Charles Morris reflected on a breakthrough year when he returned “home” to The Parks to lead Worcestershire’s attack against Oxford MCCU this morning.
Morris started last season playing for Oxford against Nottinghamshire in the opening round of university matches that now mark the start of the domestic first-class season, with the MCC versus champions fixture played in March in Abu Dhabi.
But the following week he was handed his LV= County Championship debut for Worcestershire at Hampshire and never looked back, going on to take 52 wickets at 26 and play a key role in their promotion-winning Division Two campaign.
“It’s been a bit surreal really,” said the 22-year-old, who was born in Hereford but grew up in Devon, and attended King’s School in Taunton with England’s Jos Buttler.
“I just wanted to make my Championship debut last year, worked really hard through the winter and was delighted to get the call from Steve Rhodes for the Hampshire game and it went from there.
"All of a sudden each week goes past, it’s a really busy period in the summer, and the end of the season came and looking back it was a great year. But I’ve closed the book on that one now, there’s now a new chapter, a new season coming up, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.
“Going back to The Parks will definitely be like going home.”
Morris completed his sports science degree at Oxford Brookes University last summer.
He said: “I played for the MCCU for three years. I still know a load of the guys there having played with them last year, I’ve already been speaking to them on the phone and they’re quite excited.
“I love the place – it’s a great ground, really pretty and a good wicket, so it will be great to go back there. In a way that’s where my cricket started to get towards professional cricket.”
Morris’s second county match for the MCCU was against Worcestershire, in April 2012.
He dismissed Moeen Ali cheaply in the first innings, claimed two more wickets in the second as the county team slipped to 34 for four, and that was enough to earn an invitation to New Road at the end of term.
After spending his first full winter with Worcestershire and working especially closely with their bowling coach Matt Mason, he remains a huge fan of the MCCU system.
He said: “There’s a lot of talent out there, and what’s great about the MCCU scheme is not just the fact that you can live essentially a professional lifestyle for cricket with the training and facilities, and get a degree at the same time, but it gives you that chance to make it in the game.
“I certainly don’t think that I was at the level to make it as a professional when I was 18, but through my university days it’s helped me flourish. You do get some people, especially bowlers, who come through at a later age, and it would be a real shame to miss out.
"There are a lot of very good cricketers in that scheme. I look back to some of the guys I played with, a lot have got professional contracts – people like Freddie Coleman at Warwickshire, Tom Fell who’s with me at Worcester.
"If you look at the number of county players who’ve come through the scheme it’s a very good proportion.”
The official statistics show that over 20% of current English-qualified professional cricketers have come through the MCCU / UCCE scheme, and that 62 MCCU graduates played first team county cricket in 2014.
Four have already played for the England Lions, and more than half of the senior England women’s team have been former or current students.