irishman to turn around England’s wretched form down under was a source of some consolation and great mirth to the Aussies whose own form has deserted them after their 5-0 Ashes victory.

Morgan appreciates the rarity of his and Joyce’s journeys but points out that they are far from unique in their desire to reach the top of their profession under another country’s crest.

“Ed has made a huge impact in the last couple of years. He has been the talk of the game with how well he has played in the county game and now he has really shaken things up by being an Irishman coming into the English team.

“Cricket has got to that stage, where there are a couple of foreigners in every team, even the Australian team, so everyone just gets on with it. It’s seen as a career move rather than anything else.”

For now, all minds are fixed firmly on Zimbabwe at Sabina Park. Rocked by the political ills in their own country, the Africans are Ireland’s best chance of claiming a victory in this tournament.

Take the win today and Adrian Birrell’s side have two opportunities to spring a seismic shock against Pakistan and West Indies, which would qualify them for the Super Eight series.

“Zimbabwe is the important game for us. We beat them three or four years ago by ten wickets so we’ll see how we get on against them and who knows how the rest of the tournament will go for us?”

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