Eoin Morgan and the Agassi backhand
Russell Degnan

A somewhat esoteric post but one fully in keeping with the start of the Australian Open next week. While watching Morgan bat at Adelaide two days ago it struck me that the sportsman his technique most reminded me of was not a cricketer, but Andre Agassi. Partly, this is the choke hold he has on the bat, and the wrist-work, giving the impression he is swinging something shorter and more pliable than a hunk of wood. But also it is the manner of manufacturing balls to hit, in a simlar manner to the tennis great.

Agassi was, to me, always the most interesting of the pre-Federer baseline sluggers of the 1990s, because his shots allowed him to play a different game to those players. A classic two-handed tennis backhand, as discussed in relation to David Nalbandian sees a player step forward, taking the ball away from the body and pivoting on their front leg, to generate power through the hips.

Andre Agassi did hit a classical backhand sometimes, as seen in the first shot in the video below, but less often. The weakness of hitting a backhand from wasit high is that deep balls push a player back behind the court, making it harder to generate angles (and therefore winners); in Agassi's case, being short, it also meant taking a lot of balls at or over shoulder height when a ball was hit shorter with heavy top-spin. What Agassi did, and therefore what made him amazing to watch was to take the ball from nearer his feet and drive it, such that his back foot stayed behind his front (see in particular the shots at the 1min mark). This allowed him to camp on the baseline, and dictate play; a court position that only Federer, for different reasons, maintains.

Which brings me to Morgan, whose technique is generally described as unorthodox, but I think can be more accurately described as tennis-like. Morgan's stance is low, and he tends to get his front foot forward, swivelling, as in a classic backhand off the front foot to short balls when pulling or cutting. Worth noting too, that Morgan is a natural right-hander, and therefore hitting off playing backhanded. But nor does he play traditionally when driving. Whereas an orthodox player follows through over the shoulder, Morgan follows through as Agassi did on his backhand side, wide, with open hips and trailing back foot.

The most important advantage of this approach is that, like Agassi, he can get underneath balls that land near his feet by keeping his arms straight, taking the ball from outside his body (and therefore off-stump) and hit with tremendous power with his weight behind the ball, but still retain control of the angle so as not to get too far underneath them. If the ball is bowled straighter he can clear his front leg and play the same shot, or play a more traditional clip off the pads with the elbow high.

Whether bowlers can find ways to combat Morgan's stroke remains to be seen, but what can be stated is that unorthodox in this context is neither bad, nor uncontrolled. Just look at the player who won all four grand slams.

Cricket - Articles 15th January, 2011 09:19:07   [#]