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Danny Morrison: One of the finest speedsters in New Zealand history

Danny Morrison © Getty Images
Danny Morrison © Getty Images

Danny Morrison, born February 3, 1966, is an effervescent former player and commentator. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of New Zealand’s finest fast bowlers.

At first glance Daniel Kyle Morrison never resembled a fast bowler: his short frame simply defied the concept. However, with a quick, whippy run-up, very strong shoulders, an unorthodox release that empowered him with the ability to make balls take off from a length, and a dangerous out-swinger made Morrison one of the finest speedsters in the history of New Zealand cricket.

That was the first half of his career: towards the end of his career he retained all the attributes mentioned above but cut down the pace and brought variety and an impeccable accuracy to his career — qualities that made him New Zealand’s supreme quintessential death bowler in ODIs.

Morrison carried the New Zealand attack on his broad shoulders in the 1990s, trying his best to fulfil the huge footsteps of Richard Hadlee: in an era when New Zealand struggled to find genuine match-winners with the ball, it was Morrison and Chris Cairns who helped keep the Kiwi flag aloft with some support from Dion Nash and Simon Doull.

Morrison’s 48 Tests had fetched him 160 wickets at 34.68 including ten five-fors. In terms of wickets he ranks fifth among New Zealand bowlers; his 126 wickets from 96 ODIs cost him 27.53 apiece with two five-wicket hauls; his economy rate was an impressive 4.53. A non-batsman to the core, Morrison once held the dubious record of most ducks (24) in a Test career.

The ‘feat’ earned him the not-too-prestigious nickname of The Duckman among his teammates. His batting was so legendary that they named a duck-caller after him. As Paul Holden wrote in stuff.co.nz, “Of course you could trump all those at the ground if you still have one of the most annoying cricket accompaniments ever invented — the Danny Morrison duck-caller. No photo as none still exists, most ending up on the concrete steps of the terraces at Eden Park, torn from the lips of pre-pubescent children and mercifully stomped into smithereens before their eyes with hundreds cheering on.”

Batting was, you see, not something that Morrison took seriously…

… and neither was fielding.

Early days

Born in Auckland, Morrison made his First-Class debut against Central Districts at Eden Park No. 2 in a Shell Trophy match of 1985-86. Bowling after Gary Troup and Brian Barrett, Morrison removed the first three batsmen, impressing everyone present with his pace.

The first big performance came next season — by which time he had graduated to the Auckland new-ball bowler. In that match at Rangiora, Hadlee bowled brilliantly, picking up five for 32 for Canterbury but found little support as Auckland piled up 332. Then Morrison struck back, finishing with figures of seven for 82 that included the scalps of John Wright, Blair Hartland, and Rod Latham. The selectors were impressed, and Morrison made it to the World Cup 1987 squad.

International debut

By the time Morrison made his debut in New Zealand’s last World Cup at Nagpur they had already been eliminated from the World Cup and India had already qualified (as had Australia). Morrison was the only one who did not bat (while Chetan Sharma took a hat-trick — all bowled); when it was India’s turn to chase Morrison was put to the sword by a surprisingly rampant Sunil Gavaskar, and conceded 69 from ten overs. He would avenge the all-bowled hat-trick in due time.

 


He made it to New Zealand’s tour of Australia later that season; after the tourists were bowled out for 186 at The Gabba, Jeff Crowe gave Morrison (ahead of Ewen Chatfield) the new ball with Hadlee. Morrison supported his legendary partner brilliantly to pick up four for 86 (including the wickets of Allan Border and Steve Waugh). Despite their efforts, however, Australia acquired a 119-run lead and won by nine wickets.

The first five-for did not take long, and how! After Hadlee broke down (during a Test for the first time in his career: the incident meant that he could not go past Ian Botham till the India tour that followed) against England at Lancaster Park Morrison led the pack, accounting for five frontline batsmen for the cost of 69.

Filling those big boots

It was in the 1989-90 home series against India that Morrison really made it big: his first-innings burst of five for 75 at Lancaster Park ensured India followed-on (and lost the Test); with two runs to win Wright sent Morrison to open with Martin Snedden: Morrison thus became the third after Johnny Hayes and Bevan Congdon (and last, till date) New Zealander to open batting and bowling in the same Test.

But Morrison’s series was far from over: in the rain-affected second Test at Napier he once again picked up five for 98; and in the third Test at Eden Park (where Ian Smith scored his famous 173) Morrison returned figures of five for 145, making it three five-wicket hauls in three Tests. He finished the series with 16 wickets at 27.87 — four wickets ahead of Hadlee’s tally. He was named a New Zealand Cricket Almanac Player of the Year that season.

By the time World Cup 1992 happened Morrison had become New Zealand’s spearhead: he was one of the reasons for New Zealand’s success story in the tournament (where he often opened bowling with Dipak Patel); however, being not at his best did not help, and he did not play the entire tournament. Despite a quiet tournament his form in the longer version was sufficient to earn him a Lancashire contract that year.

Danny Morrison © Getty Images
Danny Morrison took 160 wickets in 48 Tests for New Zealand © Getty Images

A Wright farewell

New Zealand were 0-1 down when they went into the last Test of the 1992-93 home series against Australia at Eden Park. In the second Test at Basin Reserve Morrison had given New Zealand a 31-run lead with a career-best haul of seven for 89; his blitz ensured that the Australians lost their last six wickets for 69 runs, but the match petered out to a draw.

The Eden Park Test was supposed to be Wright’s last, and the Kiwis were determined to give him a proper farewell. It was Morrison who started it all: with only Willie Watson and Murphy Su’A as his seam partners Morrison scythed through the Australian top-order, finishing with six for 37 as Australia were bowled out for 139.

Chasing 201 New Zealand were in a precarious position, only to be saved by Ken Rutherford and Tony Blain. Morrison won the Man of the Match: 18 years would pass before New Zealand would beat Australia in a Test. Once again Morrison won the New Zealand Cricket Almanack Player of the Year.

The spearhead

The series firmly established Morrison as the leader of the attack — a role he stuck to till the end of his playing days. In 1993-94 Morrison became the first New Zealand bowler to register an ODI hat-trick (Shane Bond is the only other Kiwi to have emulated him). He also became the eighth bowler to achieve the feat.

It was the perfect revenge: chasing 241 India were going along fine at 206 for five when a scorching yorker hit the base of Kapil Dev’s off-stump; promoted to bring the asking rate down, but the yorker that crashed into the middle-stump was too good for him; and the next ball made its way through Nayan Mongia’s ‘gate’. India ended up losing their last five wickets for five runs.

A better performance came against the mighty West Indians at Lancaster Park: with Nash breaking down after five overs Morrison came to the forefront with only Doull as the other seamer. He bowled brilliantly to finish with six for 69 including the top four batsmen: the icing on the cake was undoubtedly the wicket of Brian Lara, who he bowled with a cleverly guised slower delivery.

The elusive ODI five-for took some time to come, but it happened at the right moment for his side: Lee Germon’s New Zealand side was a lot weaker than Martin Crowe’s, but backed up by the hostile Cairns and the unwavering Gavin Larsen, Morrison ran through the Pakistan line-up with figures of five for 46 — of whom, as expected, four were bowled by yorkers. To rub salt to the wounds of the Pakistanis Morrison helped Larsen add 15 for the last wicket to win the match.

With age Morrison’s form waned, but he was still a bowler as competent as ever. He played in his third World Cup but broke down after bowling only two overs against Pakistan at Gaddafi Stadium. He was sorely missed the quarterfinal against Australia where the bowlers could not defend 286 at Madras.

Sizzling before fading out

There was no indication during the World Cup that Morrison’s career would come to an end shortly afterwards. Just after the World Cup he single-handedly routed West Indies at Sabina Park for 184 with figures of five for 61; surprisingly it turned out to be his penultimate Test.

The penultimate ODI was special, too: after New Zealand meandered to 169 for eight against Sri Lanka at Sharjah it seemed that they would ease to victory, but Morrison rose to the task: he picked up two early wickets, and when all seemed to be over at 159 for seven he came back  to remove Arjuna Ranatunga.

Chaminda Vaas and Sajeewa de Silva took the score to 169, ensuring the world champions would not lose. They could not, however, convert it into a win as Morrison swung one in so late that de Silva left it and lost his off-bail; and three balls later the ball took poor Muttiah Muralitharan’s edge and flew to Stephen Fleming at first slip. Morrison had managed to tie the match.

Morrison played the next match against Pakistan but was not a part of the final against the same team. He never played another ODI.

The final surprise

The Eden Park Test of 1996-97 against England was Morrison’s last; New Zealand managed 390 but hundreds from Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe ensured a 131-run lead for the tourists. Morrison took some flak from Stewart, but still ended up with figures of three for 104.

With some assistance from the seamers, Phil Tufnell kept on picked up three wickets in no time; lunch was taken at 105 for eight. with only Nathan Astle showing some grit, it seemed to be all over for New Zealand. Doull hung on gamely for 37 minutes, but with almost two sessions to go and only ‘The Duckman’ to assist Astle, New Zealand’s hopes slid.

Not Morrison’s, though: he blocked and blocked and blocked, and then blocked some more. He kept out 133 balls — the same number as Astle did in the last-wicket partnership. When play was called off at 4.55 PM Astle remained unbeaten on 102 and Morrison on 14; they had batted for 166 minutes and had added 106.

“Cricket’s ability to find new scripts and confound all logic was proved yet again as New Zealand’s last pair, [Nathan] Astle and [Danny] Morrison, remained undefeated for nearly three hours, thereby denying England a victory that seemed to be a certainty by lunch on the final day,” wrote Wisden.

The Test was saved, but Morrison was dropped from the side — for good. He was not even 31.

Back to First-Class cricket

Morrison quit cricket after that season (which was also his benefit season for Auckland). He played five Shell Trophy matches before that; in his last First-Class match — against Otago at Alexandra — Morrison signed off with five for 66 that helped Auckland to win the match by three wickets. He was even at the crease when the winning runs were scored.

After retirement

Following retirement Morrison wrote his autobiography (Mad As I Wanna Be) in 1997. The transition from the fast bowler to the excitable commentator was not an obvious one: there had been tragedies in his family (which included his sister taking her life) as well as her wife Kim’s (who is into aromatherapy and skin care). They have two children — Tayla, a ballerina, and Jakob, a rugby fanatic.

The Morrisons have settled down in Mooloolaba, about an hour north of Brisbane. “That was a bit of a spark to create some space between us and those dramas. From a massive emotional angle, it was time for a bit of a change”, he said in an interview with Mark Geenty for Stuff.co.nz.

Morrison was originally a part of Fox Sports, but made it big after the Twenty20 explosion had come as a blessing to him. His antics in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has made him one of the biggest entertainers behind the microphone — leading people to press the ‘mute’ button or increase the volume depending on their nature.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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