Morgan still a local hero


Local cricket fans bowling up to the Events Centre today may spare a thought for forgotten Queenstown batsman Leighton Morgan.

Morgan, 27, a former Wellington rep, shifted to Queenstown four years ago to try and reignite his cricket career.

In November 2007 he became the first cricketer from the resort to crack the Dunedin-based Otago Volts side.

It was a move many thought would be the right-handed, high-order batsman’s first step towards making the full New Zealand team, who take on the West Indies today in the big New Year’s Eve one-dayer.

It’s not such a far stretch to make such a leap, as Otago middle-order batsman Neil Broom found out this week when he was promoted to the national squad for today’s match in Queenstown to cover for the injured Scott Styris.

Like Broom, 25 – who started his career with Canterbury before moving to Otago for the 2005-06 season – Morgan moved south to lift his playing profile.

But Morgan’s dreams of some day representing his country in front of a Queenstown crowd have turned sour.

Last season Morgan played four four-dayers, with a top score of 81, and three one-dayers for the Otago outfit – before making way for Craig Cumming, who was dropped from the Black Caps. Morgan hit 38 against Northern Districts in his last knock for Otago in the five-wicket State Shield one-day win on January 13.

Morgan also appeared for a Dunedin invitation XI in a two-day warm-up game for the visiting England side last February.

This season he was “shocked” when he missed the Otago squad for the first four-dayers, before plummeting further down the pecking order when another NZ opening batsman, Aaron Redmond, was axed and had to be accommodated in the side.

Morgan’s progress has been further stalled by Otago picking two non-contracted batsmen, ex-NZ captain Ken Rutherford’s son Hamish and Shaun Haig.

The Queenstowner now faces the grim possibility of not padding up at all for his province this summer. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed when they first named the four-day team and I got told I wasn’t in it,” Morgan says.

Although he had been passing 50 in Dunedin club cricket, “other guys had scored too many runs to ignore”.

Apart from a game for Queenstown, Morgan has mainly survived on a diet of only Dunedin club cricket, which dries up at this time of year. After six weeks of intensive pre-season training with the Volts, he says his time with the squad is now limited to when the team’s playing at home.

“It can be a little disheartening at times but I guess you’ve got to remain positive and get on with things and not feel sorry for yourself. It’s not going to help anybody.”

As one of 12 contracted players, Morgan is paid a retainer but without any game time he misses out on match fees.

As for next season, says the 27-year-old: “I’m not looking that far ahead.”