DateLine: 8th December 2005
John Morris was a stroke playing swashbuckler whose batting was at times as pleasurable to watch as any other English batsman of his generation. Born the son of a railwayman in Crewe, it was fitting that Morris should find expression for his batting talents at Derby, another big railway town. An entertaining and gifted batsman from the start of his career, it took until his third season for him to score consistently. Ten consecutive years of 1,000 First-class runs from 1986-1995 does demonstrate what a consistent powerhouse he was. His fantastic season in 1990 at last brought international recognition. An undefeated 157 against Malcolm Marshall and Hampshire was a perfect way to warm up for his Test debut, although Graham Gooch’s ten and a half hour stay in compiling his 333 obviously kept Morris waiting, although he was able to make 4* shortly before the English declaration came. A couple of cheap dismissals, and one innings ended by injury, meant that until his 32 in the second innings of the final Test of the summer his place for the winter Ashes tour was uncertain, although England had promoted him to no.4 to have another look at him while the match petered out to a draw.
He certainly made headlines that winter, although they were more to do with aviation than cricket. Along with David Gower (another who’s entertaining batting converted to a love of fun outside the game), Morris ‘buzzed’ an England XI playing a warm up match in Carrara in a Tiger Moth. Such a move could scarcely have less impressed the particularly po-faced England management team of the time. In that one incident he undid all the good work of his century in that same match (Morris and Gower had decided on their escapade after they had already both been dismissed), and also his contribution to the 1990/1 World Series, where an excellent 63* off 45 balls on debut seemed to suggest a future in that form of the game, although in his other innings he suffered from getting bogged down when opening or having to thrash straight away with a few overs left. Morris never featured for England again, and few doubted that the Tiger Moth incident was to blame. Despite playing key roles in Derbyshire’s victorious 1990 Sunday League and 1993 Benson & Hedges Cup campaigns, Morris was unhappy with his role at Derbyshire, especially with his role of vice-captain, which Morris felt had been rendered meaningless by skipper Kim Barnett’s lack of consultation with him. When he left it was a surprise he joined Durham, who had struggled in their first two First-class seasons. Despite an excellent first two seasons in the North-East, Morris struggled and his nadir was in 1996, when 30 completed innings garnered him just 429 runs (at 14.30), and although he later returned his average to the 30’s, this was still a poor return for a still very gifted batsman. It was a sign of the esteem in which the county game still held him that Nottinghamshire signed the 36 year old Morris for 2000. An average of 30 in that year was again a disappointment, although his desire to go out while he still had more to give was justified with a much better 45.71 in 2001, and it was fitting that his final First-class appearance came against Derbyshire at Trent Bridge, after earlier in the season he had scored an undefeated 136 against his former county at Derby. When Morris took his bow it was with warm applause for a man who had given massive entertainment over the years, though much of the applause may have been sympathetic in tone for a man who should have averaged more than 37.32 at First-class level and who had the talent to play in more than just three Tests.
Since retirement Morris has worked as a commentator for Sky, been a player agent and unsuccessfully sought election to the Derbyshire committee in 2004, after expressing great displeasure at how the club had performed both on and off the field. His role as an agent caused some disquiet when, after agreeing to join Nottinghamshire in 2000 as a player, he subsequently negotiated the move of Andy Harris from Derbyshire to Trent Bridge in his agent guise in the off-season. However, Morris’s worth as an agent is proved by having such high profile clients as Steve Harmison. Despite many people feeling Morris could have left a bigger mark on the game, he will always have a part in cricketing history – it was off his occasional bowling that Brian Lara hit the boundary which took him to 501*.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)