Cricket

England vs South Africa, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Menacing Jofra Archer's X-factor lies in his novelty

  • Snehal Pradhan
  • May 31st, 2019
  • 13:33:24 IST

Before his inclusion in the World Cup, Joffra Archer was managing his expectations. He said that if someone got injured, he wanted to put himself in a position where he was the first person they would turn to. In the opening game at the Oval, that’s exactly what happened, but not in the way Archer expected.

Someone got injured, yes, and they turned to Archer because he was the one who did it. With that languid run-up, braced front leg and whippy action, he rushed Hashim Amla with a bouncer that struck him on his left temple. Amla, who always seems to have time on his side, was so late on the shot it looked like he had read its date wrong, not just its pace.

Jofra Archer's deceptive pace hustled the South African batsmen. AFP

Jofra Archer's deceptive pace hustled the South African batsmen. AFP

That’s what Archer can do, said Nasser Hussain on commentary. But what is it exactly that he does? Sure, he’s quick, as are so many others. But most of them steam in, huffing and puffing. They approach the crease at high speeds, revel in their hang time, and then grunt and gasp as their bodies release the ball. Archer is economical, building from a jog into a dash, but never sprinting, mostly silent. His action seems less a menacing trebuchet, ready to tear down your walls, and more like a friendly rubber band stretched across your thumb.

When a batsman sees a chilled-out run-up like that, he instinctively sets himself for a certain pace. The body is primed, the reactions are tuned for certain deliveries. Big mistake. Hardly a ball that Archer bowled was below 140 kmph. On a slow pitch where South Africa targeted the hard length with cutters dug into the surface, Archer targeted the badge on the batsmen’s helmets. No one expected that kind of pace, not on that kind of pitch. Not Hashim Amla, not Faf du Plessis, not even the well set Hendrik van der Dossen, who had the measure of the conditions.

That’s what Archer can do. Much like most exceptional talents, he’s a disruptor. So much so, that there was inexplicable resistance to his potential inclusion in the England squad for the World Cup from some quarters (his competition, primarily. Archer himself said he wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes). On other fronts, there was a clear intent to add him into the mix. No team stressed so much that their initial World Cup squad was provisional as England. Archer then had a handful of white-ball games against Pakistan and Ireland to prove that he was the right choice. He needed only two, with a pacy performance in a T20I against Pakistan seeming to seal the deal.

After that, England wrapped him in cotton wool, only playing him in four of the seven One-Day matches they had as preparation for their World Cup campaign. Archer was included at the cost of a left-arm seamer who swings the ball, usually a combination that is ridiculously valuable in English conditions. And that tells you how much he offers.

‘X factor’ has been worn into the ground in conversations around Archer. He has a slightly off-beat action, yes, but he is not in the Bumrah-Malinga category. He’s tall, but not in the Billy Stanlake stratosphere. He’s fast, but not in Shaun Tait territory. But his biggest strength right now is his ancestry.

No, I’m not putting forward some unscientific theory about how having Afro-Caribbean genes somehow makes his a better athlete (although I’d love to know the exact proportion of fast twitch muscles he has). But being born to a British father and a Bajan mother, and having played for the West Indies Under-19, he only qualified to play for England in May this year, at age 24. England should consider the timing favourable; look at how some of the mystery around Kuldeep Yadav is fading, with him now two years old in international cricket. Even though Archer has been on the T20 circuit for a couple of years, his X factor in this World Cup is the fact that he is largely an unknown quantity.

“A lot of the guys haven’t played against him,” admitted du Plessis after the game. “So it will take time for international batters to get used to his action. As I said, he’s a little bit nippier when he hits the crease and that's why he is such an X-Factor bowler.”

England made quick work of the South African batting after Archer had removed their top three in the first 10 overs. And that’s why we didn’t get to see Archer’s death bowling skills, so fabled in T20 Leagues. So in a tournament where the quality of the bowling will be the differentiating factor, his presence has given England an edge they seemed to lack before. Forget about stepping on people’s toes; this World Cup, Joffra Archer is going to be crushing them.

For all the latest news, opinions and analysis from ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, click here

Updated Date: May 31, 2019 13:33:24 IST

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