@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read
After Jofra Archer’s new ball spell led England’s remarkable comeback in the second ODI of their series against Australia, Yas Rana writes that in that five-over burst, he and his captain Eoin Morgan laid the template for how he can be best used in Test cricket, too.
You wonder what Joe Root must have been thinking as he was crouched down at short leg when Jofra Archer hurled down that brutal, borderline unplayable 90 mile per hour bouncer to dismiss Marcus Stoinis. Over the course of the Test summer, an abundance of column inches and rain delay TV studio chats were devoted to the question, ‘How can Joe Root get the best out of Jofra Archer?’ Today, just a few yards in front of him, the England Test skipper saw the answer first hand.
“He [Eoin Morgan] gives us the freedom to bowl whatever we want; he very seldom tells us ‘no’,” said Archer after the game. Making the most of that freedom by bowling fast and using his bouncer sparingly, Archer was irresistible up top as he single-handedly kept England in the contest.
His two Powerplay wickets were the kind of dismissals you’d think he could replicate in Test cricket. Warner’s wretched recent run against England continued as he awkwardly poked at one just back of a length while Stoinis, in preservation mode trying to outlast Archer’s new-ball burst, didn’t have an answer to a sharp, well-directed bouncer; the first Archer delivered to him. On the face it, the plan looked straightforward. Bowl fast, attack the top of off stump and fire in the occasional bumper.
It’s a method that has served Archer well to date in his ODI career. Since his debut at Malahaide in May 2019, he has been the standout fast bowler in ODI cricket. In that period, only Lockie Ferguson and Mohammad Amir average less than Archer with the ball in men’s ODIs and only Colin de Grandhomme goes for fewer runs per over [among seam bowlers from Test playing countries, min. 10 innings].
No bowler since his debut has been able to combine that constant wicket-taking threat while also maintaining that frugality nearly as well as Archer has. Although there was almost a 14-month gap between the World Cup final and Archer’s next ODI appearance – the series opener against Australia – Archer has seamlessly picked up where he left off so gloriously last summer at Lord’s.
But it hasn’t quite been the same story in the Test arena. Archer hasn’t yet repeated his success in his breakthrough Ashes campaign, where he took 22 wickets at a smidgen over 20. In his seven Tests since the Ashes, his 16 wickets have come at 46 runs apiece.
Too often in the Test summer, Archer resorted, either of his own volition or on instruction, to almost exclusively using the short ball without a slip in place, eliminating most possible modes of dismissal. This single-minded approach, while understandable on surfaces with less assistance, doesn’t do Archer justice; as he showed here, he can offer so much more. Stoinis was surprised by Archer’s bouncer precisely because it was used sparingly. With Archer’s action identical when bowling length and when bowling short, it’s practically impossible to tell when the bumper is coming. Unless, that is, that’s all he’s bowling.
There have also been times where he’s undoubtedly been over-bowled. In the New Zealand innings during the Mount Maunganui Test in November last year, Archer bowled six more overs in a single innings than Stuart Broad ever has. Six Tests later, Root described Archer’s role in the side as to “operate in short, sharp spells, and bowl fast.” There is a sense that England are still figuring out how best use Archer – who had played just 28 first-class matches before his Test debut and none in Division One of the County Championship – in England whites.
Archer has shown that he’s an extraordinarily quick learner. Remarkably, 16 of his 30 List A appearances have come in ODI cricket. 11 of them came in as England’s attack leader in a victorious World Cup campaign. As he reminded us time after time last summer, he really is a once-in-a-generation talent.
Part of that success in white-ball cricket has surely come from the clarity he has in his role and the freedom he’s entrusted with from his skipper. It needn’t be too hard to give him that clarity in red-ball cricket, either. As CricViz analyst Ben Jones wrote on this site, the answer – essentially replicating his ODI new ball gameplan of bowling quickly at the top of off stump – is fairly obvious: aim at the top of off or just outside, with the odd bouncer, as plenty of great quicks have done before him.
The prospect of a firing-on-all-cylinders Archer at the Gabba in 14 months time is a tantalising one. He has shown under the leadership of Morgan that if you give him the freedom to flourish doing things his way, there can be spectacular results. There’s no need to over-complicate things in Tests. Let him bowl and the results will come.