England succumbed to a 2-1 ODI series defeat to South Africa last month. It left them having won only one of their last six matches in the format.
Predictably therefore, much talk has since ensued surrounding the reasons for the sudden downturn in form. Fingers have been pointed at the schedule, the lack of fresh faces in the team and everything in between in an attempt to establish the reason for the world champions looking so shaky eight months out from the 50 over World Cup.
That being said, it really needn’t be all doom and gloom for England. There’s an argument to be made that England come out of this series with more positives than negatives, the results notwithstanding, not least the much anticipated return of Jofra Archer.
After suffering a torrid time out through various injuries, the fast bowler, who seemingly had the world as his oyster two years ago finally donned the whites again. Understandably, Archer looked a little rusty in his first match back, going at marginally more than seven an over. Even in that match, there were glimpses of the old (if that’s an appropriate word) Archer. The apparent effortlessness with which he was able to bowl north of 90 miles an hour still took the breath away, and were it not for a few near misses, his figures may have made for more flattering reading.
In the final match of the series of three however, after being rested for the second, it was as if Archer had never been away. After being introduced in the 9th over, Archer took the scalp of Rassie Van Der Dussen in his first spell, a huge wicket at the time, given the partnership developing between he and Temba Bevuma. It was in his second spell though that Archer really showed his talent.
With South Africa looking like they were cruising to a 3-0 clean sweep, Archer broke the back of the chase by first removing the in form David Miller with a well disguised slower ball. Archer demonstrated that he isn’t just a bowler who runs in and bowls as fast as possible ball after ball. His tactical nous has often been overlooked due to the pace he bowls at, but the variation here proved for Miller’s downfall and significantly dented South Africa’s chances.
In his next over, Archer dismissed Marco Jansen, the most recognised batsman left at that stage of the innings. If the game wasn’t already sealed, he came back to clean up the tail and come away with figures of 6 for 40, almost singlehandedly winning England the game.
Even at their best, England have had the constant issue of failing to take middle over wickets. The hole left by Liam Plunkett has until now never really been filled but Archer’s spell showed that he could well be the solution to that.
As ever with bowlers of his nature, it will be about how best to manage his work load. In a year featuring both the home Ashes and the ODI World Cup, England will be keen for their premier fast bowler to be fit and firing. With Archer’s recent history with injuries its imperative that England are ultra cautious ahead of these events.
In 2019, Archer was one of England’s stand out performers in the Ashes. His battle with Steve Smith at Lords will go down in Ashes folk law. Whenever captain Joe Root needed a wicket, he would turn to Archer and more often than not, he would provide. England’s array of fast bowlers means that Archer needn’t be run in to the ground ahead of the Ashes, and even during the event. How successful they are in regaining the Ashes could well hinge on their ability to keep him fit.
As far as the World Cup is concerned, Archer will be one of a number of fast bowlers looking to make their mark. Its no coincidence that all of the pre tournament favourites have an X Factor fast bowler amongst their ranks. Pakistan boast Shaheen Afridi, India have Jasprit Bumra and South Africa have Anrich Nortje.
They too have had injury issues to varying degrees so making sure that Archer is in as good a condition as possible to try and retain the tournament will be a priority. His absence undoubtedly weakens England and they’ll be all too aware of that reality.
You feel that it could be a career defining year for Archer and given what he’s been through, you’d have a heart of stone to wish him nothing but the best.