A chat with Trevor Bayliss about Eoin Morgan’s England retirement begins with a practically audible wry smile down the phone line when the former head coach brings up the Test team’s daredevil approach during the 3-0 win against New Zealand.
“The interesting thing will be when it doesn’t work and whether you blokes get stuck into them for playing too many bloody shots,” says Bayliss from his home in New South Wales on the day Morgan announced his news. “Even during the Ashes [last winter], the English commentators were saying their players were getting bogged down and needed to be more proactive, play a few shots. Mate, where was that the previous few years? All I got was: ‘They’re playing too many.’”
It’s a fair cop from the 59-year-old but something he finds amusing. His laidback, homespun positivity, allied with Morgan’s laser vision, saw England scorch their way to World Cup glory in 2019 but in parallel Bayliss and “aggressive cricket” were quickly cited on the days when the Test team tripped up and wickets tumbled like dominoes.
Brendon McCullum, the new Test head coach, has said he wants to “cut out the noise” as he and Ben Stokes push the dial back towards the Bayliss way (probably beyond it, given their stated aim is to change how the sport is played). For the Australian, this is just the Antipodean cricket mentality at play.
“McCullum rang me before he took off for England and we had a discussion about it,” says Bayliss. “He played the game aggressively but to be honest, that’s just how it is in our part of the world; it’s not playing a Test match like it’s a T20 but more the positive attitude. That’s the most difficult thing to convince people of in the UK.”
Bayliss sees plenty of Morgan’s early methods as England’s white-ball captain in the start made by Stokes as the Test equivalent, not least the all-rounder’s own approach with the bat. Like Morgan back in the day, Stokes is seemingly playing with little regard for his numbers in an attempt to open minds and expand the limits of possibility.
“We’d be three or four down and Morgs would still go out there and take the game by the throat,” says Bayliss. “Even if it didn’t work all the time, it gave others the confidence to play that way and push the ceiling.
“It might not happen overnight for the Test team, especially given the variables of the format. But Stokes is a little more positive thinking than the last couple of captains, which might bring it on a bit quicker. Time will tell.”
Morgan’s decision to bow out of international cricket and hand the white-ball reins to Jos Buttler surprised Bayliss, not least with a T20 World Cup later this year. “But at the same time it really shows you the type of bloke he is,” he adds. “Morgs would never hang around too long for his own benefit – the team comes first.
“He’s leaving a legacy that will be the basis of how the game is played for the next number of years too. Jos has played enough to see what’s been successful and the core of players remains in place. Every captain brings something different but I can’t see a huge departure from what’s gone before.”
It began in 2015 when Morgan was retained after a World Cup debacle that was scarcely of his making and paired with an outsider in Bayliss. “We knew each other previously from Kolkata Knight Riders and before I arrived in England we had discussions about the plan and names like Jason Roy came up. Morgs knew exactly how he wanted the team to play and he knew my background, so it was an easy fit.
“Morgs always took people’s advice – he was open-minded and you could give him options. He would never make a rash decision. He was very calculated and considered. But when he did settle on a player or a tactic, he was 100% all in, no looking back. And he is very good at managing players.
“Adil Rashid, for example. He used him as a wicket-taker in the middle overs and even at the back end of an innings, giving him the full backing that he might go for runs but that didn’t matter. All he wanted from him was wickets and they hit it off. That was such an important part of the team dynamic.”
Did Morgan ever raise his voice in the dressing room? “Never. Not once. You could see the wheels turning at times but I can’t remember him having terse words with anyone. Not only did the team become ruthless and test the ceiling of what was possible, they did it with smiles on their faces. That’s 100% on Morgs. There was just genuine enjoyment of each other’s company and friendships for life.”
One man who may disagree is Alex Hales, central to the team’s early rise only to then be banished on the eve of the World Cup after failing a recreational drugs test. The opener has not won a cap since – Morgan always dousing talk of a return – and whether this now changes under Buttler remains to be seen. “Morgs does have that ruthless streak in him,” says Bayliss. “He had a meeting with the senior players when the news broke and then came to me and said: ‘This is what we think.’ I didn’t know it was happening until he came to me.”
Did Bayliss, as head coach, not feel undermined? “No, definitely not, mate – that’s what I wanted from them, to make their own decisions and take responsibility. An old coach of mine once said: ‘A good coach should do themselves out of a job – you coach players to make decisions.’ By that stage, I had confidence in him and the others.”
It is a captain-coach dynamic that will be rekindled this summer when Bayliss arrives to work at London Spirit in the Hundred and Morgan leads, a project the pair have been working on via zoom in recent weeks. “Nothing has really changed,” replies Bayliss, delivering a typically deadpan final appraisal. “He’s top notch.”