Eoin Morgan shows the beauty of keeping it simple as he smashes Afghanistan around the ground
Last Updated: 19/06/19 9:27am
After India versus Pakistan on Sunday and all the mania that came with it, it was always going to be a more low-key affair at Old Trafford as England played Afghanistan.
For much of the day that was exactly the case as England secured the win expected of them with minimal fuss. For 17 exhilarating overs though, the stadium came alive as Eoin Morgan produced a stunning display of hitting.
By the time he departed for 148 from just 71 balls any questions over the wisdom of risking the captain following a back spasm during the West Indies game had been answered. Emphatically.
An ODI record 17 sixes in the innings, England's fastest century at a World Cup and the leading spinner in white-ball cricket smashed for 110 in nine overs - and to think it is not long ago that some were questioning what Morgan brings to this England batting line-up. He's answered that one too.
It has always been feast or famine with Morgan when it comes to scoring runs, he has never been one to tread the middle ground, and since the start of the year he has been gorging himself.
In 12 one-day international innings in 2019, Morgan has passed 50 on seven occasions, going on to make two hundreds, and in one of the other five he was not out. He's scored 669 ODI runs in total this year and averages 66.9.
Leading into this World Cup, there was plenty of talk from within the England camp about peaking at the right time but the captain appears to be doing more than that. In Manchester he scaled greater heights than he ever has before.
"It was extraordinary hitting from Morgan," Rob Key told Sky Sports. "I have never seen anything like that. The relentless nature of how he played and how he's just connecting with the middle of the bat was extraordinary."
Morgan even surprised himself. He was out before the rest of the team in the morning prior to the match, hitting a few balls, doing a few shuttle runs and going through a couple of fielding drills as he tested out his troublesome back and at no stage did he look entirely comfortable.
"I didn't think I was capable of that," he said afterwards. "It makes it a bit more special when I can compete with the youngsters in the side, so it's nice.
"I didn't think at any stage it was going to be my day - I'm getting quite old and hobbling around with a bad back you never think you can produce an innings like that."
That fact that England have such "youngsters" as Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes - powerful, innovative modern batsmen - with Joe Root elegantly holding things all together, that Morgan's batting has occasionally been overlooked.
He is rightly lauded for his captaincy but at times it is forgotten that when he first came into the England side, Morgan was the big-hitting flair player, producing shots that those around him at the time would never have dreamt of playing.
Now an experienced campaigner, those shots Morgan helped introduce, the reverse sweep for example, are standard weapons in the arsenal of a top white-ball batsmen these days and they've added plenty more: ramps, scoops, switch hits, the list goes on.
There was none of that from Morgan on Tuesday. It was no-nonsense, no frills batting at its finest, and most brutal. There was the occasional little shuffle across the crease to alter the angle slightly but for the most part, this was stand-and-deliver batting.
He stayed stock still and proceeded to batter the ball over the ropes, finding the middle of the bat time and time and time again. Seventeen sixes - 17! The simplicity of it all is perhaps what made it all the more remarkable. There were no tricks, it was just incredible timing and phenomenally clean ball striking.
Morgan has been the driving force behind England's transformation in white-ball cricket over the past four years and as much as he is always the first to stress the importance of the team above all else and heap praise on others ahead of himself, it almost would not have felt right had he not made his mark at some stage during this World Cup.
He has done that now and in the most unequivocal manner.
Watch every match of the ICC Cricket World Cup live on Sky Sports Cricket World Cup, including England vs Sri Lanka from 10am on Friday and Afghanistan vs India from 10am on Saturday.