Cricket changed Chris Morris' life. Twice. The first time, it made him a millionaire, the second, it almost robbed him of everything money could not buy.
In 2013, Morris received riches to the tune of R5.5 million (US$625,000 at the time) when he was bought by the Chennai Super Kings franchise at the IPL auction, after they spotted him during the Champions League T20 the year before. With the money, Morris bought his parents a house, got married and made a life, which included occasionally playing international cricket. He struggled to secure a regular spot in the South African side but remained part of their plans and was taken on their most recent tour to Bangladesh, where it all went wrong.
Morris only played in two of the five limited-overs matches and struggled physically, with a groin injury, and emotionally, after the death of his grandfather. The combination almost cost him his career.
"It was a really tough journey," Morris said at a bowling camp in Johannesburg. "I've come back from a bad tour of Bangladesh that I don't think I ever should have gone on but I was never going to turn down an opportunity to play for my country, so it was a lot of mental stuff that went on behind the scenes."
"I had to find my reason for playing cricket again so I took a couple of days off, went to the bush, went hunting, played a lot of golf and found my passion again. It sounds horrible to say that as a young cricketer but I had a lot of things going on in my head that I needed sorted out and luckily we got them sorted. It was about going back to the drawing board.
"When I was a youngster it was very easy to say why I wanted to play cricket and that was because I wanted to play for my country, and having coming back from that tour doing so badly I thought maybe I was not good enough to play for my country. I had a couple of dark days but there is always motivation when you put that jersey on."
Morris' returns of 2 for 32 and 0 for 29 are hardly the stuff of shattered dreams but they were disappointing for a player looking to push for a more permanent place. More devastating was the injury, which took extensive rehabilitation to overcome. "You are in a very dark space when you are injured," Morris said. "I don't think I ever wanted to throw in the towel but I was a little bit confused in my head as to why am I playing this game and what do I want to achieve out of the game. I think I almost lost sight of that a little bit."
During his time off, Morris had time to think about where his cricket was going. He was known for his bowling but remembered that when he first started playing, he had batted in the upper middle order and had designs on becoming a genuine allrounder. "When I first got into the Lions side, I had to bat at No.6 or 7 and bowl fast - that was my role," Morris said. "So automatically batting takes a back step and you become that slogging tailender. I feel I have underachieved in four-day cricket very horribly. I know my bowling will always be No.1 and that will get me into most teams but I'd love to be a genuine allrounder."
Morris' first-class batting average of 30.64 is better than his List A (25.29) or T20 (21.45) figures but he believes there is more he can do. " I lost sight of my goals with batting recently and now, this is the hardest I have ever worked on my batting. I am hitting a lot of balls, I am doing a lot more drills which I absolutely hate but we've got to do them, so I am working hard on my batting," he said. "Then, if my bowling is not up to standard on the day, hopefully my batting will lift me, and if my batting is not up to standard, hopefully my fielding and if I am not a good fielder, I will carry the drinks as well."
Warming the bench will not be an option for Morris on the tour of India, especially in ODIs, where he is all but guaranteed a spot after David Wiese was left out of the squad. He will complete with Wiese for a place in the T20 XI and both will be looking over their shoulders at the likes of Wayne Parnell, who will be at home but doubtless eyeing a comeback, and the rest of the reserve bowlers.
Some of them like Marchant de Lange and Kagiso Rabada are in the squad, others like Beuran Hendricks are not, and competition is fierce enough for Morris to know he will have to stand out to earn a spot. "The pecking order I wouldn't know, but I know there are a lot of gun bowlers pushing for that spot they say is missing in South African cricket," he said.
If Morris can fill it, the 2016 World T20 could be in his future and he admitted he had thought about it. "The World T20 squad is always going to be in the back of your head. It's the World Cup, who doesn't want to go? I will be pushing for it as hard as I can," he said.
For now, Morris is "just happy to be playing cricket without pain," and hoping it can make him feel like a millionaire again.