Cricket

Ashes 2019: Jofra Archer's Headingley heroics prove there's mature head on shoulders of tearaway pacer

  • Gaurav Joshi
  • August 23rd, 2019
  • 10:43:51 IST

Why do I need to bowl fast if I don't have to? It is a message perhaps no captain wants to hear from his menacing fast bowler playing in his second Test match. But this is no ordinary bowler that we are talking about, this is Jofra Archer. He has only bowled 371 balls in Test cricket. He has only been a Test cricketer for 10 days, but his thought process already resembles some of the bests, perhaps Dale Steyn.

Last week, Archer created a buzz with his rapid pace and his ability to hit batsmen on helmets. His hostile spell at the home of cricket, Lord's, literally knocked Steve Smith out from the third Test. All the talk in the lead-up to the Leeds Test was about Archer's hostility and the pace he will generate. So, when Archer was handed the new cherry, all the eyes were glued to the big screen. The crowd expected him to smash the 90mph threshold.

Jofra Archer's 6/45 helped England bowl Australia out for 179 on Day 1 of Leeds Test. AP

Jofra Archer's 6/45 helped England bowl Australia out for 179 on Day 1 of Leeds Test. AP

It was dark and gloomy. On strike was No 1 public enemy of England's — David Warner. If there was ever a time to fizz one past the helmet, it had to be now. With each delivery, the crowd, the TV viewers and even the opposition waited for the sharp lifting missile.

But Archer was never going to get caught up in all the hype. He understood the situation and conditions, so he decided to bowl within himself and focused on a probing length. For the first six overs, he didn't hurl a single bouncer, nor did he look to push the speed gun. It was all about control.

"This was not a short-ball wicket. It was not hard as Lord's, so you just had to focus on a good length to get good results". Archer explained after first day's play.

Archer's planning was spot on, but he wasn't supposed to do this, he was only playing in his second match. Newcomers such as him are supposed to go with the grain and follow their instincts, but Archer was bowling like a seasonal campaigner. The minute he would have pulled back the curtains in his hotel room and seen the dark clouds, he would have known this was not the day to blast the batsman out.

It took Archer just 12 balls to kiss the outside edge of Marcus Harris' bat. Before the first rain interruption, he had already beaten David Warner on six occasions. At Lord's, he had released the ball with the scrambled seam, but at Leeds, the seam was perfectly upright. With each ball, Archer was showing maturity beyond his years.

The rain interruption allowed Archer to send down nine overs on the trot with the new ball. He had only taken a solitary wicket, could easily have had three or four, but that would be rather an injustice because a bowler in his second Test match is not supposed to be a wizard.

Archer's disappearance from the attack was a sigh of relief for the Australia batsmen. After tea, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes, the so-called back-up bowlers kept missing their mark as Australian batsmen added 79 runs in space of 13 overs. On the field, one could sense Joe Root's mind ticking frantically. Off the field, Michael Vaughan posted a pessimistic tweet on social media that read "If England bowl like this for the remainder of the day Australia will be retaining the Ashes this week".

Australia were gaining the ascendancy, at 133/2 there was only one option for Root — Archer. With an older ball, Archer changed his approach. He sent down a scramble seamer, a series of rapid bouncers and also a knuckleball and followed it up with a lovely off-cutter that found the outside edge of Warner's bat. Archer had given England the breakthrough. It wasn't the first time he had gatecrashed the opposition's party and
it won't be the last.

At stumps, Archer was asked whether he had surpassed his expectations in Test cricket? He shook his head, smiled and had no qualms is saying "No". It was as if this was just a normal day out.

In space of two weeks, Jofra Archer has displayed his maturity and ability to adjust. At Lord's, Archer had to contend with the slope across the pitch, at Leeds, he had to overcome the uphill approach to the stumps. Such is the rhythmical, economical and smooth action of Archer that factors such as the wind, slope, pitch conditions and foot holes on the crease are no deterrent to him.

The speed gun may not have reached 90pmh. The short balls may not have dented any helmets. The intimidation factor may have been absent, but with figures of 6-45, Archer further confirmed Justin Langer's theory - this game isn't a bouncer war, it is about taking wickets. Perhaps Archer summed it up perfectly in his own words — "I don't need to bowl at 90mph to take wickets".

Updated Date: August 23, 2019 10:43:51 IST

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