The curious case of Christopher Morris

How does a player move from outside the ‘standby’ group of World Cup hopefuls straight into the 15-man squad when he wasn’t even close to being named in the original 15? Especially a cricketer as talented as all rounder Chris Morris. It is a mysterious state of affairs but, by almost unanimous consent, a happy one. The Proteas squad looks better for having him in it than not.

He is often described as an ‘all or nothing’ cricketer and that, clearly, was how the coach and selectors felt about him too. They chose nothing. He was discarded from plans months before the final selection was made, not even hovering on the periphery. He had made plans for his World Cup a month before deadline. Some holiday was on the cards.

Simply put, Morris was filed away in the ‘too hard’ box. Described repeatedly as a player with the “X factor”, that is often a polite way of saying ‘unpredictable’. Or even ‘high risk.’ But with risk often comes reward and that is certainly the case with Morris. Just as an opening spell of four overs might bring 3-15, it could read 0-40.

In the 2015-16 series against England he single-handedly changed the course of the ODIs with a magnificent 62 from 38 balls at the Wanderers to help South Africa square the series at 2-2 before going on to win it. Yet that remains his only 50 in 23 innings in which he averages only 19.7 His bowling record is also sporadic with high points matched by low ones. And yet…

The IPL. His record is outstanding and it has made him an extremely wealthy man. First bought by the Chennai Super Kings in 2013 for $650k, his price topped $1million when the Delhi Daredevils acquired his services in 2016. In 61 IPL matches he averages 27.2 with the bat at a strike rate of 157.2 and was the leading wicket-taker for both franchises.

Human emotions aren’t always logical, especially in sport, but questions have, and continue to be asked about where his priorities lie. They are unfair and unwarranted. But they are. It was no fault of his own that he became an innocent subject of a bidding war – and an instant millionaire – and it did not affect his passion and desire to play for his country. But perceptions are exactly that.

Morris has a public demeanour, within and without the squad, as ‘happy-go-lucky’. He laughs during training and shrugs his shoulders more than most. It may add to the perception that he cares less than most. He doesn’t.

South Africa’s sporting history is full of careful , often rigid planning. Rarely have ‘risks’ been taken on brilliant but maverick players with the ability to win games from nowhere but also a frustrating tendency to drop the ball for no apparent reason with the tryline at their mercy. Or when  just seven runs were required from the final over to square the ODI series against England at Southampton in 2017 and Morris and David Miller were unable to make contact with the ball.

Chris Morris doesn’t fit into any of the conventional boxes that SA Cricket feels comfortable with.  Instead of working with him to build a new box, or discover which combination of existing boxes he felt most comfortable in, the easier option was to look elsewhere. Dwayne Pretorius, for example, is a ‘proper’ batsmen who bowls rigidly disciplined medium pace which his captain can trust.

Andile Phehlukwayo is a genius with the ball and has a proven habit of taking wickets when they matter most. His batting is explosive, if a little unreliable, but he definitely ticks a box. So they were the two all rounders named in the original squad. When fast bowler Anrich Nortje broke a finger, suddenly a specialist box opened up. Morris, too, can bowl 140kph (and more) and all the doubts were cast aside. Nortje was only a back-up anyway, so why not use Morris in that role?

The truth is, he will be wasted as a reserve. Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi present a formidable fast bowling attack but, with the brilliant Imran Tahir also in the mix, that represents the longest non-batting tail at the World Cup – by a distance. Nobody would ever wish injury or loss of form on any player, but should that happen and Morris be promoted to the starting XI, it might just be the spark the Proteas need. As long as he produces more of the ‘X’ factor than the ‘Z’ factor.

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