Matthew Morris left Australians in tears during his winter trip – but for all the right reasons.
The Staffordshire batsman spent six months with Murrumbeena and helped them to end their lengthy wait for honours.
The Melbourne club won their league white-ball competition and also reached the final of the T20 competition.
But it was their red-ball exploits in the First Grade Southern Bayside Division One season which reduced grown men – and women – to tears.
Murrumbeena topped the regular-season standings and then proceeded to win the grand final on home turf and with it a place in the top division of their local competition.
“It was the first time in 42 years the club had won a first grade flag,” said Morris, who will play his cricket for Moddershall & Oulton this summer if the North Staffs and South Cheshire League season eventually does go ahead.
“It’s a very family-orientated club, which was brilliant for me, and we had people in tears when we walked off at the end of the final knowing that we’d won promotion to the Championship.
“They work so hard for the club and they were overwhelmed. It makes you feel part of things and that was really special.
“I was lucky enough to be named man of the final and must have hugged about 20 people before I managed to get off the pitch.
“You could see how much it meant to them.”
Morris might well have been the subject of plenty of high fives, hugs and the like from Murrumbeena members after a fine season in the Victoria state.
He was the club’s leading run scorer with 901 – including a couple of centuries – and also chipped in with 32 wickets with his off-spin.
Murrumbeena had shared the league honours with final rivals Aspendale in their two meetings before they met with the overall title at stake.
But Morris’ 85 helped them to post 332-6 on their day to bat. Twenty four hours’ later, the 20-year-old then picked up 2-73 to restrict Aspendale to 282 all out.
“Like in all leagues and club cricket you have some good teams and also some average ones,” added Morris.
“Over there the ball doesn’t swing as much so it was a bit more batting friendly. The standard is quite strong.
“We had Brad Kruger, who has played international cricket for the Netherlands, in our side and there’s some first-class Sri Lankans as well.
“Then you throw in the English lads, like myself, who are trying to make something of their game and it’s a good mix.
“When I went over there I spoke to the president and he said he wanted me to help the club get past the semi-final stage in the red-ball competition.
“We were a strong side, so I guess we were probably expected to reach the final.”
Morris, who previously enjoyed a spell with Queensland club Southport Labrador, pointed to his Staffordshire experiences as being an important reason why he shone in the Australian summer.
The left-hander accumulated more than 500 Championship runs last year as Staffs won the Unicorns Championship Eastern Division.
He says being used to batting for long periods was essential – as was taking your chance when it came along.
“Although the grand final was played over one weekend, some of the league matches were one team bats one weekend and then the other does the following Saturday.
“It has helped playing for Staffordshire in the longer format. If you haven’t played that before, then it can be hard to get your head around.
“But playing three-dayers for Staffs gives you a better idea of how to approach games and the tactics.
“When you do get in you have to make the most of your opportunity. If you don’t, you can be waiting for three weeks for another.”
There would be plenty of batsmen who would have been highly delighted with the amount of runs Morris weighed in with during his stint with Murrumbeena.
However, the former Westhoughton man insists his tally could have been even better.
“I got off to a bit of a flier in the league, but I had to play with more responsibility. I had to play for the team and produce more mature innings,” he explained.
“I had to weigh up when to take a calculated risk. I always set high standards. As well as I did personally, I was a bit frustrated by the fact that I could have scored more runs.
“There were a couple of missed opportunities when I was out for 70 or 80 and I should have gone on to get 120, 130 or 150.
“I was content with how I did. You can never be happy because if you are, you stop striving to push yourself and improve further. Bowling the amount of overs I did was also good to develop that side of my game.”
It turned out to be a happy ending for Morris – who also had his own fan club willing him on in the semi-final and grand final.
Dad David and Mum Lynne jetted out to see him play a key role in Murrumbeena’s success.
“We were at home in the grand final and the curator produced a belter of a track. At one point it was getting a bit close, but with 330 on the board, you’re always confident,” said Morris.
“Dad came out at the end of November on his own because he wanted to watch me play, rather than be out over the Christmas period.
“Then mum and dad were there for the semi and grand final, so it was special to have them around.
“It was a great experience. The family I lived with were keen to show me around and took me on day trips, so I couldn’t have asked for better. They showed me the hidden gems of Melbourne.
“It was just cricket, cricket, cricket. I was just a tourist out there and it was a fantastic time.”
Another trip Down under could be on the cards next winter, but for now Morris is hoping he will be able to turn out in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League for the Modd men.
The coronavirus pandemic means there is no start date scheduled.
“Murrumbeena have asked me to come back and a few other clubs have looked at me,” added Morris.
“If I can go back I will. Now I’m looking forward to the NSSCL, when it does eventually start.
“I want to get stuck in with Staffs again and also make my mark at Moddershall and help them to get some results.”