IT’S A good thing Chris Morris was out in the middle rather than the sidelines as Delhi Daredevils almost pulled off a Houdini act at the Ferozshah Kotla. Not because he was the man responsible for even bringing his team close to achieving an improbable run-chase. But for his nuisance value in the dug-out. By his own admission, a nervous Morris can be quite a pest. And that’s exactly the reason why historically his teammates back in South Africa have made sure that the beanpole all-rounder is confined to the dressing-room and not with them at the dugout whenever a match goes down to the wire.
“When I’m nervous I talk a lot – like about anything. So I sit up in the changeroom now, because guys know that if I sit in the dugout they’ll always be telling me to keep quiet! Some of them get very irritated with me,” he tells The Indian Express.
On Wednesday though it was the Gujarat Lions who were feeling his wrath. When Morris walked in, Delhi needed to score at more than 12 an over, and looked to be out of it. With 82 off 32, the 28-year-old brought them into the game and eventually within a run of victory. However, as the camera zoomed into his face after it was done following the flightpath of each one of his eight sixes, you couldn’t have seen even a semblance of nerves. It was nerveless ball-striking at its very best. It wasn’t a dreamy finish though as Dwayne Bravo ensured that the South African only managed two runs of the final delivery. But even in defeat, he was a hero. And as the two combatants embraced each other at the end of their breath-taking tussle, Morris stood sporting a massive smile.
As recently as last year though, Morris had lost that characteristic smile. He had reached breaking point as far as his cricket career was concerned. He wasn’t enjoying his time on the field. He had gone on a tour to Bangladesh despite struggling with a groin injury (“I shouldn’t have gone on that tour”), and he was a shell of himself in the two ODIs that he turned up for, and not just in terms of his performances. In his own words, he had ‘lost sight of why I played the game’.
“I found that I wasn’t smiling as much, I was too tense and I wasn’t playing the game how it should be played. I think I was just taking the game way too seriously. AB takes his game as seriously as anybody, he trains as hard as anyone and he shows it on the field. He’ll break his body for the team. But you’ll always see him enjoying the game,” he says.
Back to the roots
The only way Morris found he could bring back the enjoyment in his game was to go back to his roots, and start approaching cricket the way he used to when he was a kid growing up in Pretoria and sharing an obsessive relationship with his father, who was a first-class cricketer himself. “It was just about going back to when I was a youngster and I couldn’t wait to wake up on a Saturday morning to go play cricket, couldn’t wait till school ended so I could play cricket,” he says.
Willie Morris was the Sulieman Benn of his time. He stood at 6’8″ but bowled left-arm spin and often stood at slip for Northern Transvaal. His son idolized him. And as the junior Morris—who is a couple of inches shorter than his father—puts it, him taking up cricket was a ‘no-brainer’. By the time he was 3, he was already promising his mother that he would play Test cricket for South Africa. The dream that came true earlier this year in Cape Town, and an emotional Morris family was there to witness it. The communication between father and son though was limited to their usual routine, reveals Morris. He would give a thumbs-up to his dad at the end of every day, and receive a wave from the stands, and then they were good.
But for all the hero-worship, he was pragmatic enough when it came to making choices with his own cricket. “Growing up, my dad was my hero, so I wanted to do whatever my dad did. He’s a slipper, so I said I need to be a slipper. He used to bowl fast and became a spinner. But I said I’m not going to be a spinner because I don’t like being hit!,” he quips.
Ironically, Morris generally bowls during a period of a T20 contest where every bowler comes under a heavy barrage of fours and sixes. To his credit, Morris has developed into an outstanding death bowler recently, and has shown better control over his yorkers than most around the world. Already in the IPL, he’s shown the ability to keep batsmen at bay with his variety and accuracy in the end overs. Morris puts it down to a lot of practice and using emotional muscle memory. “I’m big on feeling so if I bowl a yorker I try and remember what it felt like or what my action was like when I did it. I’ve trained my body and my mind to try and replicate what I’ve just done.”
He also tapped into his batting memory to come up with bowling plans. “I personally work a lot with angles. And because I’m a hitter myself, I ask myself, ‘Where don’t I want a cricket ball if I’m hitting?’ he explains.
Suppressing the fast bowler’s ego also helped. “I think the biggest thing you can do is accept that you’re going to get hit in T20s. But it’s how you control it, how you’re going to combat it. If it does happen, you accept ‘I’ve been hit for six, alright’ and move on. But you’ve got one more ball to get that batsman out and win the battle.”
And he reveals that even with the ball in hand, he never stops talking. If he’s not picking his captain’s brain before every ball, he’s talking to himself—which is mostly self-abuse.
He might have dreamed of becoming a cricketer when he was three but Morris is a late-bloomer—making his first-class debut at 23—and his career only picked up once he moved out of home and into a bachelor pad in the student-town of Potchefstroom. It was a journey of self-discovery but one which didn’t include any epiphanic moment or as he puts it, “It’s not like I learnt that Chris Morris likes fruit. I just became an adult.”
But throughout his career, Morris has always possessed the ability to hit a cricket ball. If anything, he started his first-class career as a batsman who came in at No.4 though he had to contend with an eight-ball duck. Soon, with the advice of franchise Lions’ coach, his focus shifted to bowling, and starred in triumph in the premier first-class competition two seasons ago, picking up 32 wickets in seven matches at an average of just over 20.
It’s only of late that he’s maturing as a finisher with the bat. And his assault against Gujarat was no flash in the pan. Only two months earlier, he had smashed South Africa to a famous one-wicket victory at Johannesburg, bringing them back from the brink with a 38-ball 62. It was the move from his home franchise of Lions to Titans in April 2015, the year after success with Lions, that has brought about his metamorphosis as a batsman, especially in the death.
“When I moved first, my head coach sat me down and said, ‘Right, you’re a batter. You bowl and we know you can do that. But you’re a batter’ It defined my role as a finisher and be explosive,” he says.
This is the second time in his short career that Morris has received a opulent price-tag in the IPL. He celebrated his stint with Chennai three years ago by buying his parents a house and getting married. With his nearly match-winning blitz against Gujarat, he already seems to be proving the Rs 7 crore that Delhi spent on him in the auction, even if his teammates prefer him to be out in the middle rather than in their ears towards the end of a match, for a good reason.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines