Chris Morris had played all of one international - a T20I against New Zealand in Durban - when he earned his maiden IPL deal in 2013, with the Chennai Super Kings shelling out US$ 625,000 for him. Eight years later, Morris' South Africa future is uncertain, but he continues to be a sought-after player in the IPL. In the most recent auction, he became the most expensive player ever in the IPL, with the Rajasthan Royals outbidding the Royal Challengers Bangalore to sign him for INR 16.25 crore (USD 2.2 million approx.).
Morris recalled the fierce bidding war for him at the auction earlier in February, saying his "breath was taken away".
"Look, I'll be the first person to say that my breath was taken away," Morris said during a virtual-media interaction on Tuesday. "I didn't expect to first of all be bought for that much and second of all for so many teams to want to employ my services. It's definitely a humbling feeling…and like I said it took my breath away for that to happen and for teams to keep going for me like that blew my mind."
Between the end of IPL 2020, when Morris was injured, and the IPL 2021 auction, Morris hadn't played a single competitive game, but the Royals still broke the bank for his big hitting and death bowling. Those dual skills have made him a T20 globetrotter - he has had stints in the BBL, IPL, and T20 Blast in England. This will be Morris' eighth IPL season and he will return to the Royals, a franchise he represented in 2015, when they made the playoffs. Morris, now 33, said that initially he didn't see himself playing as many seasons in the league.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought I'll be in my ninth IPL or eighth - math has never been my strong suit - but I never thought I'll be playing this many IPLs," he said. "For me to still be needed for my services and be valued is very cool and humbled. We need to put the performances in; it's as simple as that. When you do contribute to the team and have a bit of fun…amazing things happen when you have fun on the cricket field."
Morris also looked back at the IPL as a "life-changing" event, cherishing the experience of playing with and against top international players in the world.
"You want to use the word life-changing, but every single time you come to the IPL, your life changes whether it's personal or cricket or anything else," he said. "It's a life-changing experience to be part of the IPL. It's been an absolute blast of a journey so far and hopefully there's a new story to be written over the next nine weeks."
Morris, though, refused to view the IPL as a dry run for the 2021 T20 World Cup, which will also be held in India, insisting that his focus is entirely on performing for the Royals.
"Whether there's a World Cup or not, it's going to be a very important [IPL] season all the way," he said. "Like I said, World Cup or no World Cup, [I] still want to win the IPL doesn't matter what's coming up after. Your main focus is to win the IPL - the second-biggest trophy, if not the biggest trophy to win in a year without the World Cup. It's the biggest trophy to win as a cricketer playing domestic cricket. The whole world is watching you, the eyes are on you. It's the one. It's the big one to win as a player especially when you're playing in it for a quite a number of years. You don't want to use the word tick the box, but definitely something you want to do to have an opportunity to win the IPL.
"Fortunately enough, in the past I have come in [to the tournament] with quite a big price tag on my head, so at the end of the day, you got to perform on the field, no matter what your price tag is."
"Other guys will hopefully be focusing on the World Cup and that takes their focus away from the IPL and we can jump onto that. Personally, I'm not worried about the World Cup, I'm here to do the job to win matches and hopefully push for winning the trophy in the IPL."
Earlier this year, when asked about his South Africa future, Morris didn't provide a firm answer. This time as well, he maintained his stance on the matter, having last played international cricket in the 2019 50-over World Cup.
"I haven't even looked that far," Morris said. "I've just focused on playing for Rajasthan Royals - that's my immediate focus and port of call right now. We will cross that bridge if we get there - if it ever arrives - but no focus on that and all my focus is here."
Playing for the Royals will invite price-tag pressure - and there will be greater pressure if the injured Jofra Archer is sidelined from the entire tournament - but Morris wasn't too fussed about it, having dealt with it in the past.
"It's natural to have a little bit of added pressure when something like that has happened [at the auction]," he said. I would be lying if I said there wasn't any pressure. But, fortunately enough, in the past I have come in [to the tournament] with quite a big price tag on my head, so at the end of the day, you got to perform on the field, no matter what your price tag is. So, there is a little bit of added pressure, but the pressure that you get from a price tag doesn't affect you on a cricket field at the end of the day."
Morris disagrees with Steyn about too much money talk in IPL
During his PSL stint with the Quetta Gladiators, Dale Steyn, speaking to Cricket Pakistan, reckoned that the IPL was less rewarding than some of the other T20 leagues, with more "emphasis on the amount of money". Morris, however, disagreed with his former team-mate at South Africa and the Royal Challengers.
"No, I don't feel the same (laughs). Dale's a free spirit, Dale's one of the legends of the game, Dale's one of my favourite people in the world," Morris said. "Dale's got his opinions, he will be outspoken about his opinions, but that's Dale's character.
"I'm not going to delve into it too much and it was just the case of Dale feeling at that time what Dale was feeling - what he was feeling emotionally or physically or mentally. Whatever he feels that's what he feels, and I'm happy to have a conversation with him about it. But, we're all different animals, we're all different people and we have different opinions and that's what makes the world go around."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo