Morris relishes spearhead role
Chris Morris, the Lions medium-pacer, took two wickets in his third over and one in his fifth in a seven-over spell late on Saturday afternoon, against the Dolphins at the Wanderers. He added another in his second and third overs on Sunday morning on the final day.
At that stage, the team he was bowling to, the Dolphins, needed 77 runs to win with four wickets in hand. Naturally there was no way Morris was giving the ball to anyone else.
"You couldn't get the ball out of his hand," Stephen Cook, Lions captain said. "It was a lovely position to be in as captain. I just kept looking at him and he just kept nodding. The conversation didn't even happen; it was just body language. It was like he was saying: 'You're just not going to get the ball away from me. Even if they get the runs, I am still going to be bowling at the end.' That belief was fantastic."
Morris had been largely responsible for making the Dolphins task so tough. He took four wickets in their first innings and dented their chase throughout their second. Even though the Lions only had 240 runs to defend in the second, Morris ensured the match did not ever get away from them.
By the time he had bowled his seventh over on Sunday morning, Lions had won the match. Morris had innings figures of 8 for 44 and match figures of 12 for 101, giving him the best return for a player from that franchise in its history.
A combination of aggression and restriction made Morris' performance one that will register on national selectors' radar. He showed himself to be a thinking bowler, who uses pace cleverly. Morris bent his back to pepper the Dolphins with short balls and ones that spat out of the cracks. He also found reverse-swing and an attitude that was more aggressive as the contest grew.
"In the first innings we spoke a little bit too much and didn't talk enough with the ball. In the second innings we decided to focus all our energy and anger into our bowling and into the pitch and hit it hard," Morris said.
Dolphins' captain Daryn Smit said it was that effort that made Morris the most difficult bowler to face. "He hit the deck hard so he got something out of the variable bounce and inconsistency that was there," Smit said. "Everything that was happening was happening at pace and at good pace so he had the better of us."
Morris may not have been able to get those results if he hadn't been able to rely on experience. Although he is relatively new on the franchise circuit, he, like Vernon Philander, has benefited from time in the first-class game at a lower level. Before being called up to the Lions, Morris spent two seasons at the North-West amateur team while the management resisted the urge to fast-track him. "I bided my time there and I learnt a lot," he said. "I played against decent players and there were a lot of hard wickets that I had to bowl on."
In his second summer, he took 32 wickets at an average of 24.87 and was promoted to the franchise where his performance in the 20-over competition got him noticed by national selectors. Morris was part of the experimental squad that travelled to Zimbabwe for the unofficial tri-series in June. He also went to Ireland with the SA A side a month later and found both experiences valuable, particularly as the first involved a childhood hero.
"Allan Donald was my hero as a boy; him, Shaun Pollock and my dad," Morris, whose father Willie Morris, played 74 first-class matches for Northerns said. "I tried to soak up as much as I could and talk to the players that were there. Just being in Allan's presence was amazing. It's the first time in my life I was shell-shocked."
The Lions have struggled to nurture a strike bowler in recent times and Morris returned from his trips with the national side knowing he could adopt that role. "I sat down at the beginning of the season with Alviro [Petersen, the captain] and Geoff [Toyana, the coach] and, 'I said I want the responsibility, I want to lead the attack'."
Morris has embraced the spearhead role with the same enthusiasm he has everything else about playing at a level just below international. He has even bought into Lions' physiotherapist Craig Govender's new methods which includes doing yoga every morning. "He has got all the fast-bowlers doing it. We all look like ballerinas but it's a seriously good thing we've got going now," Morris said. Those looking at South Africa's bowling resources would agree.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent