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Captain Morgan: Big-hitting Leadership

There was a point earlier this year that it looked likely we weren’t going to get any cricket this summer. In that mini-heatwave at the start of lockdown I would gaze longingly at my radio, the burbling background of Test Match Special notably absent. But thanks to Biobubbles and social distancing and (I imagine) gallons of sanitiser, England managed series against West Indies, Ireland, Pakistan and Australia, albeit behind closed doors.

It was also the first time out for England’s limited-overs team since they won the World Cup in thrilling fashion in 2019, and I found it interesting to to observe captain Eoin Morgan’s leadership now that the Big Prize is won. Morgan became captain of the England One Day International and T20 sides just before the disastrous 2015 World Cup, and over 4 years transformed English white-ball cricket from a laughing stock to World Champions. The approach he took contains some great examples of inspiring and authentic leadership.

Know Your Purpose and Align Your Team Behind It

When Morgan was given the captaincy, it was with a specific goal in mind: win the 2019 World Cup, to be played in England. This wasn’t a secret - Morgan talked about this as their ambition since almost Day One. Establishing this long-term goal meant that decisions could be made in the open, and team members could begin to think about their role in achieving it.

Now the ODI World Cup is won, Morgan has his sights set on the T20 World Cup in India next year, and the same process can be seen in action as the team starts to fall into place.

Value Growth Over Short Term Performance

Because everyone knew the long-term goal, short-term performance was no longer a distraction. Players could be secure in the knowledge that one bad game or a poor run of form wouldn’t count against them, as long as they learnt from it and took steps to improve.

This could be seen most recently in the 3-Match series against Australia, which England lost having dispensed with home advantage by asking for pitches to be prepared that would be closer to the low, slow pitches they will contend with India. This meant that the team had to adapt in order to score runs and take wickets in a fashion more likely to lead to success, but which risked defeat against The Old Enemy.

But Value Culture Above All

Everyone knows about Ben Stokes. He’s a front-page-of-tabloids cricketer; the red-headed, tattooed Geordie-Kiwi with the Hollywoodesque redemption arc - from street brawler to World Cup hero. He came back from The Bristol Incident by reaffirming his commitment to the cricket, to his team, and to his captain.

Alex Hales on the other hand was left out of the World Cup Squad after testing positive for recreational drugs. Morgan’s stated reason for leaving out arguably the most talented England-qualified batter in T20 cricket who isn’t in the England team? "He has lost the trust of the dressing room". Discontent and mistrust is a poor foundation for any team, and can’t be trumped by individual performance.

Live Your Principles

Finally, Eoin Morgan’s behaviour demonstrates unequivocally who he is as a leader. On the field, he is calm and composed at all times (no shouting or head-shaking or double-teapotting for him) and is open and frank in interviews. He attacks the game like he wants his team to attack the game. And when it comes to difficult decisions, he is led by what’s right for him. In 2016, he decided to withdraw from the team’s tour of Bangladesh citing security concerns; a decision which at the time attracted criticism. In hindsight, it shows how much of leadership is driven by a clear and focussed sense of self.

This post was previously published elsewhere in August 2019, after the World Cup Final. I thought it was instructive to revisit in the light of What Happened Next.

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