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Lance Morris rides the lightning but Ashes proves too much, too soon

Precautionary omission from Australia tour party likely to be temporary setback in rapid ascent

Cameron Ponsonby
Lance Morris had a breakout season with Perth Scorchers  •  Getty Images

Lance Morris had a breakout season with Perth Scorchers  •  Getty Images

When WACA teammates Aaron Hardie and Hilton Cartwright were asked to describe the qualities of their fast-bowling friend Lance Morris, Hardie said that Morris "bowls as fast as anyone I've seen or faced". Whilst Cartwright, possibly deliberately misunderstanding the question, simply went for, "He's such a good-looking man".
"I don't know how to comment on that!" Morris laughs when asked if Cartwright's assessment is one he agrees with. "I try and give him [Cartwright] the fast-bowler stare but it doesn't work. I think it's turned into something romantic."
Cartwright isn't alone in his affection for Morris, whose 2022-23 season was the type of breakout summer that elevated him from your favourite unknown band, to a player you have to remind your mates that you actually knew before it was cool. Sure, his stuff at the MCG is great, but I actually preferred his earlier work at the Karen Rolton Oval.
"It was a proper whirlwind," Morris says, reflecting on his rapid ascent. "The moment I came off after a Shield Game at The Gabba - and that was before our Christmas break where we split off into BBL - I remember talking to my bowling coach, literally as soon as we came off and he was saying, 'All right, let's get a white ball in your hand and work on some yorkers'. And then 10 minutes later, Adam Voges [WA head coach] came up and said, 'You're going to get a phone call. And I think you probably want to answer it because it's going to be a pretty good one."
Starting the season with just 13 first-class appearances to his name, Morris, now 25, took 31 wickets at an average of 19 in WA's victorious Sheffield Shield campaign and nine wickets at 15.22 in Perth Scorchers Big Bash win. A set of figures that saw him earn a maiden Test squad berth against West Indies, a place on the bench for Australia's tour of India and a first central contract that was announced earlier this month. An ascent to the Test team and a place in the squad for the Ashes seemed an inevitability, before a back scan showed a stress spot and Morris was forced to swap his champagne glass for an ice pack.
"He's having a bit of a de-load period," Australia's chief selector George Bailey said, "which I think is about four to six weeks, and then he will start to start to build after that. Conservatively, we'll probably look to rebuild Lance and hopefully have a really big crack at the summer."
The frustration for Morris, however, is that he feels absolutely fine. He had been due to join Northamptonshire on a three-match county deal for the month of May with the view of readying himself for the Ashes, only for the routine scan to show a flare-up, and in the name of caution and having previously suffered from stress fractures, he pulled out of the deal. It was another example of why some bowlers are known to avoid scans at all costs, with the results often coming as a complete surprise. However, as the famous thought experiment Schrödinger's stress fracture has long proven, a fast bowler can be both fully fit and dead all at the same time.
Furthermore, much like politely declaring yourself full only to discover there's pudding, Morris then got a call from the Mumbai Indians asking if he fancied a run around (and loads of cash) to play in the IPL. But having turned down Northants, and in order be fully fit for Australia, he waved away the tiramisu with a tear in his eye.
"It was a tough one," Morris said. "All in and commit or do a genuine rest."
The excitement and demand surrounding Morris is merited by a player who is increasingly adding precision to raw pace. Widely considered to be the fastest bowler in Australia, the numbers from CricViz fail to crown him undisputedly as such, but do show a player with a consistency of speed that mixes him with the usual Australian suspects in Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, with over half of his deliveries across the last two years north of 140kph. Objectively, he's as quick as Australia's quickest; and subjectively, he's considered even faster. It's a fine combination to boast.
"It's a pretty tough bowling attack to break into," Morris says of the challenge facing him to dislodge Australia's holy trinity. "I just have to be there and be ready for an opportunity.
"I understand I'm not a starter in the line-up at the moment. So I need to find a way to stay ready and co-exist with those guys and learn off them at the same time.
"Bowling at pace means you can always play a role wherever you go. [Even] India, there's that reverse-swing element and then if you go to a fast flat track then you can also make an impact there."
Make no mistake, had Morris been picked for The Ashes, he would - and could - have been ready for action, with his omission due to injury a polite way for the selectors to call a spade a stressy and not publicly drop a player for whom they have the highest of hopes. Morris' challenge now is to maintain a workload over the next six months that will allow him to return at full strength, with research from the ECB showing that bowling too little puts a fast bowler at risk of back injury as much as bowling too much, with time away leading to bowlers losing the bone density in their back that prevents injury. Only time will tell if Australia's pro-active rotation policy is a masterstroke or merely a well-intended tea-leaf reading.
Nevertheless, all things being equal, a Test debut should be an inevitability and the longest form of the game will be ready to welcome another superstar quick to its shores. In a previous interview, Morris stated plainly that: "There's no point parking it and bowling 130kph, because that's not going to get me a game. I need to be that intimidating fast bowler."
And if Aaron Hardie's and, in particular, Hilton Cartwright's assessments are anything to go by - that's something for us all to look forward to.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby