It was another rain-affected match in Pallekele, but there was enough time both for England to clinch a series win and for their captain to show a glimpse of his fine recent form. Patrick Noone looks Eoin Morgan’s timely purple patch.
It happened in a flash. The ball had barely left the hand of Akila Dananjaya and Eoin Morgan was on one knee, whipping his hands round and connecting with the reverse sweep. It was Morgan’s first boundary of the day and if any doubt remained that this was a batsman at the top of his game, it was extinguished as rapidly as the ball raced to the rope at deep backward point.
The England captain is no stranger to the shot; it was the 134th time in ODI cricket that he’d reverse swept a spinner. Those 134 shots have yielded 228 of the 2632 runs he’s scored against spinners in the 50-over format and only on four occasions has he been dismissed attempting the shot. The 45 boundary fours he’s scored from reverse sweeps are second only to drives (67) and, perhaps tellingly, he has not once hit a reverse sweep for six. It is not an area where he looks to blast bowlers out of the attack, yet he has still scored at over ten runs per over when playing the shot.
Compare and contrast the reaction to Mike Gatting’s reverse sweep dismissal in the 1987 World Cup Final. Observers of the time believed it to be taking an unnecessary risk with the stakes so high, yet in the modern era and to a batsman as highly skilled as Morgan evidently is, the reverse sweep is a low-risk shot that brings with it the reward of valuable runs.
Morgan’s record when playing the shot stands up against the very best. In the entire CricViz database (2006-present), only seven players have scored 100 runs when reverse sweeping against spin. Of those seven, only AB de Villiers (59.00) and Mike Hussey (100 runs with no dismissals) can make a case to say that they have out-performed Morgan when playing the shot; and Morgan has more runs than anyone when reverse sweeping spinners.
Of course, as effective as the reverse sweep is, Morgan’s game is about more than just one shot and England’s skipper is in fine all-round form. Today’s 27* was his fourth unbeaten score in his last five innings; his only ‘failure’ being when he was dismissed for 92 in the second ODI at Dambulla. Though a century has eluded him in 2018, this year has seen him pass 50 on seven occasions, a figure he has bettered only once in a calendar year (in 2015). In fact, since the start of the English summer, Morgan has the seventh highest batting average of players to have batted five innings or more in that time. Of the top ten players in that list, only Jos Buttler can better Morgan’s scoring rate.
It is telling that four of the six names ahead of Morgan on the graph are opening batsmen, while Babar Azam regularly bats at three for Pakistan. For Morgan (and indeed Buttler) to be in this conversation despite being more regularly tasked with a role that invites greater risk speaks volumes as to how well he’s batted.
With another series win in the bank and next summer’s World Cup looming ever closer on the horizon, England and Morgan appear to be in fine fettle. As anticipation grows towards that tournament, so will the pressure for the host nation to perform and critics will argue that dispatching an ordinary Sri Lanka side says little about how a team will perform in different conditions seven months down the line. That might hold some truth, but England are doing all they can with the preparation they have and few could argue against the professionalism and the efficiency displayed by this current England setup. Plenty of banana skins lie ahead, but with a 3-0 scoreline with one match to play and a captain in arguably the form of his life, England can already look at this tour as a job well done.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.