Chris Morris turned heads when he was picked by Rajasthan Royals for a whopping ₹16.25 crore at the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) player auction. His selection drew disbelief and even raised eyebrows, but the seasoned South African fast-bowling all-rounder proved his worth in the tournament.
In the absence of Jofra Archer, Morris spearheaded the Royals bowling unit. And although he would have wanted to keep the ball rolling, he hopes the remainder of the IPL season, postponed due to a rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, is held later this year.
In an interview with Sportstar from New Delhi – hours before leaving for South Africa – Morris spoke about the postponement, the challenges of the bio-bubble and the Royals’ performance in the tournament.
What are your thoughts on the postponement of the IPL?
It was quite unfortunate that we had to end it, but these things happen. There’s a lot of people going through a lot at the moment, and postponing it was probably the safest thing to do, and let everyone at home or in India focus on beating Covid because that’s the most important thing now. The positive is we will probably get to finish the tournament later this year, so I think they took the call at the right time. It was slightly getting a bit hectic now.
In these trying times, do you have any message for your fans in India?
Be safe, let’s beat this virus. It’s going to be difficult because it is obviously spreading quite quickly, so please stay at home, and as soon as we beat this, we will be up and running again and will finish off the IPL. We will obviously see when and where that happens, but there is an opportunity to have a fully fit squad and you never know what will happen then!
How did the players hold up – mentally and emotionally? How did your family members back in South Africa cope with your absence in these difficult times?
Family was fine. I have married an absolute superhero, so my wife is an absolute legend. Luckily, technology these days makes things easier. You could FaceTime, so we could speak quite a few times a day. I could see my wife and son. In terms of keeping yourself busy in the bubble, we managed to meet each other in someone’s room or find a common place to just sit and talk. I liked watching cricket together. Then there was obviously English football – I was very disappointed that the Manchester United versus Liverpool game got postponed.
So, we just made things work, we just spent time together as a team. In Mumbai, we had a very nice pool in the hotel where we could spend time with the team. You just had to find ways to keep busy. There was also binge-watching on Netflix. We just found ways to spend time with our teammates and get to know each other better.
At a time when some of your teammates pulled out and many countries imposed travel bans on India, did the thought of heading back home cross your mind as well?
Personally, I would have never left the bubble. The only time I would’ve thought of leaving the bubble would be if there was a death in the family. In that case, I would have to be home, but otherwise my mom, my wife and my family knew that I would be away for so much time. And that would have gone a bit longer had there been travel bans and quarantine, so they were aware of it. Like I said, I have married a superwoman, so yeah, I knew I would pull if off.
Amid uncertainty, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) assured the players that they would reach home safely after the tournament. How much of a confidence booster did that mean for the overseas players like you?
In our bubbles we were pretty safe. In terms of getting home, that was in the hands of the governments of the country, and the BCCI unfortunately wouldn’t be able to change the governments’ minds. It’s a terrible time that the world is going through, but that’s the rules that the governments have made and you have got to stick by them. We trusted the BCCI to take us home safely and they made sure that we got home. At the end of the day, you got to follow the laws of the country. If that does not allow you to go home straightaway, then somehow or somewhere they got to figure a plan on how to get the players home.
Rajasthan Royals recently donated ₹7.5 crore towards Covid relief in India. How do you see this move and the fact that other players are also donating part of their salaries?
Rajasthan Royals has its own foundation. Most of our players – if not all – have contributed. It’s all for a good cause. We were quite adamant earlier on in the tournament and we sat down with our COO (chief operating officer) Jake (Lush McCrum) and decided that we needed to help the people. All of us as players contributed to help in whatever way we can. People are struggling and it’s very sad to see what’s going on. It hit me hard a few weeks ago when we reached Delhi. It was really hard. The Rajasthan Royals foundation is doing a great job, and in these times, any help is a help.
You spoke about bubble fatigue. But in franchise cricket, where the dynamics is completely different, how challenging is to handle the emotions and yet perform well in these trying times?
Just crack on. You need to do your job, because you are playing the IPL. It is probably the most I have practised in my IPL career, because it gets you moving. You just need to make things work. I made my decision quite early that I will be inside the bubble. Luckily, I got good guys in my team, so we could spend some time.
For me, it was easier because I took a decision and knew that this is how it would be. It is not easy, but if you want to be grumpy and are not going to have a good time, it is not going to be fun. If you decide to have some fun and stay positive, then it would be easy and maybe time will fly.
Let’s not beat around the bush. It is a long time away from home and it is not easy. But you make it what you want! It’s up to you to keep a smiling face and make things work.
From being the most expensive cricketer at the auction to being the pace spearhead of Rajasthan Royals – how would you rate your IPL experience in terms of your performance?
It was a bit of a roller coaster (ride). Obviously, we had a few injuries, we lost a few players; our performances were slightly up and down. So, roller coasters are a good way of putting it. The boys put in the hard yards behind the scenes, they trained really well, worked really hard with their game plans. But sometimes you get beaten, sometimes you lose the small moments in the game which lead up to become big moments. So yeah, it was a bit hot and cold, but there were some good signs. When we played well, we really played well. Sometimes when we didn’t play well, we did not play well at all. It was about making the right decision at the right time, and we as a team were slowly but surely finding momentum.
After you were roped in by the Royals at the auction, team director Kumar Sangakkara had stated that you have a specific role of backing Jofra Archer. But with Archer ruled out of the tournament, how challenging was it initially to step into his shoes and lead the bowling attack?
I don’t necessarily think that I stepped into anyone’s shoes. In our bowling attack, we are all leaders in our own way, with our own specific skills. We have Mustafizur (Rahman), who is a genius with the white ball and he has been doing that for quite a few years now, internationally and all around the world. We have some of the youngsters coming in, who were really eager to show what they can do and they have done really well.
We have got JD (Jaydev Unadkat), who has done so well over the years for any franchise he has played for. At the end of the day, we each are leaders in our own way.
Jofra’s absence was a massive loss for us. He is a world-class bowler and he has got that X-factor that a lot of teams need in this tournament. At the end of the day, we dealt with it. Earlier, we accepted that he would not be available for the first half, obviously not knowing that he would not be playing. In these types of tournaments, you just need to crack on and get on with it and make it work. Everyone has taken responsibility for their own jobs and has done it nicely.
The Rajasthan Royals bowling has seemed erratic in the last couple of seasons. This time, the team’s pace department looked in shape with both you and Mustafizur tuning well with the Indian bowlers like Unadkat. What are your thoughts on this bowling attack?
As a bowling unit, apart from one game, we were very good. We hit our plans as good as we could have. We stuck to our plans and both the guys (Mustafizur and Unadkat) are so experienced. They know their craft so well, so to be bowling with those guys is quite nice. It’s quite a good thing to be part of. Apart from one game, all matches were close games and we learned. We understood where we lost. We lost two big players – Archer and Ben Stokes – who would build the team around. But we addressed those things and it was a duty for everyone to carry those responsibilities and carry that extra load.
You came into the tournament after an injury layoff and did not quite have much game time. In the initial phases, how challenging was it to get into the groove?
Every team went through that phase where players had to shake off a little bit of rustiness. Most of the teams eventually got back the rhythm in both the batting and bowling departments. It is a natural thing when you are not playing too much cricket. We were not playing much cricket around the world, so all of us – or at least the fifty percent of us – were in the same boat, shaking off a bit of rustiness of not playing enough matches. You can practise as much as you want, but you can’t imitate the game integrity and match fitness. We slowly got back the rhythm.
With the tournament being held in a cluster-caravan format, none of the teams had a home advantage. And most teams struggled to read the conditions and gauge the wickets right – at least in the first leg. What do you think was the reason?
As a bowling unit, I don’t think anyone wanted to bowl in Mumbai again because of the amount of runs that were scored there (laughs) . Chennai was a slow wicket, but, of course, we did not play there. Look, it is all about adapting. We are all professionals and you have got to adapt to what you’ve got, and anyone who’s played cricket would tell you that Mumbai is one of the toughest places to bowl in the world. There were high-scoring games and only a few low-scoring fixtures. The runs flowed nicely in Mumbai, so as a bowler, you sometimes need to swallow your pride and take it on your chin and try to limit the damage. Unfortunately, T20 is a batter’s game most of the time. When you get a slow turning wicket, sometimes as fast bowlers, we want to take advantage of that. We are all professionals, so we need to adapt to the situations and play your best.
While most franchises managed to keep their core team intact, Rajasthan Royals was hit by pull outs. How much of an impact it had on the team in terms of getting the combination right?
We knew before the tournament that Jof (Archer) won’t be here for the beginning of the tournament, so there would probably have been just one change. It’s unfortunate what happened, but as players, you just crack on. Those guys who left need to be respected for their decisions. There was bubble fatigue and it was a real thing. It’s glitz and glamorous playing IPL cricket, but these days, the bubble life is very tough. It’s a very real thing that you need to deal with. You have to be really strong, and sometimes if you feel that you need to get out of the bubble, you need to get out. I completely respect that because I can understand it, especially for guys with families. When it comes to losing a player, like I said, the best way to overcome it is just crack on. In this tournament, things change quickly – people get injured, people fall sick, people pick up food poisoning – so it is not easy to play all the time. We were light on the overseas players, but we had Indian guys who were willing to step in. They were good enough to step in and perform.
With Stokes out of the tournament, you and Jos Buttler helped captain Sanju Samson in terms of leadership. What are the roles that were defined for the senior players?
Sanju did an incredible job. Obviously, we lost some big players, but Sanju was calm and he did not say much as a captain, which sometimes was very nice because that helped in keeping things simple. He did a very good job. He got the boys together and encouraged them. I think we are a team of 11 senior players, yes, some of us have played a lot more international cricket and might see one or two things that the young eyes don’t pick up. But the youngsters did really well and I am sure a lot of people took notice of what they did this season.