Back to bowling at top speed, Lance Morris enters the 2023-24 summer with a very clear ambition
Ashes heroics inspire Morris quest for Baggy Green
As Mark Wood breathed fire at Australia's besieged batters and life into England's flagging Ashes hopes during the winter, one previously partisan onlooker couldn't help but admire the tearaway quick's impact on the epic Test battle.
Lance Morris might have been fervently hoping the Australia outfit - of which he had been a part during their foray to India earlier in the year – completed a long-awaited Test series win in the UK, but he was also captivated by the immediate impact of Wood's raw pace.
From the moment Wood entered the fray after over six of Australia's first innings in the third Test at Headingley, and immediately hit speeds of 150kph or above, England became an irresistible force.
Australia ultimately retained the urn even though their 0-2 lead going into that Test was reduced to a 2-2 final scoreline, but Wood's 14 wickets at barely 20 apiece were a defining feature of his team's comeback.
Initially, Morris was taken by the influence one bowler was able to wield after Wood had been overlooked for the Ashes opener at Edgbaston and then ruled himself insufficiently fit for the second Test at Lord's.
"That was really exciting for someone like me to watch because you can just see the impact one person can have on a whole series of cricket," Morris told cricket.com.au recently.
"He's warming the pine for a bit, and then all of a sudden he just makes a huge difference."
However, while Wood's stunning cameo at Headingley – where he earned player-of-the-match honours for his first Test outing in more than six months – underscored the 33-year-old's explosive value, it was his capacity to push through subsequent Ashes matches at Old Trafford and The Oval that truly grabbed Morris's attention.
So strewn with injury has Wood's international career proved (with just 31 Test appearances in eight years) he has earned a reputation as a ferocious but fragile commodity unleashed in short, incandescent bursts before his body once more lets him down.
But as a fellow genuine fast bowler who has experienced his first lengthy stint on the sidelines – a stress-related back injury that prevented his inclusion in Australia's Ashes squad – Morris gained a timely insight into just how physically demanding their craft can prove.
It was Wood's ability to bowl flat out in three or four-over bursts whenever skipper Ben Stokes needed him across those final fixtures crammed into three and a half weeks that stood out to 25-year-old Morris.
To the Test aspirant, it was even more revelatory than the influence Wood wielded over Australia's thunderstruck batters.
"It goes to show how much time you need to put into your body," said Morris, who has been named in Western Australia's squad for Sunday's Marsh One Day Cup opener against Queensland which would be his first competitive match since last summer's Marsh Sheffield Shield Final.
"That's the key factor really, how fit you are and how conditioned you are to bowling.
"It's a pretty clear reflection of how quick you're bowling, and how long you can sustain it for.
"You have to invest a lot of time into your body and performance, and that's probably something I've gotten a lot better at.
"When you first come into a first-class system or a state system, for me I was very raw and I had no idea in terms of recovery and what a proper gym session looks like or stretching out before a game.
"It's those small things that all add up really.
"All the one percenters you can do to literally stay on the park."
Given the physical toll extracted by the highly unnatural act of bowling fast, it is widely viewed as more a calling than a career choice.
In Morris's case, he gleaned early in his junior cricket career at Dunsborough (250km south of Perth in WA's Margaret River precinct) he possessed the "whippy, fast-twitch fibres" that enabled him to throw a ball hefty distances and bowl with similarly attention-grabbing pace.
Playing on artificial turf pitches in his formative years, rival batters endured a torrid time as he simply ran in and tried to let the ball go at maximum velocity.
"I had no idea where they were going, but I like to think my radar's sort of come in a little bit now," Morris concedes.
"There's something exhilarating about seeing the ball just fly through quickly and watching batters jump around.
"That's about as hard as cricket gets, when someone's bowling proper fast and even swinging it.
"If you can do something at pace, it's ten times harder for a batter to have to face, so I think that's the pinnacle."
His first cricket hero was his father, Garry, who also represented Dunsborough and was still playing when Lance graduated to senior ranks.
As he reached adolescence, Morris's idols were fellow Western Australian firebrand Mitchell Johnson who reached his zenith in the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, and incumbent Australia Test quick Mitchell Starc.
Although the pair of left-armers remained his heroes, it was a former Test opening bat who proved the biggest influence when the then 18-year-old Morris made the move to Perth in 2016.
Geoff 'Swampy' Marsh – former Australia captain and coach, and father of Test-capped pair Shaun and Mitchell – was in charge of WA's Pathways program and a pivotal figure in Morris's progress through under-19 and Toyota Futures Leage teams.
When Morris then earned his maiden WA rookie contract in 2018 (alongside recent Australia white-ball representatives Aaron Hardie and Tim David), he was mentored by bowling coach Matt Mason who helped shape the raw-boned quick's mental and technical approach.
Since Mason took up a position with Warwickshire and then England's women's team, Morris has worked closely with the state's new bowling coach Tim McDonald who played for both WA and Tasmania between 2006 and 2010.
In a state program renowned for its fast bowling stocks, and with pacemen the calibre of Jhye Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, David Moody, Joel Paris, Cameron Green and Andrew Tye ahead of him when he first arrived on the scene, it was no easy path to a first-class berth.
Despite being named in WA's Shield squad a couple of times during that rookie season of 2018-19, it wasn't until the COVID-19 affected summer two years hence that he made his first-class debut in Adelaide where the unprecedented Shield hub was based.
His pace on a moribund surface at Karen Rolton Oval immediately stood out, and come the following summer – when WA ended their 23-year Shield-winning drought – the speedster played every game and captured 20 wickets at 27.
Following a blistering start to last summer, Morris was added to Australia's Test squad with fitness concerns surrounding skipper Pat Cummins and – despite not earning an international call-up – was included in the 18-man touring party for the four-Test series in India last February.
Conditions dictated pace bowlers played a peripheral part in that campaign, but Morris was tipped to get his chance during the subsequent Ashes defence until he reported back soreness in the wake of WA's second successive Shield final win and was duly sidelined for the winter.
He completed his winter rehabilitation by sending down a handful of overs during an intra-squad practice game in Perth this week and is expected to play at least one of WA's opening One-Day Cup matches against Queensland and South Australia at Allan Border Field.
"Everything's all clear now," Morris said prior to being named in the 14-man squad.
"It's been a really nice few months … and also a nice time to check in and do some technical things that I wanted to work on as well.
"I started from literally walking through the crease, and then a gradual build-up that you probably don't get when you're in a competitive phase.
"There's just a few things that I can tweak to make myself a bit more balanced at the crease and even get a bit more out of my run-up and my delivery stride, and that will hopefully make me more economical and it's a bit easier on the body.
"But also be in a better position to deliver the ball, and hopefully the consistency improves from there as well."
Now that he's back to bowling at top speed, and having watched how pure pace played such a key role in the eventual Ashes outcome, Morris enters the 2023-24 summer with a very clear ambition.
He admits that even as a teenager making the transition from country cricket to WA's state squad, he took a while to convince himself he possessed the tools to follow the footsteps of his idols Johnson and Starc.
But having been part of the Australia men's set-up and earmarked as a player of undoubted Test potential, Morris enters 2023-24 with the unabashed aim of earning a Baggy Green Cap.
And in the wake of witnessing Wood's stunning cameo efforts during the Ashes, he's equally unequivocal about what he could bring to Australia's Test line-up should that chance arise.
"I think maybe just being a little bit different in a sense," Morris said when asked what he might add to the mix of an already high calibre Australia bowling line-up.
"If I can embrace what I do naturally, which is bowling fast, it is actually pretty hard to come by.
"And it's tough to do as well.
"So if you can do it for a sustained amount of time, you're providing something that is pretty valuable.
"I think that's my way in.
"If I can get myself physically ready and mentally ready, and just be ready for an opportunity if it comes, then hopefully I can jump on it."