South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Johannesburg January 12, 2016

Morris dances to his father's tune

Chris Morris's eventful Test debut in Cape Town was a moment of fulfilment for a player whose father was not able to reach that level

Chris Morris takes a breather during practice at the Wanderers © AFP

The only person Chris Morris wanted to be like when he grew up was his dad. Willie Morris was a Northern Transvaal regular who stood at six feet, eight-and-a-half inches, and had more ways to get in batsmen's way than just his left-arm spin.

"My dad was a slipper," said Morris. "Watching him when I was a youngster, I always thought, 'If Willie is there, I have to be there'. That's just how I thought. He was a goalkeeper too and I thought I had to be a goalkeeper and I do think I was better than Peter Schmeichel but that's just me. I take a lot from my dad. He was my hero, is still my hero and he always will be my hero."

Most of Morris senior's career took place during South Africa's sporting isolation which makes it impossible to say whether he would have progressed any further. But even as a provincial player, he had a profound influence on his son. From the age of three, Morris promised his mother he would play Test cricket for South Africa. When his father came from home from work, "tired, he used to hit balls to me and I would catch them," Morris remembered.

All that early learning did not translate into immediate success. Morris played in only one age-group team - the provincial under-15s - and was not part of South African Schools or under-19 sides. He was 22 when he made his first-class debut for North West - the team based in Potchefstroom, not Pretoria where he is from. Nor was he a spinner.

At more than 10 centimetres shorter than his dad but still very tall, Morris preferred bowling fast and, unusually for a quick, he also enjoyed standing at slip. "There's no better feeling than taking a slip catch, whether it's a diving one or a straightforward one. When the ball hits your hands, it leaves quite a nice sting," Morris said. But slip catching alone was never going to get him noticed and it was only after a season of success with the Lions in the 2011-12 season that he was finally taken seriously.

That summer, Morris was the leading bowler in the domestic twenty-over competition and went on to represent the Lions in the Champions League T20. Although he was not among the top wicket-takers in that tournament, he had done enough to earn a T20 international debut, against New Zealand at Durban in December 2012, and an IPL contract at the Chennai Super Kings worth US$625,000.

It was equivalent of R5.5 million at the time and Morris was flabbergasted. "I have never in my life seen this much money," he said then. The first thing he did with his riches was buy his parents a house.

Chris Morris marked his debut with a composed half-century © AFP

What went unnoticed amid all the Morris mania was that he was more than just a short-form bowler. In the same season, he bowled the Lions to a remarkable win over the Dolphins in a first-class match in which he took 8 for 44 in the second innings.

Still, it took Morris another four years, the same number of T20s, double that in ODIs, and a change of franchise from the Lions to the Centurion-based Titans before he actually achieved the dream. When he did, after he had dried his eyes, the first person Morris contacted was his father.

"I got the call on the third day of our [the Titans] four-day game. Our coach Rob said to me, 'You're going to Cape Town to join the squad'. So first things first, sunglasses on to hide the tears because I'm a softie like that," Morris said. "I phoned my dad straight away. Snot and trane [Snot and tears]. I told him they were on standby because I made the promise to them when I was a youngster that if I ever played a Test match for South Africa, I would fly them there even if I had to sell my kidney."

Morris did not have to go through those extremes but, with holiday-makers flocking to Cape Town to ring in 2016, he had to act quickly to get his family to the city. "When I was told I was playing, I went straight to the hotel, got flights, and flew them up that night. They landed at 10pm but there were there for the debut which was really special to me," he said.

They were there to see Morris' fresh tears when Shaun Pollock gave him his first cap, when he plucked a blinder at slip to remove Alastair Cook on the first morning, when he faced an assault from Ben Stokes and when he redeemed himself, first with bat in hand and then ball. Doubtless they will be there again if he gets a second game at his former home ground, the Wanderers, in the upcoming Test and his new home ground, SuperSport Park, in the final game.

Whether Morris is picked for both those matches will depend on the balance of South Africa's attack and, for the final game, the fitness of Dale Steyn. At the Wanderers, there are talks of all pace, which should guarantee Morris a place, or of playing the bowlers who know the venue best. Morris is one of them, Kagiso Rabada is another and uncapped Hardus Viljoen the third.

The trio played key roles in the Lions' trophy-run in last season's first-class competition and Morris has no doubt that if they are reunited, they can do the same for South Africa. "I would love any opportunity to play with my old team-mates, especially after the season we had last year. We bowled well in tandem," he said. "When one of us was on fire, we knew the other one knew they were going to fire. It was really special to have that vibe. It's exciting if Hardus does play because he has genuine pace. He is a strong boy and he will run through a brick wall to bowl."

That much is not required of Morris but his job involves combining two disciplines as South Africa search for a lower-order all-rounder in the Pollock or Lance Klusener mould. "It's quite a big responsibility. If I can be half as good both as those guys, I will be a good cricketer. To even be compared to those guys is unbelievably cool," Morris said.

"The workload is quite a lot but I enjoy it. I am not scared of getting my elbows dirty and working a little bit harder in the nets and spending an extra bit of time. It's a nice role to have and if you can make it your own, it will be nice." And it would make his dad even more proud than he already is.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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