It’s the expectations that are the problem. If most young cricketers claimed three five-wicket hauls in their first seven Tests, the reports would be glowing. Equally, if most young cricketers achieved a bowling average of 27.40 in that time and showed the skills and maturity to be trusted with the Super Over in the World Cup final a couple of months into their international career, you could think they were doing pretty well. But for one reason or another, more seems to be expected of Jofra Archer.
Look at Sam Curran. He’s played 14 Tests and not taken any five-fors. And if that feel like an unfair comparison – Curran is an all-rounder, after all – then compare Archer’s record to those of Stuart Broad and James Anderson over a similar period. After seven Tests, Broad had a Test bowling average of 45.33 (with a best of 3 for 54), while Anderson’s was 31.57 (with two five-fors and a best of 5 for 73). Even compared to the best of modern England, Archer is flying.
One of the things that has become clear from watching England training in Port Elizabeth over the last few days – and not everyone with the strongest opinions has been doing so – is that Archer is not fully fit. It’s not a case of him coasting or England demanding anything unreasonable. It has been a case of them asking him to prove his match fitness and him struggling to do so.
He was significantly slower than Mark Wood on Monday – not 5 or 6mph, but 10 or 20 – and spent much of Wednesday talking to the physio and doctor. After one of the 20 or so deliveries he bowled, Paul Collingwood – one of the assistant coaches – said “Well bowled, Colly” to him; a reference to the gentle pace he was generating. It was said, and taken, in good spirits but it wasn’t as inaccurate as you may think. Archer simply did not look match-fit.
In such a scenario, it would not just be unwise but irresponsible to include him in the team for the Port Elizabeth Test. He has a precious skill and he requires careful and sympathetic handling. He is not the first fast bowler to miss a game or two through injury and he will not be the last. Such incidents do not usually precipitate questions about the management of the player or the player’s desire for the task. There’s not much evidence to suggest they should here, either.
The good thing, from an England perspective, is that they have Mark Wood to come into the side in his place. Wood is probably the one man in England who can bowl at least as quickly as Archer and he has worked hard to earn this opportunity. He has reported some soreness after his exertions on Sunday and Monday and hardly bowled on Wednesday but, as long as he suffers no adverse reaction on Thursday morning, he is likely to be selected ahead of Chris Woakes here. With a bit of luck, Archer and Wood may play together in Johannesburg.
But for all the Tests Wood has missed and all the injuries he’s suffered, it’s hard to recall an occasion when his desire has ever been questioned. For some reason – and it may simply be that Archer, like David Gower before him, makes the game look so absurdly easy that we set unreasonably high standards for them – Archer seems to face questions over his commitment and his desire. It’s far from clear the motivation of all the critics is good.
It’s surely relevant, though, that Archer moved to a nation crying out for a fast bowler. Yes, England has had glimpses of fast bowlers in recent times – Devon Malcolm, Andrew Flintoff (who took just four five-fors in his 183-match first-class career), Steve Harmison and Wood for example – but not for many years have they had a man with what appears to be the whole package: the repeatable action; the pace; the skill; the fitness. There were times during the World Cup when he made bowling over 90mph look ludicrously easy.
But it never is. And England’s desire to play with their new toy has seen Archer used pretty unsparingly in the first eight months or so of his international career. He was the only man in the World Cup to bowl 100 overs and required a pain-killing injection ahead of the Super Over in the final. He bowled 42 overs in an innings – more than Broad has ever managed in a Test innings – in Mount Maunganui and then heard Joe Root, his captain, suggest “there are certain spells when he can unleash a little more”.
To be fair to Root, it’s understandable he would want to keep returning to a man of Archer’s skill so often. Previous captains used to rely on James Anderson and Graeme Swann in a similar way. But we have, perhaps, been spoiled by Anderson’s resilience. He really has been something of a freak. It’s better, perhaps, to remember that Swann retired relatively early with an elbow injury.
Comparisons with Anderson probably don’t help, either. “He’ll never play 150 Tests,” a sour-faced England supporter sneered as he watched nets on Wednesday. Well no, he probably won’t. But only one fast bowler in history has. If all others are deemed half-hearted failures, we are setting the bar impossibly high.
Root also seems to be learning how to handle his key fast bowler. Ahead of this game, he spoke sensibly of the need to take the long-term view with fitness management and provided another reminder of Archer’s relative inexperience. Temper those expectations, was the basic takeaway.
“Jofra is very much at the start of his career and I think managing workloads is important,” Root said. “He’s played a huge amount of cricket since he’s come into the international arena and we’ve seen a little bit of pushback from his body with that elbow injury.
“He’s come into international cricket off the back of some brilliant domestic Twenty20 cricket, in particular. His reputation was made in IPL cricket, Big Bash cricket and performing and excelling in that. He came into Test cricket already with a reputation on a standard of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad. People were matching him with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc. These guys have played a lot of Test cricket, very experienced.
“For him it’s about managing where he is in his career and for us as a management group understanding that he’s very young and every game he’ll pick things up. He’s a very fast learner – he showed that in white-ball cricket – and we have to give him that opportunity in Test cricket as well.”
But even then, Root suggested Archer needed to be bowling not just well, but quickly, too.
“Of course, if he’s fit and raring to go you want him in your side,” Root said. “But you want to make sure he’s 100 percent ready and he can deliver all his skills: not just seam and swing it around but bowl at 90mph too. We’ve got to look after him as a player as well as just trying to win the series.”
The very best – the likes of Malcolm Marshall and Richard Hadlee – did not bowl flat out all the time. Far from it. They used their pace as one of the skills in their armoury and unleashed it when required.
Perhaps Archer is still learning when it is required. Perhaps there is something to be said for him warming up better and bowling quicker at the start of spells rather than easing into them. But his Test-best performance to date – 6 for 45 at Leeds – came when he concentrated on control and movement and rarely operated at anything approaching the pace seen for a while in the previous Test at Lord’s. And his quickest spells – notably against Steve Smith at Lord’s and Matt Wade at The Oval – didn’t necessarily produce many wickets. The point being, Archer is about far more than pace. He’s much better than that.
Perhaps he is having something of a tricky second album phase to his career. Perhaps he is struggling with the Kookaburra ball and a series of surfaces – in New Zealand, in particular – that might have been designed to thwart him. Perhaps, as Root says, his body is simply pushing back after being asked to do a bit much.
But he’s doing very well, really. Extraordinarily well, by comparison to England’s other seam-bowling newbies in recent times. Craig Overton (averaging 44.77), for example, Jake Ball (114.33) or Tom Curran (100.00).
Archer is missing this Test due to an elbow injury. It happens. He’ll be back. And in him England have something quite special. He deserves appreciating and looking after.
19 – Bangladesh batsman Saif Hassan returns positive again in second test
BCB haven’t added Hassan’s name in their list of 27 cricketers considered for the preliminary squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka. If he recovers in time, Hassan could still make the squad as he has played in Bangladesh’s last two Tests earlier this year.
Saif’s domestic and Bangladesh A form in the last two years got him a place in the Bangladesh Test squad against India last year but he didn’t make the playing XI that series. He made his debut against Pakistan in Rawalpindi earlier this year and played the one-off Test against Zimbabwe in February as well.
However, disagreements over Covid-19 protocols have continue to dog Bangladesh’s series in Sri Lanka, which is scheduled to begin in late October. Last week, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had informed the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) that the Bangladesh players would need to be in quarantine for one week upon landing in the island, before being able to train.
Women’s Hundred players given option for contract roll-over after postponement of 2020 season
Players offered a contract in the women’s Hundred for 2020 will be able to roll their deals over to 2021, the ECB has confirmed.
As ESPNcricinfo revealed back in June, women’s salary bands – which range from £3,600 to £15,000 – will be maintained for next year, while men’s deals have been cut by 20%, and will now be worth £24,000-£100,000.
Details over the men’s retention system are yet to be finalised, but the Professional Cricketers Associations (PCA) received a proposal from the ECB last week and has asked for feedback from representatives and members. A decision is expected to be reached soon, with the consultation process ongoing.
The Hundred’s initial regulations, pre-Covid, stated that each team would be able to retain up to 10 players at a mutually agreed salary band. All contracts for the competition were terminated in May, with players receiving 11.5% of their salary. That meant a combined £7 million loss for players, on top of the combined £3.8 million they gave up after agreeing to salary reductions, as well as giving up prize money, earlier this year due to the impact of the pandemic.
An ECB release said that the decision to allow women’s players to roll their contracts over had been reached in order to “offer maximum security to the players who were denied the opportunity to play in the Hundred this year”.
Contracted players will be able to re-sign with their existing teams this month, and teams will then have from October until May 2021 to replace any players who chose not to do so. Forty new professional contracts will also be awarded through the eight new regional centres in October, after 25 players signed retainers this summer.
Anya Shrubsole, who has taken up the option to re-sign for Southern Brave, said: “It’s good for all women’s players to have the security of rolling over their 2020 contract offers, should they want to do so. The summer we’ve had has obviously thrown up a bit of uncertainty and this helps confirm that everyone expecting to play in the Hundred will still get that opportunity.”
Beth Barrett-Wild, head of the women’s Hundred, said: “Covid-19 has caused some uncertainty for athletes, especially female athletes, so being able to provide immediate clarity and assurance to the women’s players that they will get the chance to re-sign for the same team and for the same fee in 2021 is very important, and demonstrates the Hundred’s ongoing commitment to the women’s game.”
Sadashiv Patil, the former India allrounder, dies aged 86
Sadashiv Raoji Patil, the allrounder of the 1950s and 1960s who represented India in one Test match in 1955, died in his sleep in the early hours of Tuesday at his residence in Kolhapur. He was 86, and is survived by his wife and two daughters.
In a 36-match first-class career – primarily for Maharashtra, a team he also captained in the Ranji Trophy – between 1952 and 1964, Patil scored 866 runs and took 83 wickets.
Though he played only one Test, he did well in it, in Mumbai against New Zealand, when he scored 14 not out from No. 10 in India’s only innings and picked up a wicket in either bowling innings, John Reid his victim on both occasions.
Mourning Patil’s death, the BCCI said in a statement: “Patil, a medium-pacer, had made an instant impact on his first-class debut for Maharashtra in the 1952-53 season. Playing against Mumbai, he bowled unchanged to skittle the domestic champions for 112 after Maharashtra were bowled out for a mere 167. In the 2nd innings, he took three wickets for 68 as Maharashtra secured a 19-run win.
“He earned the prized India Test cap (No. 79) when he made his debut at the Brabourne Stadium against the visiting New Zealand team in 1955 under the captaincy of Polly Umrigar. Bowling with the new ball, he picked up a wicket in each innings in India’s big win by an innings and 27 runs. Patil had impressed the selectors earlier when playing for West Zone against the Kiwis, he returned match figures of 7/74.
“Though he never played for India again, Patil continued to play for Maharashtra and also played in the Lancashire League, where he featured in 52 matches, taking 111 wickets in two seasons (1959 and 1961).”
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