Chris Morris: Zaheer Khan thinks out of the box completely

It is no exaggeration in saying Chris Morris has established himself as one of the most valuable all-rounders in limited-overs cricket. The 29-year-old South African all-rounder, who was in news in September 2015 for contemplating quitting cricket, quashes the reports, explaining that he had to do some soul-searching to revive himself as a cricketer. In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry’s Devarchit Varma, Morris speaks about his growth as a cricketer, his mental strength, playing in IPL for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR), and Delhi Daredevils (DD) in IPL 2016 and a lot more… 

Devarchit Varma (DV): Less than a year ago, you were thinking of quitting cricket. Today, you are one of the valuable all-rounders? Did you imagine life will turn around drastically for you?

Chris Morris (CM): I never wanted to quit cricket. The thought never ever, ever, ever crossed my mind of quitting cricket. The only thing is that I was misquoted, I never wanted to quit… That was misquoted 100 percent, I never ever said that. What I did say was I had almost lost the thought of why I was playing the game. I would not say I had lost the love; I just lost the thought of why I was playing the game. I think that happens quite a lot when you play so much of cricket, you are least focused on what was important in the game of cricket and that is what happened with me. I was in a routine where I was playing my franchise cricket; I was coming to practice, going into the nets, and leaving. I was getting into the stage where I was not being challenged as a cricketer.

You know, being injured puts you in a very dark place. I got injured in the IPL last year but pushed towards the end. I got back, went onto the Bangladesh tour (South Africa tour of Bangladesh 2015) where I was injured and I just needed time away from the game which I did. I went into the bushes with my father-in-law and my brother-in-law. We did a bit of hunting and just got away from everything. It was a series against New Zealand that they [South Africa] played in, which I watched a little on the TV when I got back from the bush. I didn’t really… I just got away from the game a bit and being injured, like I said, it pushes you in a very dark place. I just took the time to reflect on why I was playing the game of cricket, and why I was putting myself through, you know, all that pain. I think at the end of the day it was… it was… you play the game because you love it.

I did a lot of soul-searching; the change of franchise helps a lot because it was a new franchise, and what I love about being at the Titans is that I know I would practice every day, and it is going to challenge me. If not the coach, it is going to be the physio and if not the physio, it is going to be the trainer, and if it is not the trainer then it is going to be the net… something is going to challenge me today. It is an exciting moment when you do get to work knowing something is, you are going to learn from it… so I never-ever wanted to quit, I just had to find my love for the game, but I just reevaluated why I played the game and you know, that’s the simple answer: I love the game of cricket, and that’s why I do what I do since I was a boy I wanted to do it. I am very fortunate to be able to do it, and to work by back off to get where I am and I am going to enjoy every second of it.


DV: How much of mental strength came into play? Do you think a different version of Chris Morris came out from that? 

CM: Definitely there is a different Chris Morris I reckon… probably I will just say I learnt to control my emotions and be more focused in the big moments. I would not say it was a big change, because I am an emotional dude when I play. But I think I have learnt to control the way I reacted a bit more. A lot of people misinterpret when I smile, especially in the pressure moments, you know you get a lot of guys who look like they are angry or they are bustling onto anything.

My way of dealing with pressure is smiling and try and enjoy it, you know, because you got the world watching you, you got your whole country watching you, and it is a pressure moment. And then you realise in those couple of seconds in the back of your mind [that] this is why you play the game, this is what you dream of as a kid. You know, you running into a guy who is trying to win a game for his country or his team and you trying to do the same for your country. You just got to enjoy it, and smile, because you know this is why I play the game and this is why I started playing the game of cricket and this is what I dreamed of as a youngster… like I said, it is a different Chris Morris, I control my emotions when I am in the pressure and a lot of work has gone into that. I thank my coaches for what they have done for me, all the hard work behind the scenes I have done with Rob Walter (Titans’ coach) and our trainers at the Titans. It has been a long but a good ride.


DV: Where would you like to see yourself in the South African team that is going through a rebuilding phase?

CM: Umm… I’d like to see myself in the team (laughs)… if that makes sense. Yeah, look I mean it is a tough side to get into to be honest. We have been in the top 4 in all formats for the last 10 years for a reason. It’s a difficult team to get into because they have been so successful! You know I am a realist and (the way I look it) if I am going to play for South Africa I have got to replace [Morne] Morkel, [Dale] Steyn or [Vernon] Philander or now [Kagiso] Rabada… and not many guys can replace them in a cricket team because that is what they are.

I just got to keep performing. I would like to see myself batting at No. 8 and opening the bowling or bowling first change for my country. But like I said I am a realist and if I got to wait another 4 years to play for South Africa I will do it. I have got no issues with that. When the chance comes I will try and grab it and perform… if I am in the team then I am a happy man.

Chris Morris says he is ready to wait another 4 years to play regularly for South Africa © Getty Images
Chris Morris says he is ready to wait another 4 years to play regularly for South Africa © Getty Images


DV: Delhi Daredevils is your third IPL team. How different is it from the others in terms of management and overall approach?


CM: It was a big change from CSK (Chennai Super Kings) to Rajasthan (Royals). We had a lot less, (in terms of) big Indian players if that makes sense. We had a few… but we didn’t have the Dhonis, the Ashwins, the Jadejas, the Rainas, so there was a little bit of difference from a small franchise like Rajasthan.


Being in CSK was a lot of added pressure because they were a big franchise and they expect a lot off their players and they expect you to win. That’s cool, that’s how a big team works and there are no issues in that. They were successful for a reason and you got to step up to the plate and do what you do at CSK, give your best at all times, and there are no worries about that. They have got high expectations, which every team does.


But at Rajasthan the way Rahul [Dravid] and Paddy [Upton] run the ship it’s quite laidback, you know, a lot of responsibility is on the players and here is a philosophy… I don’t know if it is a philosophy… but they way they think about it, is the way you can get players to grow not just as a cricketer but as a person and that is what I find fascinating with the way it gets run. I have only been there for one year and the little bit of growing I did in IPL as a person and as a cricketer was massive for my cricket, the way it impacted me, and how I looked at the game and how I was focused on the game.


Delhi is obviously a different franchise from a different city, a bigger franchise and with 12 or 14 new players it is always going to be challenging and this where Rahul and Paddy I will say are excellent in running a good ship. They get teams to bond very quickly and teams to gel very quickly and I think the players buy into what our philosophy is what in terms of all horses for courses. What I love about it is that a young player in the team has as much voice as a big player in the team. It is a good ship being run by good people, exciting times ahead for Delhi.



DV: Did you feel additional pressure coming into a team that has not had much success in the past?


CM: I will not say much pressure, lost one early on in the IPL. We look at last year, I think Rajasthan won 8 games and we got into the playoffs. Delhi won 5, you know, it is so close, the margins are so small in this tournament of getting into the playoffs and getting a chance to get into the final. We [Rajasthan] had two last-ball wins last year — one was against Delhi — and that could have gone either way… you know… we lose those 2 games we do not make playoffs. It is such small margins!


Look, Delhi have always been a top side in the IPL, they have always been a tough side to play against. Every time I pad against them I always thought we are going to have to play well to beat these guys, and I just think it has been small margins where Delhi have lost. It is not because they had a bad team, or bad coaching staff or anything, it’s just how the game goes. That is how it happens, unfortunately.


There wasn’t added pressure in terms of come to perform because I always put myself under pressure to play cricket and do my best. There was that natural pressure, but I think for me I would not call it pressure; it was an excitement to perform for a new team. It is a new team, new supporters, and new players to play with. [It was] an enjoyment factor for me to perform for my new mates and my new team, and that is the biggest thing that I can say about that I look in, it is an opportunity to perform with new guys and let’s do it.




DV: Rahul Dravid’s guidance to young cricketers has been terrific. How has it been for you?


CM: Rahul is excellent. I mean, you can talk to the man about anything. That is what I like; you can talk to him about… literally about anything. And I am not talking cricket, I am talking life. He is one of the most approachable guys the world has ever seen, for me, in the cricket world. Anyone can go and talk to him. He is humble, down to earth, and first of all, he loves the game of cricket. He is a wonderful person, and for me, he is one of the top guys.


If you are going to have [someone] guiding the young players, he is the No. 1 guy because it is not only about the cricket but it is about the person. And if you are getting guidance from a nice person like Rahul Dravid, you have got some good guidance because he is a very, very top man… and a hell of a cricketer (laughs). If I have got to talk to him about [my batting] and he telling me this and this is what I think about your batting I am going to go believe in everything he says. He is just a genius. [I am] very, very happy that I have got another opportunity to work with him because he is an absolute legend.




DV: Zaheer Khan has impressed many with his captaincy skills, where do you think he stands out from the rest?


CM: Because he is a bowler, that is why. Bowling captains are the best… I am joking! The biggest thing for me I can say working with Zak (Zaheer Khan) is the most insane fields I have ever seen in my life for a T20. But they work; Zak is completely, totally out of the box in thinking, when it comes to field. The one thing that I do appreciate about Zak the most, that as a bowler, if you are not comfortable with the field he has suggested, he lets you take over and set your field. For a bowler, that’s all you want. You want your captain to say, ‘be comfortable, I have got a feeling let us go with it’, and then you back your captain and go with it. But if another time I go and say ‘Zak, I am not comfortable and I have got a feeling and let me go with this’, he will say ‘cool, as long as you are comfortable. I back you 100 per cent’. I think that is the biggest thing for me.


There was this funny part in the tournament against Sarfaraz Khan from RCB, obviously quite unorthodox. Oh no, it was Kedar Jadhav. Him and David Wiese were batting. I had never played against Kedar and he [Zaheer] came to me and said ‘right, this is the field for Kedar and you know David Wiese?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do’. Okay, he said, ‘I will set the field for Kedar and you set the field for Dave’. So I said ‘cool’. Every time they got a single I would set my field, and when they got the next single Zak would set the field.


It is amazing how flexibility has come into field. (And then there is) his [Zaheer Khan’s] experience, he has got a million wickets (laughs) in total. He is an absolute genius and I back him 100 per cent.



DV: You and Carlos Brathwaite are giants. Do you ever compete with each other in terms of who can hit the bigger six or bench press or do more weight?


CM: Aah (Morris snubs halfway through the question). I am the skinniest person you will ever see in your life. There is no competing when it comes to fitness or anything like that; the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life is go to the gym. If I go to the gym it is because I know I have to. No, there is no competing at all. And if we were competing, Carlos is fit, miles past me anyway. I am not competing with him because he will win every time but, look, I mean Carlos is an absolute gentle giant and a hell of a guy, a hell of a cricketer and there are no ego involved when it comes to anything like that, so no competing at all for anything.




DV: Your batting seems to have turned a corner since the series against England earlier this year. What changed?


CM: A lot of bowls being hit… it has been a long 9 to 12 months journey for me in terms of my batting. Moving from the Lions to the Titans, I was having a chat with our coach Rob Walter and he said to me I should be doing better as a batter. Making my First-Class debut as a No. 4 batsman should say that I can bat. You know, my batting had taken a backseat for the last couple of years, which is cool, understandable because I was making into the team as a bowler.


I am the first person to admit I underperformed with the bat. In the last 12 months it has been a lot of mental and technique work, a lot of hitting of the ball, and a lot of (about) finding my strengths and weakness and try to improve on them. It has been a long journey of improving my batting and it is nice to see that the fruits of my labour are coming in.


I keep reiterating that it could have been a completely different journey for me; I think I have been quite lucky. I thank everyone, but it has been a lot of hard work in getting by batting to where it should be. I still do not think I am where I should be, it is still work in progress.



DV: You, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, & Imran Tahir all play for Delhi. Have you managed to teach any Afrikaans to your teammates?


CM: I think we always talk in Afrikaans to each other, but I think there are only 2 or 3 guys who speak Afrikaans. In other teams there are AB [de Villers], Faf [du Plessis] and Albie [Morkel]. I don’t think we would speak in Afrikaans on the field may be on one or two odd occasions. A lot of the Indian guys would not speak Afrikaans, but they know a few things. I think what is basically learnt in every single language, the first is to learn is to swear in someone else’s language.


I think they do know the odd words, especially Mayank Agarwal. He can speak a bit of Afrikaans. Anil Chaudhary knows a little bit of Afrikaans because he comes over for umpiring in South Africa. Our security guard knows Afrikaans, so it is quite refreshing to have conversation with him.



DV: Delhi Daredevils have put up impressive performances this season. Do you fancy yourself as strong contenders for IPL 2016 trophy?


CM: Umm… Hah, good question. I think if it comes to IPL and you get into a team and you are playing, you got to consider yourself as contenders for the trophy because you want to win. If I was playing for anybody I would say we were good contenders for the trophy because I honestly believe any team I play in we can win. We have had some good results but it is a game-by-game process, you do not want to look too far ahead.


We still got to first get in the playoffs before we start thinking about winning the trophy. But we have got a good unit, a young and exciting unit, the guys are playing for each other, the guys are playing for Rahul and Paddy, the guys are playing for Delhi. The guys want to win the game of cricket; that’s what they want to do especially when there is a lot of talk of what has happened in the past to Delhi and stuff like that. We are trying our hardest; the fans have been disappointed in the last couple of years. We are trying our best to win every single time we play and try and progress as far as we can.


But like I said, it a process that is game-by-game. We will focus on the next game, and then the game after that and then the playoffs.




DV: What sort of food do you enjoy?


CM: I am quite a simple man. In the last year, I reckon consistently I would have eaten two things. I probably would have eaten more sushi than any man should have ever eaten. And I probably have to say there is this South African traditional barbeque ‘braai’. I am quite simple at the ‘braai’, if you have got lamb chops for me, I am a happy man. That’s pretty much of what I have consistently eaten, a lot of sushi and a lot of lamb chops on the barbeque.

(Devarchit Varma is senior writer with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)