Rajasthan Royals were willing to break the bank to secure the right fast-bowling support for Jofra Archer, according to their director of cricket, Kumar Sangakkara, after the franchise put in the highest bid in IPL auction history on Thursday to sign the South Africa allrounder Chris Morris for INR 16.25 crore (US$2.2 million).
Although Morris is highly rated as a tall fast bowler and hard-hitting lower-middle batsman, Rajasthan’s bidding war with three other franchises – most notably Punjab Kings – was one of the big surprises of the auction, particularly given Morris’s past injury record, and the fact that he will turn 34 midway through this year’s competition.
However, speaking to the media on Friday, Sangakkara justified Morris’ selection in light of Rajasthan’s lop-sided display in the most recent IPL. They finished bottom of the table in the UAE in November – albeit one win from reaching the play-offs – despite the stellar efforts of Archer, who was named the tournament’s MVP for his haul of 20 wickets at 18.25, including an economy rate of 6.55 that no seamer who bowled more than 15 overs in the tournament could match.
However, that disparity was particularly stark within Rajasthan’s own ranks. Ten of Archer’s wickets came in the Powerplay, in which he returned a remarkable economy rate of 4.34, the best by a distance in the tournament. However, the remainder of the Royals’ attack managed six wickets at an economy of 9.93 in their own Powerplay overs, and Archer himself ended up being stretched across too many roles, with his economy rate ballooning to 10.08 when asked to bowl at the death.
Hence Rajasthan’s exhaustive pursuit of Morris, whose own Powerplay economy for Royal Challengers Bangalore last season was a very respectable 6.26, but whose death-over figure of 7.03 was the best among those who bowled 50-plus balls in the season, ahead of Delhi Capitals’ Anrich Nortje, at 8.44.
“For us, it was a case of getting some support for Archer, to get him to be as effective as possible,” Sangakkara said. “We considered the all-round abilities that Morris has, but focused on his bowling because he actually has one of the best economy rates at the death. He’s at the top of the tree in terms of positively impacting side’s performances.
“Morris has a very specific role for us to play in supporting Archer,” Sangakkara added. “It gives us a lot more flexibility, because it frees us to use Archer in other ways. We also have AJ Tye, Mustafizur [Rahman] and young Indian quicks to support us, so it gives us a few more combinations that we can play with.”
Sangakkara acknowledged that Rajasthan had had their eye on further pace-bowling options to supplement their squad, including Jhye Richardson, Adam Milne and Kyle Jamieson, the New Zealand allrounder who would prove to be out of reach as he went for a bid of INR 15 crore (US$2.05million) to RCB.
“The high price is just the nature of the auction’s supply-demand dynamics,” he said. “If you really want a player and you’re competing against someone with a huge purse, you have to stretch yourself. We would’ve liked to have got [Morris] for much less, but Mumbai and Kings were as interested in him as we were, and we had to push through that upper limit.”
Addressing the issue of Morris’ injury record – he sustained a side strain during the last IPL campaign that caused him to miss the first three weeks of matches – Sangakkara said that the prospect of a reduction in the number of internal flights between venues, due to Covid, could help to preserve his 6ft 4in frame from wear and tear.
“Questions will be asked about his training, load management – everything’s been taken into consideration,” Sangakkara said. “Regular flying, packing bags and leaving has a significant effect of injuries on players. Yes, there’s a trend for him to get injured but it’s hard to predict who gets injured and who doesn’t. The key is to have cover in your squad if the unthinkable happens.”
As for the burden of coming into the squad with such a heavy price tag, Sangakkara insisted that Morris would be valued as a player and a person more than a “commodity”.
“Managing his mindset, in terms of stepping up and trying to justify an auction price is one thing, but then getting him to concentrate on what we really want him to do, and what we expect of him in terms of our side and our strategies [is another],” he said.
“It affects various players in different ways. Some really take that pressure on and it helps them to perform even better, others can at times wilt, but Chris is a very mature guy.
“The auction price is the auction price, whether we buy someone for a very small amount of money, or a very high amount of money, our job is to get them prepared to do the job for us on the field.
“There are no guarantees in cricket, even the best players can have deep ruts and bad performances, but the key for Rajasthan is building that culture where, irrespective of your auction price, you have a role. We want you to execute it, and we will give you that support and that preparation to do it.
“But in terms of executing your role, you are free to take a calculated risk, go that extra yard and really commit to the role. And that’s going to be good enough because if the processes are right, the results come. You can’t worry about all the noise that you can’t control.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket
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