The Ashes: just how good is Jofra Archer?
There is a lot resting on England's new fast bowling sensation, but he's made of the 'right stuff'
With England one down in the Ashes and without the services of Jimmy Anderson the nation’s hopes appear to rest on the shoulders of uncapped fast bowler Jofra Archer, whose exploits in the Cricket World Cup have earned him a Test call up and the status of national hero in waiting.
There is certainly a buzz around the 24-year-old Barbados born speedster. But is he really the man to save Joe Root’s team?
“There has not been this much anticipation and expectation for a Test debut since Kevin Pietersen was thrown into the Ashes in 2005. And we all know how that turned out,” says Paul Newman of the Daily Mail.
“It is no exaggeration to say Jofra Archer could transform not only this Ashes series but an England Test side still struggling to locate its true identity… Archer, with his ready smile hiding an inner steel, looks perfectly equipped for the greater demands of the ultimate form of the game, just as he turned out to be for the challenge of 50 overs. Simply, the man was born ready.
Having played for West Indies as a teenager, Archer, who has an English father, moved to England and joined Sussex after being overlooked by the Windies for the Under-19 World Cup in 2015. He qualified for England at the end of last year and was fast tracked into the one-day side that won the World Cup this summer.
“My guess is that, with a fair wind and a dollop of good luck, the 24-year-old will have a very significant England career,” says Mike Atherton in The Times. “There is so much to look forward to.
“The World Cup, and especially the closing stages of it, put to rest any questions about Archer’s temperament. From first ball to last, he looked made of, what the American writer Tom Wolfe called in respect of fighter pilots, ‘the right stuff’.”
His main weapon is speed, and lots of it. Bowlers who deliver the ball at more than 90mph, as Archer does, have the ability to unsettle batsmen even of Steve Smith’s calibre. But he is also a technician.
Certainly his team-mates are enthused. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Jonny Bairstow says Archer is “fit and firing” and will test the Australians. “Facing him in the nets has been tricky. His bouncer is hard to pick. He is also a very skilful bowler with a red ball,” he says.
“I think people are wrong to just look at him as a bang-it-in-fast bowler. In the nets he is always working on his wrist position because he is still learning his craft. That is why as a batter in the nets you are not sure what is coming next. It would be wrong to underestimate his skill with the red ball.”
His red-ball experience has been a bone of contention, with Australia coach Justin Langer questioning his stamina. It is true that Archer rose to prominence playing white ball cricket, but he claims to prefer the longer form.
Archer has played 28 first-class matches since his debut for Sussex in 2016, bowled 1,000 overs and taken 131 wickets at an average of 23.44 and with an impressive strike rate of a wicket every 45 balls.
It all makes for good reading, but former England all rounder Paul Collingwood sounded a note of caution. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We have got a very good seam attack and he gives us different options. He does have the confidence and X-factor about him but I don't want the team to rely on a young lad coming in and expecting him to beat the Aussies. It doesn't work like that.”
Graeme Swann agrees. Writing for Betfair, the spinner points out that Archer is replacing one of the all-time greats: “Obviously losing Jimmy Anderson is a blow but Jofra Archer is a genuinely exciting bowler. We can’t replace the skill of Jimmy because he is the best we have ever had, but the extra pace and his impeccable World Cup performances make Archer a no-brainer of a selection.”