CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1949

Arthur Morris

Whatever relief English bowlers may have felt at the knowledge that they were pitting their wits against D. G. Bradman for the last time in 1948 must have been largely counter-balanced by the realisation that, given normal continuation of form and luck, another record-breaking Australian batsman had arisen in the person of ARTHUR ROBERT MORRIS, the New South Wales left-hander whose Test performances during the series surpassed even those of his captain. Eighteen months earlier Morris hit three centuries in successive Test innings against W. R. Hammond's team and, though he maintained his form when India toured Australia in 1947-48, his feats in England provided the final qualifications which led to his assessment as one of the world's best left-hand batsmen. Yet, Morris made his entry into Australian grade cricket as a left-hand slow bowler whose batting ability was so little regarded that he went in last.

Morris was born on January 19, 1922, at Sydney, New South Wales, where his father, a schoolmaster who bowled fast for the Waverley club, taught him the rudiments of the game and moulded his love for it. When his family moved to Newcastle, Morris attended the High School there and, at the age of 13, gained a place in the school eleven for his slow bowling. Thence, back again to Sydney, Morris figured in the Canterbury High School team for the next three years. He was chosen each season to represent Combined High Schools at cricket and Rugby football and in the last two years he captained both his own school cricket team and the Combined High School side. Even when at school Morris began to receive cricket honours. He joined the St. George District club which, captained by W. J. O'Reilly, won the First Grade premiership three years running. Though Morris started with St. George's as a bowler and continued to go in last observant critics noticed his growing skill with the bat and more opportunities arose till, after hitting a century against Sydney University when 16, he was promoted to open the innings. Then came an uncommon distinction for a schoolboy when Morris was asked to play for New South Wales Second XI against Victoria Second XI.

Before reaching his 19th birthday Morris set the cricket world talking when he scored a century in each innings of his first inter-state match for New South Wales against Queensland at Christmas 1940, a feat without parallel at the time of writing. Morris, whose scores were 148 and 111, shared in a second wicket stand of 261 with S. G. Barnes in the first innings and in the second he and M. B. Cohen (118) opened with another three-figure partnership. No man could wish for finer inspiration at the start of his cricket life, but Morris was, of course, made of mortal clay and there followed a run of less startling innings, though he finished the season with an average of 55.14 for his State. During the six war years which followed Morris played scarcely any cricket and he spent a long time in Australian Army Movement Control in New Guinea. Not until the 1946-47 season when the M.C.C. team arrived could he take part in serious cricket again. Then, in his first State game, he hit 27 and 98, he and D. K. Carmody making 153 off the Queensland bowlers for the first wicket in the second innings. Two weeks later Morris scored 115 for an Australian XI against the touring team in what was regarded as a Trial Match for Australian Test candidates and the same week he obtained 81 not out for New South Wales against Hammond's side.

His choice for the Tests followed as a matter of course. He made only two and five in the first two matches, but the continued faith of the Selectors was not misplaced, for in the Third Test, at Melbourne, he hit 21 and 155 and in the next Test 122 and 124 not out during terrific heat at Adelaide, where Compton also scored a century in each innings. This was the first time a batsman on each side had performed the feat in a Test. The only other Australian with a Test century in each innings against England was Warren Bardsley, a left-hand opening batsmen to whom Morris had been compared, though good judges who saw both declared that Bardsley did not possess the same fluency of stroke-play as Morris. That season Morris played in all five Tests and finished with an aggregate of 503 runs, average 71.85.

The following season, 1947-48, Morris played in the first four Tests against India, getting one century and averaging 52.25. He missed the fifth because the Selectors wished to see the form of other probable choices for the English tour. Appointed captain of New South Wales he hit another century against India and was a certainty for England. Although he began the tour with 138 in the first match, he found difficulty for a few weeks in adapting himself to the new conditions, and reached 50 only twice in nine innings. During this period Morris sometimes made the mistake of trying to drive the ball pitched just short of a length. When it lifted suddenly he was liable to give a catch. He adjusted his methods and success followed immediately. Morris hit 184 against Sussex and scored five more centuries before the end of the season, including the highest innings of his career, 290 against Gloucestershire.

In these 1948 Tests Morris was the most consistent batsman on either side with 696 runs in nine innings--31, 9, 105, 62, 51, 54 not out, 6, 182, and 196--average 87.00. No other batsman scored three centuries in the series and Morris finished the summer with an aggregate of 1,922-average 71.18 in first-class games; and this despite for most of the tour being troubled by a split between the first and second fingers of his left hand caused by constant jarring from the bat as he played the ball. Usually after Morris had been batting a few overs the wound opened again and bled; towards the end of the season the affected part became swollen and he underwent a minor operation which kept him out of a few games.

Although Morris acquired most of his cricket prowess by contact with other good players whose methods he watched closely during his early days, he also acknowledged the debt he owed to W. J. O'Reilly who gave him much valuable advice. One of the few left-handers who have gained any measure of success as opening batsman, Morris is at once imposing to opponents and impressive to spectators by his air of complete composure at the wicket. Possessed of an ideal temperament, he combines unusual defensive qualities with the ability to decide early in the ball's flight what his stroke shall be. Often he may walk right in front of the stumps to get well behind the ball when making a defensive stroke and looks likely to be out leg-before but rarely errs as he watches the ball off the pitch on to the bat. He compares well with Bradman in placing his strokes clear of fieldsmen and in keeping the ball along the ground. Seldom does the hittable ball find him unprepared and rarely is it allowed to go without full punishment. Like most left-handers, Morris is specially good at driving through the covers, hitting to leg and in powerful square-cutting, and few excel him in on-driving.

Besides his batting, Morris shines as a fieldsman, and is reliable in catching, but is not often called upon to bowl. Fairhanded Morris, who is five feet nine inches tall, is an executive in a motor tyre distributor's business in Sydney. Of quiet disposition, he is unmarried.

© John Wisden & Co