Chris Morris's 4/23 for Rajasthan Royals was completely overshadowed by Shane Watson's career-best T20 innings of 104 not out against Kolkata Knight Riders at the Brabourne Stadium on Saturday night.
In a tall-scoring match in which 389 runs were aggregated in 40 overs at 9.725, Morris's average and economy rate of 5.75 speaks volumes of how effective the 28-year-old lanky right-arm medium-pacer from Pretoria can get.
The first ball he bowled to Robin Uthappa in KKR's pursuit of 200 was a beauty, beating the defence of the opener, just missing the outside edge en route to the wicketkeeper. That set the tone for Morris and RR as KKR struggled against the South African.
Morris managed to dismiss KKR captain Gautam Gambhir in the very first over, trapping him with a short-pitched delivery that the left-hander top-edged to square-leg. Morris took wickets at crucial juncture, dismissing the big-hitting Andre Russell and Suryakumar Yadav in the space of three deliveries just when KKR threatened to surge ahead.
KKR overtook RR in the 12th and 13th overs with the big-hitting Russell going berserk against Watson and IPL debutant Barinder Singh Sran. It required Morris to arrest Russell when he came for his third over, having the West Indian sky one to long off for Dhawal Kulkarni to take a smart catch. A ball later, Yadav edged Morris to the wicketkeeper. This vital 14th over that cost RR only two runs and fetched two wickets helped them regain control. In fact, they never looked behind.
And, when 16 were needed off the last over, Morris struck first up, having Shakib Al Hasan caught at long-on.
Morris was greatly supported by some good catching in the outfield. He has been RR's trump card this season, emerging as their highest wicket-taker with 12 scalps while also having the highest batting average (76), courtesy his 76 runs in six innings with five not outs and a strike rate of 176.74. This has given Rajasthan Royals the depth in batting. Morris, Deepak Hooda and James Faulkner have made the right noises at Nos 7, 8 and 9. With an economy rate of 7.07, Morris is also RR's most economical bowler this season.
Watson was named Man of the Match, but Morris's contribution with the ball was as significant as the Australian's century. In a match when bowlers went for as many as 12 and 13 an over, Morris's economy rate of less than six was worth a special award. He had just bowled his team into the playoffs.
Watson said, "A lot of moments in the game gave us a chance to defend 199. Obviously Dhawal Kulkarni's two catches (in the deep) were crucial but there were a couple of other moments. Chris Morris's over to be able to get Andre Russell, Ajinkya Rahane's catch to get rid of Azhar Mahmood and a lot of other moments were really important in giving us a chance to defend."
KKR mentor Jacques Kallis spoke of Watson and Morris in the same breath. "Obviously Watto is a world-class player and he proved that on Saturday. He played really well and put our bowlers under pressure. I felt our discipline was not as good as it should have been. When a guy scores a 100 in 50 balls and takes the score to 200, it is pretty tough to chase. Obviously Morris bowled well, picked up four wickets. Especially to finish off the game, he did well," the South African said.
Morris is not new to the IPL, though. In his first season in 2013 for Chennai Super Kings, he played in 16 matches, picking up 15 wickets at an economy rate of 8.02.