If England get one Ashes Test out of Archer they’ll have done well
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Such is the rarity of pace in English cricket that every Jofra Archer injury update is projected with deeper meaning and inevitably the latest is cast in an Ashes light.
Archer is returning from the IPL so England can keep a closer eye on him because it turns out “pushing through the discomfort whilst recently playing, hoping it will settle, has proven challenging”.
This is bowling four overs in T20, and not in one go either, and with several days rest in between as well. It was always optimistic to believe he would be fit for much of the Ashes and Archer himself said in March he would be happy to play in just one game.
We should have taken him at face value then and England would gladly grab that if offered now. But he would have to prove his fitness in a four-day game for Sussex first, bowling two or three spells in a day, because it is backing up the overs that proves a bowler’s fitness, and then doing it again in the second innings.
England cannot afford to go into a Test with a bowler’s health in question, especially with Ben Stokes handicapped by his knee injury. It would cost them the game.
It is always hard to gauge the mood with Archer because England give so little away over injuries and it was only when this masthead revealed recently he had travelled to Belgium for treatment that it became public that he had undergone more medical intervention.
Jofra Archer winces during a T20 match for England against Bangladesh in March.Credit: AP
He has since bowled quickly for Mumbai Indians in four matches but not without pain and that is significant. Now he is heading home and you suspect it will be better for him, and allow England to focus on who is fit, if a decision is made soon on his Test match availability.
It is devastating for Archer, who has put so much into his rehabilitation and wanted to repay the faith of England and his other employers around the world. It is a lonely existence being an injured fast bowler, handling the demons inside as they naturally worry about never regaining full fitness, and then have to endure watching on the sidelines while a big series captures the nation’s attention. It must be torture.
We don’t know if Archer is back at the start again, but it feels as though England’s attack is going to look very familiar this summer: James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes. It is the same line-up that barely made Australia blink at home 18 months ago.
Yes, they are more effective in English conditions and there is also Matt Potts and Saqib Mahmood to swell the numbers too but there is an anxious wait on Olly Stone, who suffered a hamstring strain for Notts against Lancashire at the weekend to add another headache.
Jofra Archer is returning home from the IPL in a worrying sign for England.Credit: AP
Mahmood did not play in that game as he was not selected by Lancashire, while the early county season has been dominated by bowlers lacking the pace for Test cricket.
The other fast bowling hope, Jamie Overton, is already out with a stress fracture. Stokes has said he wants “flat and fast” pitches for the Ashes. What he really needs is “fit and firing” bowlers – a message he gave England’s medical team earlier this year.
The worry for him is who will put in a shift? Anderson at 40, Broad at 36? Both faded in Wellington when England enforced the follow-on. Robinson? He is in superb form for Sussex and has a front seat view of how to work out a weakness in Steve Smith’s game but needed a painkilling injection last week in his back and hobbled off with cramp against Worcestershire.
Stokes has bowled one over since the Wellington Test and it was as painful to watch as it looked to deliver, and one unintended consequence of England’s quick scoring championed by the skipper is less time for bowlers to recover during a match. It is hard work.
Steve Smith receives medical assistance after being hit in the neck by Jofra Archer at Lord’s in 2019. He left the field but returned to bat once Peter Siddle was dismissed.Credit: AP
Meanwhile, Australia have Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc resting and building up to the Ashes, and Josh Hazlewood made his return from a long lay-off in the IPL at the weekend.
Marnus Labuschagne scored 170 for Glamorgan last week and Smith is easing his way in. His stint at Sussex is not about learning English conditions, but about finding form and getting in nick.
This is while Joe Root stays in India, waiting for his first middle time since February 24. Root has nearly 11,000 Test runs so England trust him to know what he needs. He will be fine.
But Archer will not be fine. And that is a crying shame for all England followers who have to now hope it is some big double bluff and he pops up in the nets at Hove this week to terrorise Smith again.
Sadly, that will not happen and their duel is probably over.
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