Eoin Morgan is excited by the prospect of additional exposure when England make their return to terrestrial television this summer but admits his players must also guard against striving too hard to impress.
Under English cricket’s new five-year rights deal the live coverage for two men’s Twenty20 internationals will be shared by Sky and BBC One, with these now confirmed as the Sunday afternoon fixtures against Pakistan and Australia on 30 August and 6 September.
Morgan knows the power of an increased audience well. Last year’s World Cup final, which Sky generously shared with Channel 4, was watched by 15.4 million people across the day, including a peak of 8.92 million during the super over. The England and Wales Cricket Board later estimated that a third of the terrestrial viewers were newcomers to the sport, too.
The desire for live sport during his pandemic-afflicted summer has already seen Sky break its own viewing records for cricket and, though the packed schedule means England will be without their Test stars for the first of these two free-to-air games, the captain still senses an opportunity.
“I’m very excited,” said Morgan. “I don’t think we could have foreseen the impact of the World Cup final – both the dramatic nature and the number who watched cricket who might not have done otherwise – so there is huge potential for this series being on BBC. Hopefully we can put something together.
“Although I don’t like to focus on it too much as we know as a team in the past that when we’re desperate to do something or desperate to win, we normally don’t perform. Trying to continue with a sense of freedom and theatre during that opportunity will be key. There’s been great coverage this summer – Sky have done an incredible job – and we have an opportunity to keep enticing people in.”
Ben Stokes, the star of last summer’s tournament, withdrew from the Test squad for family reasons and Morgan is not expecting him back this season. “It’s as it should be,” said Morgan, speaking to launch the team’s latest New Balance T20 shirt, first worn by the Heather Knight’s women’s team earlier this year. “Family plays a huge part in your life. You ask guys when they finish how they are, some have relationships that have broken down. It’s often one of the biggest regrets.
“If you could offer a lot of past players more family time, downtime, or time for bereavement while they were playing – and no pressure for their spot when they needed that – I think a lot of them would have taken it.”
Morgan accepts that the 12-month delay to the T20 World Cup has seen the Test team take priority this summer but he is more than happy to have the chance to examine fringe players. “Once the full strength team comes back, in the winter or next summer, there aren’t many spots available. Five or six may be vying for one place. And I don’t think it will be one innings or spell that does it, it will be consistency of performance and skill.”
There is, however, no change of policy on Alex Hales, who was dropped last summer after a second failed recreational drugs test. He is still out in the cold, with England having spoken about him needing to rebuild trust. But there is also the question of how much Hales wants to return.
“I haven’t spoken to Alex in some time, so I don’t know,” said Morgan. “There hasn’t been contact with the coaching staff or selectors. Alex is his own person on his own journey at the moment, he is in complete control of what he is doing. It’s not a case of what we want to see, because we want to see people being themselves. So the ball is … well, it’s his journey and his career.”
Come the visit of Australia, for three T20s and three ODIs, Morgan expects a few more of his big guns back. It is not, he insisted, a case of matching what is a strong touring squad – including Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins – but there is a desire to call on the pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, the former during a summer where his speeds have become a source of debate.
Morgan said: “I hope to have Jofra – you know how big a fan I am of him. He’s a young guy at heart but has the skill of an experienced international cricketer.
“I see [the talk about pace] but with anyone that shows as much potential as Jof or Mark Wood, there is a huge level of understanding from our side that they cannot do that every day. It is impossible.
“One of the reasons Jof forced his way into the team so quickly was because he had the ability to bowl in all three phases of an ODI innings, while others could only bowl in two. But he’s definitely not a one-trick pony.”
The resumption of Archer’s duel with Smith makes for a mouthwatering prospect but the sport remains in trouble. A fair chunk of last summer’s momentum has been lost, so too at least £106m in revenues. “We are at the mercy of the pandemic,” said Morgan. “But then so is every other sport and industry. We can still inspire and motivate people.”
With more eyeballs on England’s white-ball team than before, here’s hoping.