It was “just another game” for Jofra Archer. And for the player himself, this was undoubtedly true. For a modern cricketer who takes part in T20 leagues around the world, playing against former teammates and friends is nothing new. He was going to play cricket, something he is unbelievably good at. This was firmly in his comfort zone.
For everyone else though, this game was more significant. Here was Barbadian born Archer, a former member of the West Indies Under-19s set up, playing for England against the region of his birth. The rights and wrongs of Archer playing for England, and there are far more rights than there are wrongs about this situation, have been discussed at length. Archer, a British passport holder, had a decision to make and he made it. In truth, the only person who can decide if it was the correct call is Archer himself.
Archer isn’t the first player to make a move to play cricket for a country other than the one of his birth. In this World Cup, there is Colin Munro (South Africa), Colin de Grandhomme (Zimbabwe) and Ish Sodhi (India) in the New Zealand squad. There is Imran Tahir (Pakistan) in the South African squad. There is Usman Khawaja (Pakistan) in the Australian squad.
People move countries; cricketers are people. Quite why it is the English team who are singled out as the talent poachers-in-chief isn’t clear. They are far from the only cricketing nation who have had players from elsewhere in their ranks. People will say when England do this is “different”, but their reasons for this are fluid.
Once you have decided that in the 21st century people move from place to place, the only story is that Archer is playing for his adoptive country against a team he could well have been representing if things had worked out differently. It is a compelling tale, no doubt. But there is little morality at the heart of this.
Snubbed by the West Indies Under-19s, Archer made his way to England and hasn’t looked back. First with Sussex, then with Hobart Hurricanes, then with the Rajasthan Royals, every challenge Archer has been given has been smashed out the park. So, when he became eligible for England when they moved their draconian qualification criterion to match those of the ICC, it was clear he would play for them. Looking back now, it seems mad that there was ever a single second of debate about whether he should be in this side.
What Archer brings you is pace, something that is thrilling for fans and unsettling for even the very best batsmen in the world. There is something almost ethereal about a truly fast bowler running in, like the batsman who is about to face him is watching this all unfold from somewhere other than from inside their own head. For the fans watching in the ground or on TV, the feeling is that something will happen with every ball. It might be the ball being smashed to the boundary, it might be the ball smashing into the stumps or even the batsman. What is certain is it will be exciting.
There has been an argument that when the England bowling attack had Liam Plunkett, Chris Woakes, and Tom Curran as their seamers that it was all a bit too much of the same. Right arm over, mid to late 80s mph. There is something very different about the languid run-up and effortless pace of Archer.
He took three wickets in the match against the West Indies, the third time he has three wickets in an innings at this World Cup. His economy rate is less than five runs an over. His average is 18.33. Those are the cold hard facts, but they do very little to tell the story of the impact Archer has had on this World Cup so far.
It is very telling that the one day where he struggled, when he finished with 0/79 against Pakistan, was the time that England were beaten. When he has turned up and performed, the opposition have not got anywhere close to England. With both Archer and Mark Wood fit and firing, it makes this England team a very different prospect. We have known for a long time that their powerful batting can take teams apart. If they can do that with the ball, then it really does make them the most dominant team in white ball cricket in the world.
While Archer may have been the story, the hero for England was Joe Root. Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan both limped off the field. Root was promoted to open having taken two vital wickets when England bowled West Indies out for 212. He finished on 100 not out from 94 balls in an innings that had no alarms and no surprises. It was all very clinical.
England move on to their next game against Afghanistan before taking on Sri Lanka. They should win both of those and be on 10 points with a very good net run rate. A slip up against either of those teams means they will need to do well in their very tricky run in which sees them have Australia, India and New Zealand in their last three matches. England will be hoping they have a fully fit squad sooner rather than later.