Russell Jackson

Arthur Morris, my pen pal

How the Australian batsman touched the heart of a young fan he had never met by responding to his letters

Russell Jackson
Russell Jackson
Arthur Morris with Richie Benaud in 1953, May 30, 1953

Morris' (left) letters revealed something of his character: that he was a friendly and good-natured man  •  Getty Images

One would suppose that in 2015 the worldwide volume of handwritten, snail mail letters exchanged between pen pals isn't what it once was. Email, Skype, forums, Twitter and the strangely compelling LinkedIn all ensure that virtually anyone who wants to get in contact with you can do so without delay, at any time of the day or night, if they look in the right place.
Before that technological revolution you only had two options, though; a chance meeting or pen and paper. As a kid I once set myself the kind of task that might be familiar to other diabolically nerdy cricket fans: track down the addresses of former players and see if they would write back to me.
All of that came flooding back to me in a wave of embarrassment last month upon the passing of Australia's great opener Arthur Morris, an unconventional hero for a child in the 1990s but elevated to that status once he became the first former cricketer to respond to one of my letters - doubtless an inane exercise in answering questions he had encountered hundreds of times previously.
Attempts to contact other players had until then either gone unanswered or else were eventually returned to sender. Though undeterred in this quest, I must not have thought that Morris would give anything more than a single response, so I crammed every query I could think of into the one letter and sent it off to the only listed address I'd found for "A Morris" in the Yellow Pages section for Cessnock, New South Wales.
The first response was swift and led with a classic example of the famed Morris wit: "Re your questions Russell, I'd have to write another book to answer them." I don't think my childhood self found that quite as amusing as the adult one does, but Morris and I soldiered on and began an exchange of letters that also confirmed the other common appraisal of his character: that he was above all else a friendly and good-natured man, perhaps far too kind with my pestering.
Looking at the letters now, they don't contain any great revelations ("Most satisfying innings was at Leeds on the last day of the 4th Test match" - of course) but to this child it was merely the fact that he bothered responding that meant so much. They also reveal something of the man's character; never focused on his own individual achievements and straight to the point.
"Re your questions Russell, I'd have to write another book to answer them"
Arthur Morris
When I asked him for advice on captaining my school team for the first time he replied, "Get your team behind you and use your common sense." In a follow-up he said that of course he'd sign a book of his I owned, and sure enough, back it came with his signature and another letter of encouragement for my upcoming season.
The game might never boast custodians of Morris' ilk again, nor ones that can afford the time to craft handwritten letters to fans, but at least an eager young fan could theoretically log on to Twitter, ask a question of their hero and receive an immediate response. Australia's Glenn Maxwell does this often, setting aside 15 minutes as he waits for a plane or bus and throwing the invitation out to fans to ask him questions.
These are simple gestures and perhaps ones we grow complacent to as the lives of major cricketers become so stage-managed and perhaps even a little contrived, but they're ones that can resonate with fans long after the fleeting moment it took for the player to respond. Maybe hundreds of other people had the same idea as I did and wrote to Arthur Morris, but I could never tell from his responses. Of his life as a player I'd have to defer to the judgement of others, but to know he was above all else a wonderful man was something I'm happy to have experienced first hand.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sport in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian Australia and Wasted Afternoons. @rustyjacko