Cape Town – A sound bowling performance at a traditionally
favourite venue over the next few days could see Chris Morris transform himself
into a more staple feature of the remoulding Proteas Test team than some people
It is at his main trade that the lanky customer will be
judged the most closely – assuming he is not an unexpected omission from the
XI, of course – in the third Test against England at the Wanderers from
Rightly so, too ... the host nation no longer have the
luxury of a fully-fledged all-rounder in their team, a situation that seems
unlikely to alter any time soon, so they have to constantly ensure their only
four-strong specialist attack, post-Jacques Kallis, is loaded with the best
possible personnel for the job.
Competition will only crank up on that front when the likes
of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander return from respective injury absenteeism;
their combined problems have significantly reduced South Africa’s firepower in
the series thus far.
Morris has won a place in the side strongly, you suspect, on
the grounds that he the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement for the
latter, who was the previous occupant of the No 8 batting spot and a credible
“bridge” in that capacity between the frontline batsmen and the tail.
Whenever they don’t or can’t field a player with the
staunchness at the crease of either Morris or Philander in that berth, the
Proteas’ tail only swells significantly, always giving opponents the hope that
if they can make early inroads into the top- and middle-order, the dregs, to
put it a little unkindly, can be exposed and skittled pretty quickly.
Without any disrespect to players like Steyn (Test batting
average 14.11), Morne Morkel (11.67), Kagiso Rabada (8.00), Kyle Abbott (5.37)
and Dane Piedt (4.00), England are proving tougher to bowl out collectively
twice for the very reason that their “eight to 11” features such accomplished
batsmen as Moeen Ali (26.84) and Stuart Broad (23.35).
It is a bit early to start pontificating too deeply on the
competence or otherwise with the blade of Rabada and Piedt, for instance,
considering how raw they remain in overall Test experience terms, but early
signs aren’t hugely rosy based on available evidence at the crease.
Attempting to put a lid on South Africa’s back-end vulnerability
– exposed earlier in India, too -- must have formed at least part of the
motivation for the national selectors to draft in Morris slightly against the
odds for the New Year Test at Newlands.
It really was a baptism of fire for the debutant over the
first two days of that match, as England went comfortably past the 600-mark
after winning the toss and Morris was pounded more mercilessly than most during
the Stokes-Bairstow mayhem: completed figures of 1/150 in your first bowling
innings for your country hardly amount to a rousing start.
While he was leaking runs all too generously, some of the
less forgiving television commentators already began questioning whether
Morris, 28, really offered “enough” in skill and variation to cut the mustard
at Test level.
It was a fear that might well have sparked a dissenting
voice or two from those who do microphone duty on the domestic franchise
circuit, and have seen him think and improvise – not to mention perform -- his
way deftly through plenty of games at that level.
That lobby would have been less surprised, then, to witness
his wholly improved, much more cutting-edge contribution in England’s shaky
second knock when the possibility of defeat beckoned for the tourists in an
unlikely sting to the drawn game’s tail.
Not only did Morris start to show an ability to generate
orthodox and reverse swing, but he seemed to tick a pleasing box for sturdy temperament
In between, too, his versatility had come very forcefully to
prominence in a batting capacity: Temba Bavuma might very well not have reached
his poignant century had it not been for former Lions’ team-mate Morris’s
assured support role over the course of some 40 overs as he registered a highly
satisfying 69 himself.
It was exactly the kind of prolonged tail-end resistance
that has generally been lacking from SA teams since people like Shaun Pollock,
Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje and Robin Peterson quit or were omitted from the
Test arena; there have been a few too many “bunnies” at times since.
Yes, Philander will directly threaten – and probably grab --
Morris’s lower-order all-rounder spot anew when passed fit for five-day combat
again, but he turns 31 just before midyear so sooner or later there will be a
gap again anyway; like Steyn, the popular Ravensmead product is starting to
show wear and tear signs from years on the cricketing treadmill.
There are also the benefits of Morris’s slip catching to
consider, even if selectors are hardly going to pick someone for a Test team
simply on the grounds that he is an unfailing fly-catcher in that region.
But his pair of blistering grabs in the Newlands Test – one
on either side of his tall frame – did provide ammunition for suggesting that,
if he can somehow settle into the side, he helps re-equip a department that has
not fully recovered yet after shedding the trusty presence of Messrs Kallis and
Pundit and former England captain Mike Atherton was not slow
to notice Morris’s catching prowess, noting that he looks an ideal customer for
second or third slip with what he called his “big wingspan”.
Clearly the selectors are well aware that when you pick
Morris, you are introducing more than just another fast-medium bowling factor
to your arsenal; he brings a bigger box of tricks than that, increasing his
attractiveness to the broad cause.
Now he just has to bowl out of his skin – or almost so – if
handed a second cap at the Bullring over the next few days.
He’s certainly done it there before, albeit mostly one competitive
tier down ...
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