Johannesburg - As a rule, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has done a fine line in confounding cricket logic since its inception all those years ago.
Last weekend, many South Africans would have been forgiven for thinking the richest T20 league in the world was at it again during their auction for this year’s tournament when they chose all-rounder Chris Morris as the second most expensive of their countrymen who entered the draw.
To many of his compatriots, Morris – retained by the Delhi Daredevils for R12.5 million behind AB de Villiers’ R20.3 million (Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn went unsold) - is essentially a fringe player who often finds himself bracketed with others for the Proteas’ troublesome number seven spot.
The main reason for that is, with his 31st birthday around the corner, he has still played only four Tests, 30 one-day internationals and 14 international T20s, his bouts of heroism rendered few and far between by injuries or non-selection.
Why is he so big in India, then?
Former Proteas coach Ray Jennings, who has also coached the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, thinks it’s largely due to how under appreciated both the player and the format are in South Africa.
“I think the country’s vision when it comes to T20 is that it is seen as an opportunity to give people a chance to play,” said Jennings. “When it comes to taking T20 seriously, we’re probably closer to the bottom of the list of countries.
“So, when you think of exposure, the only exposure Morris gets is in the IPL. When he’s in the IPL, he’s put in a position where he can win games, but you’d have to say that’s probably not the case in South Africa.”
Jennings said he was one of the few people who was not surprised that Morris commanded as much monetary respect as he does in the IPL.
“The way people identify talent and what that talent can actually do can be two different things. Morris hits the ball far and bowls as quickly as anyone, but you have to play to make an impact. He can be a key match-winner because he’s a genuine all-rounder with the X-factor,” he said.
“If you look at the top five all-rounders with X-factor in South Africa, he’d be in that list. Does he beat AB as a batsman? No. Does he beat (Kagiso) Rabada as a bowler? No. But do either of them beat him in terms of what he offers as an all-rounder? No.”
Jennings went as far as to compare Morris with top international all-rounders, where England’s Ben Stokes - who fetched the equivalent of an eye-watering R23.3 million in the IPL auction - is considered the top dog.
“When you look at the top three T20 all-rounders in the world, Morris would be there,” said Jennings. “He can change a game in an over for you - he can hit 20 runs in an over, take two or three wickets or take a great catch at gully.”
Jennings said Morris could do a good job for the Proteas in Test cricket.
“I think South African cricket missed a trick there; I’ve been saying for more than two years that he could play as a Test all-rounder. Ideally, Morris should be the second guy helping (Quinton) de Kock destroy teams down the order.
“But the thing is that, at the moment, the four fast bowlers playing for the Proteas in Test cricket are the best fast bowlers at the moment. That said, for Morris to find his groove or mould a style, he would need to play more than the four Tests he’s played.”