Ashes 2019: Will Jofra Archer be solution to England's 'how to dismiss Steve Smith' conundrum at Lord's?

Australia haven't won the Ashes in England in 18 years and whether England can maintain that stranglehold will largely depend on if they manage to find the answer, any answer, to the Steve Smith question. Can Jofra Archer provide it?

Jigar Mehta, Aug 14, 2019 09:20:14 IST

Bring in a left-arm spinner? Try and bounce him out early? Unleash express pace? Pray he plays a rash shot early on or misses one of those leggy flicks off his quintessential shuffle?

The eight-day break between the Edgbaston and Lord's Tests might have been a welcome breather for a team still recuperating from the World Cup madness. Yet a million questions, permutations and combinations will still be giving the England team management sleepless nights as they try to find the answer to that dreaded question: How do you get Steve Smith out?

Ashes 2019: Will Jofra Archer be solution to Englands how to dismiss Steve Smith conundrum at Lords?

Jofra Archer looks on, during a nets session, at Lord's. AP

Smith was the difference in the first Test and he could well be in the remaining four as well if England don't find a solution. It's not that they didn't have their plans ready. It's just that those plans were diffused rather emphatically by Smith.

Smith's last 10 scores in the Ashes read: 143, 141 not out, 6, 40, 239, 102 not out, 76, 83, 142, 144. An average of 139.50 with six hundreds, two fifties and two not outs.

He can be unstoppable and that's England's biggest fear. Glenn Maxwell's tweet, while Smith was bossing it in the middle in the second innings, perfectly summarised the worst fears that could come true for England with Smith at the crease:

"Smudge is officially having a net... Bad news for England, cause he’s never out in the nets and he bats forever!"

Australia coach Justin Langer called him the 'best problem-solver'.

On his comeback from suspension, in his first first-class match in 16 months, Smith looked infallible. Two pristine innings under high pressure was a sweet song of redemption.

England captain Joe Root wants his bowlers to stick to the plans for longer and not get impatient.

"We've just got to be a little bit more patient with it," Root said in the pre-match press conference. "And he's got to start again this week ... new challenge, new wicket, different atmosphere. It's just being really clear on how we want to go about it. When we got to a plan we've got to be really ruthless with it, stick to it, make sure if we're not getting him out we're containing him, and building pressure on him at the other end."

While Smith is the core of England's problem, it's not the only one.

Matthew Wade also sang his own redemption song while David Warner and Cameron Bancroft too are waiting for their chance. Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Matthew Wade all clicked in the second innings at Edgbaston where they ground down the English bowlers. This Australian batting has suddenly started looking ominous.

England had Australia on the mat at 122/8 but then they released the stranglehold and got caught in one themselves from which they could never escape. The loss of James Anderson in the first hour of the Test was catastrophic and the ramifications were felt right through the match.

And that's why his expected replacement – Jofra Archer – who is in line to make his Test debut, has high expectations riding on his shoulders, even before he has bowled a ball in Test cricket. With Archer, you get the magnetic force that attracts excitement and just the other day he was sending the stumps flying against Gloucestershire, playing for Sussex's 2nd XI and scoring a 99-ball 108 in a bid to prove his fitness for the Lord's Test.

Former England captain Michael Atherton feels that Archer's pace could make the difference.

“The biggest change is Archer coming into the team,” Atherton told Sky Sports. “Smith has run riot against England over the last six Test matches when they have hit him with a diet of right-arm medium pace – they haven’t had any pace in their ranks at all.

“Suddenly they are going to get Archer, who is fast, and that is going to be the test for Smith. Archer looks a nightmare to face because he gets tight to the stumps and gets his pace from jogging in.

"Any little glitch in your technique is exaggerated if the bowler is tight in, plus if someone tears in – like Allan Donald – you are kind of ready for it, get a nice view of the ball, but Archer ambles in and it looks devastating."

It's not just the pace, his skills too have got his captain excited.

"It'd be nice if he was staying up at 88-92mph, round that bracket, for the chances he gets to bowl," Root said. "He's very skillful as well. Everyone talks about his pace and his easy action but he's got some very good skills. He gets the ball moving around both ways. Factor that in with the pace he bowls, he will cause a lot of problems, I'm sure."

Justin Langer, the Australia coach, though has already devised a plan for Archer – make him bowl and bowl and bowl.

"I'm really curious about how Archer is going to go. He's played one red-ball game in 11 months," Langer said.

"He's a very skilled bowler and a great athlete. But Test cricket is very different to white-ball cricket. Like we've talked about a long time, we've got to keep wearing him down, and get him back into his second or third and fourth spells. Just curious how he's going to go, like you are with all fast bowlers."

For an unfazed Archer though, Langer has 'another thing coming'.

"I'm probably more ready than I've ever been," he said. "I've bowled 50 overs in one game already for Sussex [on his Championship debut against Essex in August 2016] and I'm usually the one bowling the most overs anyway. I think Justin Langer has another thing coming."

Archer will return to Lord's where about a month ago he was basking in the glory of the World Cup win having played a crucial part in victory by bowling the Super Over. Those memories will surely come back and he is eager to make a mark on the hallowed turf yet again, right from the start in the longer format.

"Would love to get on the honours board", he tweeted sneakily.

And we all know that Jofradamus knows everything before anyone does!

Another new addition to the squad which brings some hope for England is that of Jack Leach who replaces Moeen Ali. He, too, might make the cut at St. Johns. It's the left-arm spin vs Smith that has everyone intrigued. According to data analytics site Cricviz, Smith averages the lowest against left-arm spinners – 34.90 and it will be interesting to see whether Leach can be the antidote to England's Smith problem.

England's problems don't end here either. Apart from 'Smith' the other word they would be looking to swipe off from their trouble dictionary is 'collapse'.

This English batting line-up, time and again, had showed the spine of a jellyfish. In the first innings at Lord's, they collapsed from 282/4 to 300/8. In the second innings, they capitulated to 146 all out. A few days ago, they had imploded to 85 all out against Ireland at Lord's in the first innings. Earlier this year at Bridgetown, they were shot down for 77 and 132 by the West Indies. They have relied too much on their lower-order frequently to bail them out.

Jonny Bairstow's form isn't making it easy too. Since the last summer, he's averaged just 22.91 with only one century. What is more concerning is the manner of his dismissals. He's been bowled or LBW in 13 of those 23 innings in that period. It seems to be a long-standing problem and in this age of laptops, video analysis and intense data scrutiny, immediate correction measures are paramount.

Bairstow is someone who brings out his best when he's under the pump. It was witnessed in the World Cup and England need him to bring out that A game with a point to prove.

While the pitch at Lord's, which Root described as substandard and where the ball seamed around right through the match against Ireland, will be the central focus, it's the overhead conditions that might end up playing a crucial role coupled with the fact that there is forecast for rain as well.

"I think a lot is dependent on the overheads at Lord's. I don't know why that happens in cricket," Jos Buttler said on Saturday.

"It does seem to have an effect here, some people say when the lights come on the ball can move around more.

"Not look down here, more look up and see what conditions are like."

Two days ahead of the Test, Langer felt it was an 'interesting pitch' and is going to be really flat.

It might not bother Australia much. This Australian attack has a good balance to it. The fact that Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are waiting in the wings is a testament to the strength of their fast-bowling arsenal. They can attack and build pressure at the same time. Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood both have been included in the squad while James Pattinson has been rested. It's a part of workload management. With the slope coming into the frame, Australia might be tempted to go in with Starc who brings a different left-arm attacking dimension.

Historically, Lord's has been a happy hunting ground for Australia. They have won 15 of the 36 matches with 14 draws and seven losses.

The last time they met here, Australia thumped England by 405 runs.

The good news for England is that Smith averages 48.16 here, a good 91 short of his average in the last 10 innings and even if they manage to keep him down to this average, they will have taken a giant stride in their bid to bounce back.

Australia haven't won the Ashes in England in 18 years and whether England can maintain that stranglehold will largely depend on if they manage to find the answer, any answer, to the Steve Smith question.

Updated Date: Aug 14, 2019 09:20:14 IST

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3462 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
6 New Zealand 4056 254