As Eoin Morgan settles between the sheets at the England team’s hotel on Wednesday night, his mind could wander.
Hitting the nets as a youngster at Rush Cricket Club, the seaside commuter town on the outskirts of Dublin, on a concrete strip using a beer keg as a butt. At the time he boldly told Ireland selectors aged 13 his dream was to play for England.
On his first one-day international hundred for Ireland against Canada, on his England debut. On his appointment as England white-ball captain. To his blueprints, his vision, his transformation.
Beat the best and reach the top. On his 148 of 71 balls against Afghanistan. To the glory of the Cricket World Cup and its place in history. To his teammates, for the joy of the greatest days.
But then his thoughts might wander a bit. To the little things, the aches and pains. He’s played in every game for up to half a century in the last 65 innings. To be unsold in the Indian Premier League. To a ball last Friday. To seven painful balls on Sunday. To no runs. For carelessness, for feet that feel like they are in lead boots, for parts of the body that no longer move quite in unison.
To the groin injury that ruled him out of the last ODI in Amstelveen and a chance to prove to everyone he still can. He still had it. He could still hit.
To the questions. For testing. For the time away from home. To his wife Tara and young son Leo. To self-doubt. Whether, at almost 36, is it time to break your own gentleman’s agreement with English cricket, its paymasters, its fans, its peers. To break the unwritten pact, he had earned the right to go out on its terms. Should he resign?
On Sunday, Morgan had bitten his lower lip as he trotted off, shoulders slumped and staring at the grass, unwilling to make even the slightest bit of eye contact with Liam Livingstone, the next man at the VRA Cricket Ground in Amstelveen.
A defense mechanism of forced positivity followed. He puffed out his chest and then smiled embarrassed by soft team questions in the post-game media briefing with TV stations. Two days later, he watched his teammates warm up in the Dutch sun while keeping his poker face.
So far the English camp – his team-mates, his friends – have spoken out loud about his death and peddled the cricket platitudes: Morgs looks good in the nets, Morgs just needs a goal, Morgs will be good.
“There are ups and downs in every career,” his England team-mate Jason Roy had said defiantly. “I’ve had a few shocking games at times and at some point it all turns around. You have it for me and it is no different for him. He’s an incredible guy in the dressing room. An incredible captain and he works just as hard as the next man.”
It’s a measure of his leadership, the unwavering loyalty he’s generated, that so many of his players are so willing to fight for him – with their words off the field and their actions on it. Masking his failure with the bat, but unknowingly highlighting it, in the cruellest of paradoxes.
“He always leads the group very well,” said Sam Curran. “I am very sure that it would only take one punch for him to get back into shape and everyone would have forgotten.”
But now surely only the most loyal Morganistas in England’s group really believe what they say about his shots. Away from the cameras and dictaphones. It will not have been far from their lips during muffled conversations in the narrow streets of Amsterdam, while strolling along the canals, over coffee. In the back of my mind.
His skills as a captain are unbroken. His mind was still tactically sharp. But how long can he hold others back? You know Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes will be back when it matters most. That they might miss it. That everyone else here in the Netherlands made runs in favorable batting conditions. That Sam Hain and Harry Brook are medium order thugs at home smashing it in the blast and knocking on the door.
They know there’s a ready heir in Jos Buttler. A man in the form of his life and arguably just as tactically smart. that he is ready. That his comments about urging 500 ODIs be led by him and not held back. That he already has her respect.
They knew Joe Root was the runs-scoring captain who couldn’t buy a win. They know Morgan is the winning captain who can’t buy a run.
Now it feels inevitable that something has to give way. That the end of days is coming. Now he’s waiting. Wait. We are waiting.