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How badly did England mismanage Jofra Archer?

by Cameron Ponsonby 3 minute read

Cameron Ponsonby examines the nurture and nature of Jofra Archer’s time with the England team.

They say the problem with elite performers who turn their hand to coaching is that they just can’t understand why their players are unable to perform to the level they do. Just hit it for six, just kick it in the goal, just tee-off (but not recklessly).

Jofra Archer’s relationship with England has been the inverse of this. Presented with a player who could do everything they ever wanted and more, England didn’t know what to do with him.

Bowl a bit of line and length? Perfect, step this way. Bowl quick? Right, no problem. Nip it around off the seam as well? Amazing, come on after Anderson and Broad if that’s alright. And you bowl bumpers? Thank God, we haven’t been able to get Steve Smith out since the war. So if you can just do all that for us Jof, that’d be grand.

Never stick. Always twist. And now Archer’s bust.

Ultimately, his ability acted as a gift and a curse. He was the man who could do anything, which meant he was asked to do everything. In just his fifth Test match, Archer bowled 42 overs in an innings against New Zealand. Stuart Broad, 14 years into his Test career, has never bowled as many overs in an innings.

After that same game, Root told Sky: “He has to learn that there are certain spells where he needs to ramp it up more…the energy and effort have to be there all the time.” Two Test matches later and a stress injury to his elbow ruled him out for the rest of the winter. In fact, from the time of his international debut in May 2019 through to August 2020, only Pat Cummins bowled more deliveries in international cricket than Archer.

If Root’s comments felt awkward at the time, they’re wince-inducing now. The implication had been that England’s new hot-shot quick hadn’t been pulling his weight whilst in actual fact he was in the process of bowling himself into the ground. It feels bizarre to say but had Archer been a lesser player he wouldn’t have attracted the same criticism, simply because he wouldn’t have been seen as the answer to all of England’s problems. By way of example, Mark Wood is England’s fastest bowler, but his more limited skillset means he’s called upon fewer times. And I also know that personally speaking I’ve never had a workload problem with the ECB. Because I’m terrible.

Archer’s bowling nous isn’t the only example where a source of his strength has contributed to his downfall either. Part of what makes Archer the bowler he is is the hyperextension of his elbow (in simple terms, his elbow can bend backwards) that means another level of whip and energy can be added to the ball. Rather than that delivery being bowled at 90, it’s 92. Rather than being an international, you’re an international superstar.

However, just because his body can do something, it doesn’t mean it should. Elbows aren’t designed to bend backwards, so whilst it’s great for speed, it’s not great for his body. So much so that Dr Paul Felton, a senior lecturer in biomechanics at Nottingham Trent University described it to the Telegraph as Archer’s, “greatest weapon and his greatest curse”.

Truth be told, the overriding emotion here is just sadness. As a nation we weren’t calling for a cricketer like Archer before he arrived because one didn’t exist. And then all of a sudden here he was. A cartoon cricketer who had fallen into our laps and won us a World Cup before we’d even learnt to appreciate what we’d stumbled across. And now his career is in doubt.

Perhaps it’s the natural reaction to hearing someone has a stress fracture to feel so pessimistic. It’s far from a death sentence for a cricketer, but it is a period of years of management and a large slice of luck to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Pat Cummins and his six-year absence from Test cricket is a prime example of both the potential to return to the very top of the sport but also the problems that can plague the road to recovery. You’re a professional bowler and the thing that breaks you is bowling. It’s not ideal. In the meantime however, we can only cross our fingers and wish him the best over his period of rehabilitation. He’s a cricketer none of us had ever seen before and we can only hope that we get to see him again soon.

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