TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
“HAVEN’T a clue; your guess is as good as mine,” Chris Morris said with a shrug of his doorway wide shoulders as he ambled back from the nets, still padded up, the day before the second test against England at Newlands.
Would he be picked to play, he had been asked.
“Chris Morris has good four-day figures, he’s played in the SA A game against England, there’s uncertainty regarding Dale Steyn’s fitness, and we feel Chris Morris is a guy who could do the job,” SA coach Russell Domingo had said when Morris was called up as cover for Steyn and his shoulder strain.
Morris duly played. But despite his decent debut the question is being asked again ahead of the third test at the Wanderers on Thursday.
Steyn seems more likely than not to be ruled out of the third test. However, that would not guarantee Morris a second cap, not with Kyle Abbott having recovered from his hamstring problem and Hardus Viljoen – who came in as cover for Abbott – also in the equation.
Morne Morkel, meanwhile, is “in the red zone” in terms of needing a break, according to Domingo. But 68 of the 74 caps SA’s attack took into the Newlands match belonged to Morkel. That means Morkel, no matter how weary he might be, is sure to play if Steyn is ruled out, further closing the door on Morris.
If the Newlands test had ended after England’s first innings, omitting Morris would be a no-brainer. He dismissed Joe Root and held a fine catch at third slip diving low to remove Alastair Cook, but he also went for 150 runs in 28 overs.
Ben Stokes, he of the 198-ball 258, smashed Morris for 81 off 57 balls, drilling 16 of them for four. That he scored 41 of those runs on the on side and 40 on the off illustrated the problem: wherever Morris bowled, the ball disappeared for runs.
Not that Morris stuck out as having bowled particularly poorly in an attack in which Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Dane Piedt also reached unwanted centuries. But he did stick out as a floundering new boy, a one-test wonder.
It took Morris, padded up again, the first four deliveries he faced, all of them bowled by Stuart Broad, to start changing that opinion.
He worked the first neatly to square leg for no run. Then he took two with a matter-of-fact off-drive. The third, a bouncer, smacked him upside the head. The fourth was fullish and straight, and Morris calmly opened the face of his bat and drove it crisply through the covers for four.
Just like that, Morris looked – and, more importantly, played – like he belonged in a test team.
Not only did he help Temba Bavuma add 167, he plainly enjoyed unfurling that cover drive as often as it was required. He also reverse swept Moeen Ali four. Twice. That he was also dropped twice didn’t matter – look in the book: Morris scored 69.
Thus cleared for take-off, Morris yorked Root – is it too early to label him Morris’ bunny? – with his wickedly swinging first delivery of England’s second innings.
This time, just 11 scoring shots came off the 72 balls he bowled, many of them afizz with pace and swing.
So, should Morris crack the nod for the Wanderers? Yes, and not only because his first-class average there is 19.81, better than Steyn’s 21.68 or Morkel’s 27.72.
Morris should play because of three important truths: can bat, can bowl, can field.