How Morris 'dodged a bullet' to make Test squad

WA speedster is in line to make his debut against Pakistan, but might not have been in contention if not for a crucial off-season call

Every Shield wicket for Lance Morris so far this summer

Lance Morris could be forgiven for looking back with bitter feelings on how his 2022-23 summer concluded.

By any measure, it had been the most successful of his fledgling career. While an international debut never materialised despite being on call through five home Tests and then four more on Australia's tour to India, Morris looked to have finished it on a high by clinching a second consecutive Marsh Sheffield Shield crown for Western Australia to confirm a clean sweep of the men's domestic trophies.

Where he had been a shock weapon with the old ball in their Shield title the preceding season, often bowling third change in 2021-22, the speedster was their trump card by the time he returned from running drinks in India to help WA defend their first-class crown in March earlier this year.

Four wickets against Victoria (it would have been six if not for a pair of no-balls) took his season tally to 31 in only six matches. Only twice in the past decade has a bowler taken as many wickets in a single season at a lower strike-rate than Morris' mark of 35.64.

His stocks had never been higher. The cricketing world was suddenly at Morris' feet.

Northamptonshire had signed him up to play the early stages of the County Championship season, an entrée to a certain berth in Australia's World Test Championship final and Ashes squads, while the Mumbai Indians had been in touch, eager to inject his raw pace into the Indian Premier League.

The 25-year-old had no reason to fear a routine scan on his back, a medical requirement for all contracted fast bowlers at the end of each Australian season. He had sent down fewer than 250 overs over the past 12 months.

"I had a bit of a shock when I got the call to say 'oh, you've got something going on in your back'," Morris told cricket.com.au from a BBL launch event in Sydney on Monday.

The MRI showed a faint, shallow line through his L4 vertebra. The dreaded stress fracture.

Morris strikes with FIRST ball back from injury

With no swelling around it, doctors were initially unsure if it was an active fracture or just a legacy of Morris having bowled like the wind since he was a teenager scaring opponents playing on artificial pitches in the Margaret River region, three hours south of Perth. 

Eventually, Morris and the medical staff guiding him took the conservative option, torpedoing his hopes of featuring in the national men's team biggest winter in a generation.

One of Australian cricket's most promising young pacemen now hopes the sacrifice will pay off in the coming weeks with the ultimate reward: a Baggy Green.

"It was a little bit frustrating to have things put on hold for a little bit, but I think I dodged a bullet," Morris said of his injury layoff after being picked in Australia's 14-man squad for the first NRMA Insurance Test against Pakistan in Perth.

"If we didn't pick up on it, and I just pushed through … if I went over and played some more red-ball cricket and just ignored it, things could have gone a bit worse and I would have had an extended period of time out of the game.

"I probably wouldn't be in contention to be picked for a Test squad at this point."

Although he admits it was "flattening" to watch an Ashes series he could have been involved in from his couch, Morris now also sees the silver lining of being able to spend a winter streamlining his action with WA bowling coach, Tim MacDonald.

The right-armer acknowledges it remains a work in progress, but a greater understanding of his biomechanics paid dividends when he, with help from McDonald, bounced back from going at nearly five-an-over in WA's 10-wicket defeat to NSW by turning in a decisive five-wicket performance the following week against South Australia.

"My front side opens up a bit early and my front arm shoots out a bit to a gully area. I'd rather I'd be going down the wicket," Morris, who has 17 wickets at 22.64 across the Marsh One-Day Cup and the Shield this season, said of the technical issues he has worked through.

"That sort of throws the alignment out of my body, so I'm fighting my balance a little bit when I hit the crease.

"I think I've definitely got a bit better at it over the last few months and when I feel it click, it does feel really nice. It's just about being more economical and more balanced at the crease, which ideally allows me to execute a bit better, and for longer, as well.

"Admittedly when you're trying to bowl quick, things don't (always) work out, the consistency isn't always there. But that's the toughest part to nail down."

Morris was essentially Mitchell Starc's understudy through the last Test summer but selector George Bailey has insisted they are open to fielding their two quickest bowlers in the same XI if the right circumstances present.

"That's certainly my job in the team – getting the ball through at pace," said Morris. "I don't plan on taking a backward step anytime soon, that's for sure."

Morris hits out at the KFC BBL|13 season launch event at the Moore Park Driving Range in Sydney // Getty

But with the big three of Starc, captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood fresh off leading Australia to a World Cup, not to mention their strong Test results over the winter backed by Scott Boland, Morris knows he may yet have more time to bide.

"History probably says that bowling is pretty tough on the body and most fast bowlers get their first opportunity from another bowler going down with an injury or just having a rest," he said when asked about his most likely route into a Test side that also has assignments against West Indies (at home in January) and New Zealand (away in February-March) in the coming months.

"That's probably how I see my opportunity arising.

"I don't think it's any different to 12 months ago when I was with the Aussie squad. It's being there available and ready to go if anything does happen."

NRMA Insurance Test series v Pakistan

Prime Minister's XI v Pakistan XI: December 6-9, Manuka Oval (10.30am AEDT)

First Test: December 14-18, Perth Stadium (1.20pm AEDT)

Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (10.30am AEDT)

Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (10.30am AEDT)

Australia squad: (first Test only) Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Lance Morris, Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, David Warner

Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (c), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi