South Africa's Chris Morris celebrates the wicket of South Africa's Tom Latham.(Action Images via Reuters)
South Africa's Chris Morris celebrates the wicket of South Africa's Tom Latham.(Action Images via Reuters)

Method, madness, or both – why did Morris go for 16.25cr?

  • For Morris, 33, who last played for the Proteas in the win over Australia at the 2019 ICC World Cup at Old Trafford and has been injury-prone, it was the biggest the payday of his career by some distance. The seeds had been sown much earlier.
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2021 10:24 AM IST

How do you bet big on a player? As big as a 16.25 crore purse, that too on someone who is earmarked for a supporting role? There has to be madness and method in equal measure. For Rajasthan Royals (RR), it meant going through Chris Morris’s medical history, his physical condition, even the distance between potential venues for the 2021 Indian Premier League, whose dates are not yet out. All of this even before this year’s IPL auction, held on Thursday, was announced.

That planning, which according to RR director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara was to find a back-up for fast bowler Jofra Archer, was what culminated in Morris’s 75 lakh base price soar to an astronomical winning bid of 16.25 crore—the highest in the 14-year history of IPL.

For Morris, 33, who last played for the Proteas in the win over Australia at the 2019 ICC World Cup at Old Trafford and has been injury-prone, it was the biggest the payday of his career by some distance. The seeds had been sown much earlier.

“In terms of medical expertise, we have John Gloster, and of course, our team doctor Rob Young. They got in touch with Chris Morris’s trainers and physios. We conducted a study to see what’s really impacted him in the past and in terms of the chain scenario, in terms of Covid-19 and the restrictions that are being imposed, how that might impact our season this year,” Sangakkara said in a video interaction on Friday.

“One of the things we are seeing is that regular flying, and packing your bags and leaving the hotel frequently, has a significant effect on injuries in IPL. This time it looks like IPL will be in restricted venues; venues that are closer will not require that much of travel as well, so that works in Morris’s favour.”

During the 2020 IPL, Morris, then with Royal Challengers Bangalore, could play only nine matches due to a side strain. It was the latest in the tall Proteas all-rounder’s long list of injuries, which includes an ankle surgery and a back injury. It has made his international career a stop-start affair.

Since his South Africa debut—in a T20 tie in 2012—he has played only four Tests, 42 ODIs and 23 T20Is. The 219 T20s, taking 271 wickets at an average of 22.05 and an economy rate of 7.74, and scoring 1,781 runs with three fifties, though hint at some durability, especially with the ball, in franchise cricket.

Restrictions due to the pandemic meant the RR team could not be physically present for any medical test on Morris. “Given the constraints, tests and proper medical assessments were difficult to do. We’ve relied on history and communication and conversations with medical professionals surrounding the individual,” said Gloster, the RR physio.

The RR management did check some specific parameters. “So, there will be questions asked about his high speed running training, his lower body and core strength, the amount of cricket he is playing, the load management involved. All would have been taken into consideration. I am not an expert in the physio department. I depend on the experts to send me the review and reports,” Sangakkara said. “There is a tendency for Morris to get injured. But at the end of the day, it is very difficult to predict who will get injured and who will not. The real key is to have some cover in case the unthinkable happens.”

The team management has already started thinking about ways to keep their costliest buy up and running. “Now that Chris is with us, we have individualised plans in place to prepare him adequately for the tournament. It will be mapped out for him, which is something we do for all our players. The final assessments and medical undertakings will occur as they do before every tournament, and on the back of that, we will make more definitive decisions on how to manage them for the tournament with respect to fitness, recovery, etc.,” Gloster said.

Support cast

Morris’s credentials in the lower-order batting and his ability to clock 140 kph-plus saw him garner high bids from Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Punjab Kings too. But Sangakkara is looking at the batting (strike-rate of 157.87 in 70 IPL games) as well.

“Morris was significantly high in terms of auction price. He has a very specific role for us in supporting Archer. It gives us a lot more flexibility in the way we use Archer,” the former Sri Lanka skipper said.

“In considering Morris, the number one factor was his bowling numbers, which were some of the best across the phases of the game, from the top to the middle, and especially at the death. His batting is a bonus.”

Archer, the MVP

Despite the record price, Morris may not play all the games in IPL 2021, which is expected to be held in April-June.

“It could be that Archer bowls at the start and middle and not worry about the death. At the death, sometimes even the best bowlers in the world get hit and they have to face some damage. The crucial part is to set up that game in the start and middle overs and have two capable finishers. That’s where the role of Morris as well as the Indian bowlers will be vital,” Sangakkara said.

“They can do the support job at the start and death, in tandem with Archer or Morris. Archer will be definitely leading this attack. He has been the most valuable player last season. He is definitely the fast bowler we are looking at to deliver those attacking passages of play. With Morris coming in, the ability to change Archer up and have him constantly attack the batsmen is freed up. Whether it is Mustafizur Rahman or Morris, either one that partners him, will be critical.”

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