Exclusive: Allan Donald's the man I looked up to growing up, says Chris Morris
The 34-year-old fast bowler spoke on an array of topics ranging from golf, bubble life, his hefty price tag, Sanju Samson's international future and his bowling heroes
One of the greatest all-rounders in T20 cricket, Chris Morris became the most expensive player in IPL history when the Rajasthan Royals swooped for him at the mini-auction ahead of the 14th instalment of the Indian Premier League.
The South African took time out during the ongoing tournament, the second leg of which is being played out in the UAE, for a freewheeling chat with Khaleej Times.
The 34-year-old fast bowler spoke on an array of topics ranging from golf, bubble life, his hefty price tag, Sanju Samson’s international future and his bowling heroes.
Q. First of all, our readers would like to know what Chris Morris is like off the field, when he’s not playing cricket...
I really enjoy a round of golf. That’s my favourite thing to do but more importantly, because most of the field is a lot of hard work, I reckon and everybody else in terms of energy because I don’t stop talking, and I don’t stop laughing and I don’t stop trying to keep the team happy. So, if you speak to anybody that’s been in a team with me. I’m a big believer in special things happen when the team is happier and enjoying themselves. So, I try my best to keep everyone smiling, whether we win or lose, whether we are going through a tough time or not, I try and keep the guys smiling and keep the guys laughing. So, Chris Morris, off the field, like I said, is a lot of energy.
Q. Unlike the Indians or Pakistanis, most South Africans or Australians for that matter play different sports at a young age? Did you also play some other sports?
Absolutely. Cricket was always going to be my primary sport because, as everyone knows, my dad played professional cricket, so I always wanted to play cricket. But I played anything that had a ball involved in it. If it had a ball, I was there. I played rugby, I played golf, played soccer, hockey and played tennis a lot. I think at one stage I actually took up badminton, just because it involved hitting something. A lot of my friends would get picked up when school ended and then go home but since my parents worked, I would have to spend quite a lot of time in the afternoons, on the school playground, on the school sports field. So, I had lot of time on my hands. So, anything that involved a ball, I would play and I think that’s helped a lot for everything. But when it came to high school, you had to pick a winter sport where I chose hockey. If you’ve ever seen a South African rugby player, you’ll know why I didn’t play rugby because they would’ve snapped you in half. So, I chose hockey and the fortunate thing is that it kept me fit on the off season for cricket, but more importantly, it improved my hand-eye coordination. So, hockey was my second love in high school and golf became my first love after school.
Q. Rugby is big in your country. What are the steps you think cricket needs to take in South Africa to become as big?
It’s a difficult one. Believe it or not, I think soccer or football is the number one sport in South Africa. I think that’s actually the number one sport that everyone supports more and rugby will probably be number two and then cricket three. That’s a difficult one because our national rugby team has been so successful in winning World Cups whereas, as you know, the cricket team, we haven’t gone all the way, we haven’t pushed as hard as you should have or could have for a World Cup. So, it’s quite a difficult one. People always come watch cricket and hopefully when Covid settles down and the crowds are allowed back people can watch. So, it’s a very difficult one to decide that we’re going to bridge the gap between rugby and cricket for popularity but, you know, end of the day, I think the rugby players watch just as much cricket as cricketers watch rugby. Football is definitely number one, but I think cricket and rugby go hand in hand. But, like I said, I think rugby has just got the edge on us because of the success they have had.
Q. Maybe it says something about cricket’s progress because of the way it has attracted people from other communities as well. South Africa is a very diverse country so, now you see a lot of people from all communities and they are getting a chance to represent South African in international cricket...
Absolutely, I think that it’s the same with every sport in South Africa but, like you said, with the diversity that we’ve got, we’ve got so many different cultures, so many different types of people to make up one team and that’s what makes South Africa, in general, not just our sports teams, but our country, in general, such a special place because you know there’s so many different cultures. Quite a few years ago, I had quite a good chat with Rahul Dravid about South Africa and our different cultures and the different mixtures of people that we’ve got on a team and, he was saying that’s where India is so similar to South Africa because you’ve got so many different cultures, so many different religions, different people coming from a massive India, and they’re coming together to make one team. And you know, that’s where we are very, very similar in countries because it’s incredible that so many different people can come together for one goal and play for one team. So, it’s pretty cool.
Q. A lot of players have been openly talking about mental health because of the pressure of constantly staying in a bubble. Chris Gayle pulled out of the IPL because of bubble fatigue. Even the Ashes are on the line. How has been your experience so far?
That’s pretty tough. Bubble life isn’t for sissies, as they say. It is not the easiest thing in the world to do. I’m very fortunate because I haven’t had some bubble life like a lot of the other guys that have come into the squad or come into the IPL. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve had some time at home. And in my pre-season, I get it on with the Titans so, I’ve been lucky because I can’t really compare myself to what other guys are going through but it is really tough. People always look at us, we are in a beautiful hotel, got a nice view, there’s a pool, there’s a beach but it does get difficult sometimes, especially when you have a family. I’ve got a young family at home and you are so used to having them on tour over the years. Our tour life was difficult as it is now, you know, you take away the freedom that you had, and you can’t have your family. That’s a massive thing for a lot of players. Originally, I thought working through a bubble fatigue, you bite the bullet, you get through it and you’ll be ok. But it is an absolute reality. It hits you really, really hard at certain stages. And I think it doesn’t help when you’re not winning. So, I think bubble fatigue is a big factor and if guys are pulling out and if guys are saying ‘listen, I’ve had enough, I need to go,’ I completely respect their decision because it’s not an easy thing to do. And remember those guys have still got to do the World Cup after this.
Q. As someone with that kind of price tag ($2.25 million), you are always under the spotlight. Can you tell us about the experience of dealing with this pressure?
I think, in terms of the price and all of that stuff that happened not just in the auction but in everything, I reckon the first three weeks after the auction was a lot of pressure. Obviously, I was bombarded with press questions, bombarded with phone calls and I was struggling to deal with that a little bit just because it was just so much. But end of the day, like I tell people, it’s out of my control. When the auction happened, I didn’t say this is how much I want. It is out of my control which everybody knows. But what I realised was whether I went for the most or whether I went for my base price, the pressure of cricket is always going to be there. You’ve got to perform at the highest level and yes, there will be a lot of scrutiny on you because you went for a big price and people are paying a lot of money for you to be playing in a team. But irrespective of your price, you need to be performing either way. So, whether you have a good day or whether you have a bad day, the pressures of cricket don’t change. You just need to perform every single time and, that’s what I love. That’s what I love about it because the end of the day, the person that is paid the least or the person that’s paid the most has to get onto that field and perform as well as they can and do a job. So, that’s the way I dealt with it and accepted it. Like I said, I can control what I can control and hopefully that’s to perform well and if I don’t perform well, I’m human, that happens. So, you just crack on and sunlight come up the next day and you perform as hard as you can. And you’ll never stop trying. That’s the best part.
Q. You have been a part of the few IPL franchises. You have been with the Rajasthan Royals twice. Can you tell us about the Royals experience?
A couple of nights ago, before our last game, we had this little sit down with everybody and they were asked what does it mean to be part of the Royals. And it was an unbelievably special thing to be part of because you listen to the guys who have been here the longest and how much they have put into the franchise. You know they are part of the furniture as you call it almost. But, for me, what I found very special about the Royals is that I’ve played for them in 2015. Obviously, unfortunately, they were banned for two years. Most of the staff that was at the Royals with me in 2015 came across to Delhi. So, the coaching staff and the analysts all of them came with me to Delhi. So, I almost had a little bit of the Rajasthan feel, still. And then, Rajasthan came back and then everyone came back to the Rajasthan Royals. But those two or three years, where I wasn’t with Rajasthan, I still was with Delhi and then RCB, and whenever I saw the Royals franchise, whenever I saw the coaching staff, I was almost like we haven’t missed a day. It was a case of we’d see each other and we literally just start talking like we’re seeing each other every day. And for me, that shows how special the relationship was that we built in 2015 and, when we did so well. The relationships that we built, were still so solid and so strong. And it shows you know the quality of people that is at the Royals and it’s really is one of the best franchises, I’ve ever been a part of, if not the best. Our coaching staff at the moment is incredible. It is difficult to describe unless you’ve seen it because the way Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara) and Trevor Penney have their outlook on the game of cricket is incredible. Whether we win or lose, the outlook never changes. Whether we’re doing well, whether we’re doing badly, the outlook stays exactly the same —it’s calm, it’s collected, and it’s just a special place to be part.
Q. The Royals have a tradition of backing young players. You have seen a lot of franchises in IPL over the years, but the Royals must be pretty unique in that sense.
Yes absolutely. The way I look as a coaching staff or an IPL franchise, end of the day yes here we are to win the cricket matches and we want to win the IPL. That’s what we are here for. But as a coach and as a team, this is how we feel I think, most of us is that when we see a guy like Chetan Sakariya getting picked to play for India, for us, that is the most satisfying feeling in the world because you know you watch this youngster, first of all, about the vagaries of time in his personal life. But you watch this guy who’s come into the squad as a young man and he’s developed in the first half of the IPL and he’s got himself an international call-up. That’s all we want as players. Our role, as I reckon, the senior citizens of the team, but more the coaching staff, their role is to get players to play for India. We might not have an IPL trophy, this year or next year or the next three years but if we’ve got, let’s say, 10 Indian guys getting their first call-up, that’s just as special. So, that’s a good thing that we give youngsters a role because they are very, very good. And the guys who are spotting talent here, which is incredible to see because every single year I get to the nets and there’s some youngster, that’s spanking me right in the nets and I’m like, ‘who is this person?’ And then I realise here’s the next big thing. So that’s really good that they give youngsters a go.
Q. The Royals youngsters, Mahipal Lomror, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Kartik Tyagi, Chetan Sakariya, this must be a great learning experience for them, having to perform in the absence of big players in the second half.
I think those guys are absolutely enjoying it, you know, It’s an opportunity to play in the IPL. It’s such a cliche of saying the IPL is the biggest tournament in the world. It really is. The only thing you can get bigger is playing international cricket but the IPL is the biggest tournament in the world and these guys are given the opportunity to do it. Give me a young Indian cricketer that doesn’t want to play on the biggest stage in the world. I don’t think a lot of guys don’t appreciate how big the IPL actually is in terms of playing the game. Yes, it comes with this glamour, yes, it comes with the financial benefits that come with everything. But as a cricket player, it doesn’t get better than that because it’s an incredible thing to be a part of. And the thing I love about our youngsters is that they are taking it in their stride, there’s no deer in headlights. The guys are just arriving on the field and they’re doing their thing.
Q It’s Sanju Samson’s first season as IPL captain and a difficult one with the injuries in the first half and the absence of big players in the second half. He obviously has India ambitions, he’s a very good player, a special batsman. So, how do you think this season will shape him up as a cricketer in the future?
No one’s ever doubting Sanju’s talent. Sanju is a seriously good player. I think that the problem is that he’s competing with some seriously good international batsmen. It is one of those things. I’ve got no doubt that Sanju will play many games for India in the future. He’s one of the most talented batters I’ve ever seen, one of the calmest heads I’ve ever seen. And he’s just in general, a good person. If he just keeps doing what he’s doing, he’ll keep knocking on that door. Like I said it’s a difficult one because he’s competing against some seriously good Indian batters. I think only time will tell how soon it happens but I definitely think that he’ll be playing for India quite a lot in the future. But, in terms of his captaincy, he’s doing a great job in terms of everything that’s happened, like you said like pandemic related issues, injuries, lost big players. We’ve had a lot of rotation in the squad and it hasn’t been easy, it has been difficult. Sanju has been calm, he’s been good and he’s got a good sense of humility that he always has and he has taken it in his stride. He can only deal with what he’s got in front of him and so far he’s trying his best and he’s doing very, very well, in my opinion. I’ll make sure to try to tell him every single time he captains or we are on the field. I literally grab him and I go, ‘good job,’ because it’s a difficult time and he’s giving it his all and he’s still performing, which is awesome.
Q. You have always been in great demand in franchise cricket. But has South Africa underappreciated your value? We feel you should have been a regular player...
Well, you’ve got to ask the coaches that. Look, I’ve played a lot of international cricket, I went on a lot of international tours. But, end of the day, you got to realise the position that I was competing for. We had a seriously good bowling attack, a seriously good batting line-up. So, for me, to get into the team, there had to be a certain balance or an injury so, end of the day, I think you always look back and go ‘I wish I had played more, I should have played more international cricket, I should have performed better, I should have done this.’ I look back and think I was fortunate enough to be on tours, I was fortunate enough to represent my country, fortunate enough to play international cricket in all three formats. I’m not one of those guys who looks back in anger. I was very happy to be there, very fortunate to be there. And I was living my dream. Maybe, if you had asked me this question five years ago, I probably would have given you a different answer. But right now, I’m so content with everything that’s happened in the past and bygones be bygones. I’m very relaxed when it comes to stuff like that because, you know, I’m one of those cricket fans now of South Africa and I want to see them do well and I want them to win a trophy. So, I sit back now and watch them play. But, in terms of international cricket, I look back and say I’m a fortunate man to have been there and to do everything, and to live my dream. So, I’m just happy.
Q. South Africa are in a bit of a transitional phase at the moment. How long do you think it will take South Africa to build a strong national team again?
Till the next Jacques Kallis comes along. No, I’m joking. It’s really difficult, it really is. The quality of cricket has been better all around the world, at the moment. People always look at the big countries and these big countries need to be better. The standard of cricket in, what we used to call back in the day, as everyone used to call minnows of international cricket. The quality that is coming out of those countries at the moment is scary. If you had to say five years ago, let’s say 10 years ago, Afghanistan will have probably the best spinner (Rashid Khan) that has played T20 cricket of all-time, in my opinion. If you had told me that, not a lot of people would have believed you. So, the talent that’s coming out of all these countries, then they’re playing against the big teams and, if you look back in history, the World Cups, every single year there’s been an upset, where the big country has lost to a minnow. And that’s what people don’t understand, that’s the beauty of our sport is that anyone can run on the day. So, for South Africa to get to where they need to be in terms of the past and stuff, that’s a tough one because bubble life is a big factor. Guys are going to have to be rotated. I think England have got the luxury because they’ve got seriously a good amount of players and they’ve got the luxury of rotating squads, of saying ‘Right, you guys are going to play there, you guys are going to play them, we are going to keep rotating because all of you guys can make our team on the day but, obviously, you can’t all play.’ So I think they’ve got it right in terms of rotating squads with the depth that they have. But, tell you what, we’ve got some talent coming up in South Africa that’s also going to be knocking down doors for international trophies too, I’m telling you that much. But once we get the natural process of a season happening again, things will get better. At the moment I think there’s been like a three-week gap between tournaments so there hasn’t been consistent cricket playing all the time because of these bubbles. I think it’s like that everywhere and the only way for cricket to improve in South Africa is when everything becomes more natural in terms of the season, rolling on and there’s continuous cricket all the time. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in at the moment and there’s a lot of talent in South Africa as you see. There’s always someone that’s going to come up and knock down doors. It’s gonna be a tough road but we’ll get there. We’ll definitely get there.
Q. Who are the toughest batsmen you have bowled to?
I think AB (de Villiers) comes to mind straight away. He hits the ball so cleanly, he hits it everywhere. I’ve never gotten him out in my career which is very frustrating. I’m very happy to have played with him for many years as well but I’ve never gotten him out. Hashim Amla, whether it be any format. I remember running in a T20 game going I don’t know where to bowl because this guy is smoking me everywhere, walked across the stumps to hit me, back away and cut me, and I remember going I don’t know where to bowl. And then obviously played four-day cricket against him and you can’t get past him, he doesn’t miss. Virat (Kohli) is obviously a genius, he’s an absolute jet. (David) Warner has been really tough to bowl to because he also just takes you apart. And the person that I probably hated bowling to the most just because he was so solid and he is the nicest guy on the planet is probably Kane Williamson. It’s so frustrating when I want to get angry with someone because he’s such a good guy. Those guys are probably the standouts for me. And I’ll add one more to that — Hardik Pandya. He’s so good, it is scary how well he hits the ball.
Q. Finally, we have to ask you this. Who’s South Africa’s greatest fast bowler? Is it Dale Steyn? Or Allan Donald?
You’re asking me to choose between one of my best mates and my hero. (laughs) That’s unfair. I think stats you got to say Dale (Steyn). But for what I think Allan did for me as a young cricketer, I was a young boy watching the game and I think Dale will agree with me on this, for what he did for us in South Africa as young and upcoming cricket players to see someone like that, play like that on the world stage for so long. Allan or ‘White Lightning,’ he’s the man. He was the guy I looked up to growing up. So, I’m going to give it a 50/50 split because obviously Dale did what he did and Dale’s a genius but as Dale will agree, Allan was the man!”
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