The tall and wiry Jofra Chioke Archer is a champion fast bowler. On his 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup debut against South Africa at The Oval, he generated fiery pace and bounce on an almost docile track to trouble batsmen of the calibre of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen and a few others. For good measure, he also picked 3 for 27 in seven overs!
Intimidating experienced batsmen with well-directed bouncers is one thing; hitting the celebrated Amla on the helmet is quite another. Archer’s scorching pace, in his first spell, had the South African top order all shaken up and tentative, especially after Amla was taken to the hospital for a precautionary scan. Therefore, coaches of other teams — India included — will now need to go back to their drawing boards to tackle Archer and Eoin Morgan’s tactics, which will revolve around England’s new find.
The England selectors who, in collaboration with the England coach and skipper, have been building up for this World Cup, perhaps deliberately delayed including Archer in the final World Cup squad. This caught the Proteas napping, for sure. England’s approach in one-day internationals (ODIs) thus far had been aggressive batting and brilliant fielding. However, its bowling had been a bit defensive, despite the fact that it had been the number one team in ODIs for quite a while. Archer’s inclusion has surely changed that as was evident in England’s first game of ICC World Cup 2019.
Fred Trueman, the former England fast bowler, once leading a Commonwealth team consisting of players from England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies and India in the 1960s, had called it a ‘league of nations’. The present England team also resembles a ‘league of nations’ and Archer is an ‘import’, like six others in England’s World Cup squad.
Archer was born in Bridgetown, Barbados on All Fools Day, in 1995, to an English father and Bajan mother. Playing age group cricket in the West Indies, he moved to England after he wasn’t picked for the ICC World Cup of 2015. In order to play for England, he would ordinarily have to spend seven years in the country but as luck would have it, the cricket board has now lowered the cool-down period to three years. He was therefore eligible to play for his adopted country just before the World Cup of 2019 began.
Archer, when he first came to England, played for Sussex on the recommendation of Chris Jordan. The latter had faced him in the nets in Jamaica. A serious back problem however delayed his growth. His recent performances in T20 leagues in different countries brought him good reviews and thus he was considered for a place in the England side.
He was picked by Rajasthan Royals for the IPL season of 2019 for Rs 7.2 crore. He also played for Hobart Hurricanes and in a few other T20 leagues. In a Big Bash League game he is said to have smashed one batsman’s helmet into pieces. His bouncers are deceptively quick, and heavy. In a tweet three years ago, he had advised batsmen to carry two helmets in their kit bags because when he bowled to them a few were likely to be smashed.
The England ODI skipper, Morgan, who believes that Archer is a match winner, is an Irishman. He was born in Dublin in 1986 and played cricket for Ireland from 2003 to 2009 before moving to England. He played ‘hurling’ in his school days, and the grip that he uses for the reverse sweep and the hoick to mid-wicket is said to be reminiscent of his ‘hurling’ days.
Spinners, Moeen Ali and Rashid Ali, known as Mo ‘n’ Rash in the England dressing room have their roots in Mirpur, Pakistan occupied Kashmir. While Moeen’s grandfather migrated to England, Rashid’s father moved there in 1967. Ben Stokes came to England as a child from Christchurch, in New Zealand, when his father, a rugby coach, took up a coaching assignment in England. He then decided to stay on and play for England.
Jason Roy, the big-hitting England opener was born in Durban, in South Africa’s Natal Province. He moved to England with his family at the turn of the millennium and qualified to play for Surrey through their academy. Another Surrey cricketer, Tom Curran was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He is the son of former Zimbabwe all-rounder, Kevin, who almost took that match at Tunbridge Wells, in 1983, away from India with some fine bowling and a gritty knock. Tom’s brother, Sam also plays for England.
Unlike most big-built Barbadian fast bowlers of the past, Archer is light on his feet and very, very fit. With a short, smooth run up and an action that isn’t complicated, he bowls regularly, and consistently, at over 145 kmph and his bouncers tend to skid off the track. He also has the ability to bowl deceptively quick toe-crushers and to get the odd ball to seam off the spongy, English tracks.
Archer is also a brilliant fielder and a more than useful batsman. In an England batting lineup that bats deep, he can contribute useful runs coming in at either nine, ten or jack; if he gets to bat, that is.
In the build up to the World Cup of 2019, England played a few T20 and one-day matches against Pakistan. Former England skipper and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who had watched the matches, was asked by a top television channel if he, given the choice, would play the fast bowler in the World Cup and if so, in whose place? Flintoff is said to have replied, “Get him in. he’s brilliant. Who would I get rid of? Anyone, but get him in!”
England, with its strong batting line up — and Archer in its ranks — should go through to the semifinals without much of a sweat. To be champs, the Morgan led squad will then have to play two more days of outstanding cricket. English fans will therefore hope that in mid-July, Archer doesn’t have that rare off day that is the bane of all fast bowlers.
Jofra Archer, who was supposed to play the World Cup of 2024, as per rules, has an opportunity to take home a medal four years earlier. Will it therefore be dream-come-true for him and for England?
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and administrator, he is now an efficient back-seat driver.