As Eoin Morgan settled himself between the sheets on his bed at the England team hotel on Wednesday night, his mind might start to wander.
To hit the net on concrete strips with beer kegs as stumps at Rush Cricket Club, a seaside commuter town on the outskirts of Dublin, as a young boy. Back then he boldly told the 13-year-old Irish voter that his dream was to play for England.
For his first hundred international days for Ireland against Canada, for his England debut. For his appointment as England white ball captain. For his blueprint, his vision, his transformation.
To beat the best and reach the top. For 148 of 71 balls against Afghanistan. To the glory of the Cricket World Cup and to his place in history. To his teammates, to the joy of the greatest days.
- England captain to miss third day one international match against Netherlands
But then his mind might drift off again. For niggles, aches and pains. For a century and a half in the last 65 innings he played in all the games. To be unsold in the Indian Premier League. For one ball last Friday. For seven torturous balls on Sunday. To not walk. To rashness, to feet that feel like wearing lead boots, to body parts that can no longer move in unison.
For the groin injury that ruled him out of the last ODI at Amstelveen, and the chance to prove to everyone he can still do it. He still has it. He can still hit.
For questions. For supervision. For a time away from home. To his wife Tara and young son Leo. For self-doubt. On whether, at nearly 36 years of age, it is time to break his own deal with England cricket, its payers, its fans, its team-mates. To cancel the unwritten pact, he has the right to leave on his terms. Why should he resign?
On Sunday, Morgan had bitten his lower lip as he walked, shoulders slumped forward against the grass, unwilling to make the slightest eye contact with Liam Livingstone, the next man at the VRA Cricket Ground in Amstelveen.
A forced positive defense mechanism followed. He puffed out his chest then shyly smiled answering the team’s gentle questions in post-match media assignments with the television announcer. He watched two days later as his team-mates warmed up in the Dutch sun, keeping his poker face.
So far, the England stronghold – his team-mates, his friends – have been talking about his death, running out of cricket pleasantries: Morgs looks good in the net, Morgs just needs to score, Morgs will put in a good performance.
“There are ups and downs in everyone’s career,” said England team-mate Jason Roy defiantly. “I had some surprising matches at times and at some stage things turned around. They have it for me and it’s no different with him. He’s an amazing guy all around the dressing room. An amazing captain and he works just as hard as the players. next man.”
It is a measure of his leadership qualities, the unwavering loyalty he has generated, that so many of his players are so willing to fight for him – with their words off the pitch and their actions on it. Covering his failure with a bat, but unwittingly highlighting it, in the cruelest of paradoxes.
“He always leads the group really well,” Sam Curran pleaded. “I’m pretty sure it’s just one tap away when he gets back to his best and everyone forgets about it.”
But of course now only the most loyal Morganistas in the England group really believe what they say about his batting. Away from cameras and dictaphones. In the silent conversation in the narrow streets of Amsterdam, walking along the canals, while drinking coffee, it will not be far from their lips. In the back of their minds.
His skills as a captain did not diminish. His mind was still tactically sharp. However, how much longer would he be able to hold back another person. They knew that Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes would return when it mattered. That they could lose. That everyone here in Holland has been running in a favorable stroke condition. That Sam Hain and Harry Brook were mid-level hitters in the house, smashed it in Explosion, knocked on the door.
They knew that in José Buttler there was a ready-made heir. A man in the form of his life, and arguably as clever as a tactician. That he is ready. That his comments about pushing to make 500 on ODI would be spearheaded by him, not held back by him. That he already had their respect.
They knew that Joe Root was a goalscoring captain who couldn’t buy a win. They knew Morgan was a winning captain who couldn’t buy a run.
Now it seemed inevitable that something had to be given. That the end of the day will come. Now he is waiting. They are waiting. We wait.