Say what you like about Piers Morgan, the man’s got balls. Kookaburras, no doubt. None of your soft Ooh-Jimmy-and-Duke-under-English-cloud nonsense. Strictly the right stuff here, for a batsman on a hiding to nothing.
Morgan is now the man who owns breakfast as Good Morning Britain co-host with Susanna Reid, the duo presenting must-see telly during the coronavirus pandemic. But until a December day in 2013 Morgan, for me, was just a hack with loud opinions. One over was all it took to change my mind, when one of those opinions – on this occasion slating England’s batsmen as they lurched towards an Ashes whitewash – landed him in an MCG net to face six blistering deliveries from Brett Lee, one of the most lethal bowlers in cricket history.
This, then, is a love letter to PS Pughe-Morgan – right-hand bat, left-hand battered – who faced an over of terror and lived to tell the tale. In six deliveries he scored a “cracked wrist, bruised rib” and a “massive egg” on the back of his head. Indeed, the rib turned out to be broken. Sledging the England team has its drawbacks after all.
So where does this over rank among cricket’s best? Andrew Flintoff to Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005? Meh. Dennis Lillee to Viv Richards at the Waca in 1976? Pfft. Garfield Sobers hitting six sixes at St Helen’s in 1968? Blah. Oh but wait, you say, surely nothing’s better than the super-over to decide the 2019 World Cup? Pah. Morgan v Lee tops the lot.
Let’s head back to that glorious post-Christmas day and relive every bruise …
Ball 1 Morgan shapes up with a swing and jibe. Asked if he regrets his decision to face Lee, he says: “No, but I tell you what, I’m about to ruin a great Australian career and legend.” Lee steams in like a dog with three tails and, seeing Morgan backing away (let’s say strategically), follows him to leg … wide leg. Strike one. “Didn’t feel a thing.” And batsman points bowler back to his mark. Class.
Ball 2 Veering towards leg again (expertly … let’s be kind), Morgan is felled by a bouncer that would have cleared a stadium car park roof. “Fucking bring it on mate, bring it on … try pitching one in my half.”
Ball 3 Struck once more, Morgan is offered the services of the Australian team doctor. The batsman is dented but unbowed: “No. Bring it on.”
Ball 4 Building a hit parade for the ages, Morgan receives encouragement from Mark Nicholas: “Well, you’re unbeaten Piers.” Swings, roundabouts, etc.
Ball 5 Bowled. Leg stump … naturally.
Ball 6 Not pretty, but still standing. Win.
Cheers and applause rang out after the barrage and, asked if he was surprised at what he had just encountered, Morgan said of Lee: “Well, he’s a bit quicker than I thought he’d be for his age, to be honest.”
But there’s substance behind the quip. As Lee said later: “When I was going into the nets to bowl at him he said: ‘Make sure you go flat out,’ because he thought if I went half-hearted it wouldn’t look good. [Morgan] said he wanted to know what it felt like for the English batsmen to face 150km/h bowling – and he did it.”
The Australian then summed up the scale of courage on show: “Considering he hasn’t played a top level of cricket, but he does have a great cricketing brain, you have to take your hat off to him … I wouldn’t have got in there and faced that.’’
Of course there have been naysayers, chief among them Sir Richard Hadlee, who said it was “dangerous and unnecessary”. But they’re wrong. This is one of the greatest moments in cricket. Oh and all right then, good for a lockdown giggle.
So hats, caps, helmets and bandages off to Piers Morgan: a hero for our times.