England vs South Africa, 2017 – Trent Bridge
Chris Morris steamed into bowl at the English captain, Joe Root. A hundred things would have been running through his mind. The Trent Bridge crowd had started to empty after England’s capitulation in the first innings. A draw, forget a victory, from here would be a huge bonus for the hosts.
The South African all-rounder is past his 30s but his International career is anything but eye-catching. The promise, oh the promise!…The Rainbow Nation hadn’t seen anything close to an all-rounder after the retirement of Jacques Kallis. Morris’ presence gave them hope; hope that hit the roof and broke through for nothing in his career, except two stunning game-changing knocks against England in an ODI series, screamed of the potential he had.
Despite reeking the aura of Lance Klusener when wielding the willow and the swag of Andrew Flintoff when bowling, Morris was mediocre, to say the least. He had managed to play just two Tests up until the England tour and his performances screamed of inconsistency.
There was the odd silver lining but otherwise, they were all dark, black, unwelcome clouds. Somehow all the promise hadn’t quite translated into what the South Africans were hoping for from Morris.
Morris bowled full, really full, inviting Joe Root forward. This was bread and butter for the England skipper. But oh wait! The ball moves away late; so late that the train has left the platform. Joe Root is no position to deal with the away swinging yorker. His bat comes down hoping to catch the edge of ball at least but misses entirely. The woodwork is disturbed and the Proteas fielders mob Morris. The commentators scream, the crowd goes oooohhhh…it’s hush. The England skipper, Joe Root, the hosts’ last ray of hope in this Test, is beaten, falls over. The stumps are in disarray. South Africa had won the Test already. 6-3-7-2 read Morris’ second innings figures at the end of the Test.
5.35 and 6.36.
Thus reads Chris Morris’ economy rate at The Oval. No, we aren’t talking of the blink-and-you-miss T20 games, not even the ODIs, this is Test cricket. A fast bowler isn’t expected to go at more than four an over in Tests, even in this era of T20s.Morris leaked runs like a broken water tap. He was all over the place, had Faf du Plessis scratching his head in frustration and went on to miss the fourth and final Test with a lower back issue.
He hasn’t played a Test since.
“I’ve had a few tweaks in my action that Ottis has changed. I had to iron it out because it wasn’t good enough – simple as that,” Morris had said a few months post the injury. “I think in striving for a bit of extra pace, there was some twisting in my action. I’ve got quite a bad kick-out with my left foot before I land. I was getting lazy and doing quite a lot of twisting, which caused a lot of pressure on my lower back and inevitably caused the injury.”
What stood out at Trent Bridge for Morris was pace and plenty of that. The ball zipped off the surface. There was rhythm, power and a perfect follow through. He had a captain who trusted him to the core.
When Mitchell Johnson struck fear into the minds of England batsmen in that 2013 Ashes, what helped him was the unrelenting backing of his skipper. The role of a captain is often underplayed in the careers of great fast bowlers. Really quick men need a captain who understands what they do – attack, attack and attack.
“I set up batters pretty much the same. For me it’s all about timing when to strike, because I’ll hold, hold, hold, hold and then (clicks his fingers), I’ll decide that it’s time. You need to try and sense the perfect opportunity to do that, and then be able to deliver that one specific ball,” Vernon Philander once said in a candid chat with ESPNCricinfo.
If anything, Morris does the exact opposite of that. There is no specific plan, there is no area he targets on the pitch but when things are in sync, Morris breathes fire. He has the potential to decimate teams. The talent to win Test matches single-handedly. Yet, nothing has come out of it. Nothing at all. That one ball against Joe Root and a superb half-century on debut aside, his Test career is a blank canvas. The promised fireworks never really materialised. The spark with the ball has gone completely missing.
“Chris [Morris] has got a lot of work to do,” South Africa coach, Ottis Gibson, had said when the all-rounder was dropped from the Test side for the Australian series. By cricketing standards, he is still young. But at 31, how much time does he have? Less than six months into his tenure, Ottis Gibson was frustrated by Morris on-off show. In the meantime, South Africa’s new recruits in the pace department have thrived.
Where does Morris go from here? A renewed action? Nippy pace? Nah, more like consistency. Can Morris bring a method to his madness?