Arthur Morris: One of Australia's finest opening batsmen who played a key role on Don Bradman's Invincibles tour

Morris was spoken of highly, not just for his easy-moving batsmanship, but also for his charm

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The Independent Online

Arthur Morris was the batsman who displaced Don Bradman at the top of Australia's Test averages on the 1948 "Invincibles" tour of England. It was the great Bradman's fourth and final tour, and since 1930 the premier position had seemed to be his by divine right. But Morris, 26 and on his first tour, scored 696 runs (with three centuries) in five Tests at the rare average of 87 as Australia took the series 4-0. With over 1,900 runs that summer at 71.19, he showed British cricket-lovers why he was spoken of so highly at home, and not just for his easy-moving batsmanship, but also for his charm.

Born in Bondi in 1922, he spent much of his boyhood in towns near Newcastle, north of Sydney, before settling near the State capital as a teenager and showing promise at rugby league, tennis and as a left-arm wrist-spin bowler. Joining the St George club, Morris came under the wing of Test bowler Bill O'Reilly, and on his New South Wales debut at the age of 18 on Boxing Day 1940, Morris made history by scoring 148 and 111 against Queensland.

He saw wartime service in New Guinea, coming into consideration when Test cricket resumed. In 1946-47 against visiting England he forged a powerful pairing with Sid Barnes, and though he failed in his first two Tests, both of which Australia won by an innings, he came good at Melbourne with 155.

With a century in each innings at Adelaide in the following Test Morris became the talk of the land, and his presence in England in 1948 was anticipated with some relish. He was comfortably rather than athletically built, blond and usually bare-headed, with boyish features, calm and gentle of demeanour, impeccably mannered, and unruffled in movement. From late cut and cover drive to pull and leg glance, he had all the strokes, the only apparent chink seemingly a blind spot on leg stump.

By the time he put his bat away he had been dismissed by England's ace medium-pacer Alec Bedser 18 times in 37 Test innings; but since Morris always began Australia's batting and Bedser England's bowling the statistic is not so outrageous, though both players laughed at the "Bedser's bunny" tag attached to Morris.

With a century against India at Melbourne in 1947-48 and then his glorious series in England in 1948, Morris had posted seven centuries in a dozen Tests. His partnerships with the veteran Bradman gave him special pride, but his opening stands with the contrasting, truculent right-hander Barnes raised the duo in public regard to rank with the best in the game's annals.

Morris's three Test centuries on that tour were all distinguished. He achieved every cricketer's ambition by making 105 at Lord's, while his 182 at Headingley was mainly in partnership with Bradman (173 not out) in an extraordinary second-wicket stand of 301 which set up Australia's record run-chase of 404. This was followed by 196 (run out) in the final Test, at The Oval, after Lindwall had bowled England out for 52. Over the years, a rueful Morris lost count of the number of people who asked him if he had happened to play in that match, in which Don Bradman was famously bowled for nought in his final Test innings.

Morris, upon landing in England, had moved closer to another distinction by scoring a century in his first match here, as he had done at home seven years earlier. He was to make another hundred at first asking in South Africa, and 157 against Jamaica in his first innings in West Indies, giving him a unique quadruple feat. The highest of his seven centuries in England in 1948 was 290 against Gloucestershire at Bristol, the centrepiece of the Australians' highest total against a county, 774 for 7.

Elegant runs poured from Morris's bat. A slump in the first three Tests when England toured Australia in 1950-51 led to calls for his omission, but he remedied the situation with 206 at Adelaide, the first double-century against England by an Australian left-hander. There was a paucity of runs in the Tests against West Indies the next season, but a certain restoration took place in 1952-53 when a young South African side visited. There was no century for Morris, but he was run out on 99, through no fault of his own. Neil Harvey, his contrite partner, atoned with a sterling innings of 205. It was widely noticed that Morris accepted his disappointment at being cut off so close to his hundred with a shrug and forgiving smile.

There was never a serious doubt about his selection for the 1953 tour of England. He sailed as vice-captain, but though starting the Test series with two sixties at Trent Bridge and 89 at Lord's, he struggled for runs thereafter as the Ashes returned to England.

During the tour he met Valerie Hudson, a beautiful, sweet-natured showgirl who was in the Crazy Gang show at London's Victoria Palace. Soon they were married, only for the 33-year-old dancer to die 18 months later of breast cancer. Morris had taken her back to England for a visit near the end, partly funding the venture by writing on the 1956 Australians' tour for a British newspaper. He was to marry again, to Judith Menmuir in 1968.

England, under Len Hutton, retained the Ashes in Australia in 1954-55, but only after a heavy defeat in the opening Test match at Brisbane, where Australia, put in to bat, piled up 601 for eight, of which Morris made 153, his eighth century against the Old Enemy.

Immediately the series ended Australia embarked on their first tour of West Indies, and it was there, with a 3-0 victory, that a revival seemed evident. But the great postwar Australian side was close to dissolution, and Morris, for one, was playing his last Tests. His 111 at Port-of-Spain was his 12th and final Test century.

He left a distinguished record with 3,533 Test runs at 46.48 and 12,614 runs in first-class cricket at 53.67, with 46 centuries. When the "best Australian teams of the century" were being selected, the mild-mannered left-hander featured in just about all of them.

After his final Test tour came the grief of his first marriage, and the search for financial security, for cricket in Australia then offered no kind of living. For 22 years this former NSW captain served as a Sydney Cricket Ground trustee. An English benefactor arranged for visits by Morris and his wife to England, where old friends waited. Arthur Morris, gentleman cricketer, was, as the novelist Jon Cleary put it in his foreword to Jack McHarg's 1995 biography, "one whose intelligence and respect for the verities equal his talents as a cricketer."

DAVID FRITH

Arthur Robert Morris, cricketer: born Bondi, New South Wales 19 January 1922; married firstly Valerie Hudson (deceased), 1968 Judith Menmuir; MBE 1974; died Erina, New South Wales 22 August 2015.

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