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Archer can have a big impact on the Ashes

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Expert
10th August, 2019
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1167 Reads

Many cricketers enter the Test arena drenched in hype, predicted to be the next Sachin Tendulkar or Wasim Akram or Shane Warne.

The majority of them fail to go close to justifying such lofty praise.

With some of them, you sense the hyperbole is wishful thinking on behalf of a nation desperate to unearth a new champion.

Others, though, genuinely warrant the excitement. Last summer, Australia missed out on facing 19-year-old Indian batting prodigy Prithvi Shaw due to an ankle injury he suffered in India’s warm-up match in Sydney.

Shaw is undoubtedly worthy of the hype. Just a few weeks after he turned 17 years old, Shaw made a ton on first-class debut. His first three first-class matches were big ones by domestic standards – the semi-final and final of India’s Ranji Trophy, followed by the yearly best-of-the-best match between India Blue and India Red.

Across those three matches, the schoolkid made 424 runs at 71, and has since gone on to average 61 in first-class cricket with an extraordinary eight tons from 17 career matches. He is a freak.

So is Jofra Archer.

Players like the England quick don’t come around often. Let’s put aside, for a moment, the fact he’s an excellent lower-order batsman who averages 31 with the willow from 28 first-class matches. It is with the ball that he is unique and intimidating.

Jofra Archer.

(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

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There are only a handful of current Test bowlers who can reach 154 kilometres per hour. Australia’s Mitchell Starc, England’s Mark Wood, New Zealand’s Lockie Ferguson, South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada, and West Indian Shannon Gabriel.

That’s it, pretty much. It is a small and fearsome club.

Starc, Wood, Ferguson and Gabriel are brilliant when on song but have a sizeable gap between their best and worst. Accuracy is not their strength. Rabada is the only member of that group who boasts pace and precision. And he just happens to be the best Test bowler in the world.

Hurrying speed is a huge asset in Tests, particularly with the prevalence of sleepy pitches, like the Edgbaston deck used in the Ashes opener. On those kinds of surfaces, there is enormous value in dynamic quicks who can take the pitch out of the equation with their pace, or who can earn bounce others can’t thanks to their power.

Even if they have questionable control, like Starc, they are crucial because of the variety and penetration they provide on surfaces that make pace bowling difficult. When they offer such a wicket-taking threat in addition to accuracy, then you have a truly uncommon package.

Granted, Archer is yet to even play a Test. But on the evidence of his limited-overs career, he boasts that rare combination of extreme pace and great precision. I’m no Archer fanboy, either. Prior to the World Cup, I was sceptical about him.

Not that I thought he wouldn’t handle international cricket, as he clearly had remarkable gifts. Rather, I figured it would take him some time to adapt and get to grips with the pressure of representing the World Cup favourites as they vied for their first trophy in front of home crowds.

Pre-tournament talk of him dominating the World Cup seemed fanciful to me.

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I was dead wrong.

Jofra Archer reacts after the Cricket World Cup final

(Photo by Gareth Copley-IDI/IDI via Getty Images)

Not only did he look unflustered from his first match onwards but he was also one of the stars of the tournament. He startled batsmen with pace, intimidated them with bounce, foxed them with variations, and suffocated them with accuracy – all while maintaining a level of composure that made it seem like he was playing against mates in his backyard.

Pressure? What’s that?

What made all of this even more significant was the fact he was battling a side strain, which it later emerged had hindered him throughout most of the campaign. Concern over this injury convinced England not to hand him his Test debut at Edgbaston.

While we can never know how he would have performed in that match, England certainly missed having a sharp bowler that could wring life out of the pitch.

They also lacked the kind of variety necessary to keep Steve Smith on his toes. The last Test series in which Smith struggled, in South Africa, confronted him with an express quick in Rabada as well as a canny left-arm orthodox spinner in Keshav Maharaj. Against a samey attack of right arm medium-fast bowlers, like the one England picked last week, Smith looks immovable.

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Archer’s pace and bounce will, at the very least, pose Smith a much different challenge than that presented by the rest of the England attack. Former Ashes players Shane Warne and Mike Atherton both believe Archer can have a major influence on this series.

“Archer looks a nightmare to face because he gets tight to the stumps and gets his pace from jogging in,” Atherton told Sky Sports.

“Any little glitch in your technique is exaggerated if the bowler is tight in, plus if someone tears in – like Allan Donald – you are kind of ready for it, get a nice view of the ball, but Archer ambles in and it looks devastating.”

Warne, meanwhile, suggested Archer would test Smith in a way no England bowler had managed at Edgbaston.

“Obviously I would love to see Steve go on and score a hundred in every single innings for the rest of the Ashes but with Jofra coming in I think he’ll be set to face his biggest challenge yet and this could make the difference in the upcoming Tests,” Warne said.

Is this all just hype? I don’t think so.

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Archer isn’t just a white-ball star being gifted a Test spot. He owns 131 wickets at 23 in first-class cricket, a record the equal of any other young quick in England.

The main question mark over him as a Test player is his whether his body can handle the rigours of an intense Ashes series.

If it does, then he can make as big an impact as he did on the World Cup.

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