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Opinion

Jofra Archer is not the quick fix England crave

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5th December, 2019
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First the Kookaburra ball was too lifeless, then New Zealand pitches were too flat and now Jofra Archer’s latest gripe is that he was cheated by the Kiwi speed guns.

England’s express quick produced more excuses than wickets during his tour of NZ, where he returned figures of 2-209 as his side lost the two-Test series 1-0.

After being hyped in the UK as an overwhelming force that would scythe through batting line-ups the world over, Archer and his team both were dealt a thudding reality check in NZ.

Archer is in the very early stages of his Test career and has years to learn his trade in unfamiliar conditions. He has the raw ability to build a terrific Test career.

But two worrying issues emerged around Archer from this tour – England’s unrealistic expectations for the dynamic paceman, and continued evidence the 24-year-old has an attitude problem.

Typically, young Test quicks should be nursed through their first five to ten Tests as they adapt to the highest level. During this period they should not be burdened with heavy expectations. More experienced bowlers should lead the attack while the fresh face finds their feet.

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This has not been the case with Archer, who England skipper Joe Root has used as his go-to bowler from his debut onwards. Root bowled Archer into the turf immediately. In Archer’s first ever Test innings, he sent down 21 of England’s first 57 overs.

At that stage he had bowled nearly twice as many overs as Chris Woakes, a proven star with the ball in England, where he’s taken 70 wickets at 23 in Tests. Just like that, within the space of his first innings as a Test bowler, Archer had already been instated as his side’s most leaned-upon bowler.

Archer ended up completing 44 overs in that Test compared to Woakes’ 22 overs and Broad’s 34. In the process Archer quite literally knocked out the world’s best batsman Steve Smith, prompting many English pundits to declare the Aussie star had finally met his match.

As it turned out, aside from injuring Smith, Archer was powerless to stop the Australian as he churned out 774 runs at 110 for the series. He did not dismiss Smith even once.

Yet that did not halt the momentum of the Archer hype train as he was widely hailed in the UK as the man who could win them Test series all over the world, including the next Ashes in Australia.

He was positioned as the solution to England’s longstanding weakness with the ball away from home. While England’s accurate 135kmh seamers were consistently neutered on the road, Archer apparently would overcome foreign conditions with ease. His pace and bounce all but guaranteed him success abroad, so this narrative went.

Jofra Archer.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

When England arrived in NZ to play the second-ranked Kiwis, the English press focused heavily on Archer and whether the Kiwi batsmen would be able to handle his raw speed. Yes they would, as it turned out. The New Zealand batting line-up blanketed Archer.

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In the first Test, his only wicket came in his 42nd over, by which time New Zealand were already on 603. In the second Test his only wicket came from the second last ball of the Kiwi innings – he had gone wicketless for his first 27 overs.

Throughout these first two Tests, the Kiwi commentators often expressed surprise at the lack of venom in Archer’s bowling. After being clocked at up to 155kmh in the Ashes, there were several spells in New Zealand where he bowled consistently in the 130s, with only the odd effort ball above 140kmh.

As I watched some of these spells, it was hard not to feel Archer was just going through the motions. His body language was poor, and his efforts appeared half-hearted at times. Initially, I wondered if he was carrying an injury.

But there have been no reports from the England camp that he was physically hindered. Archer just didn’t look like he wanted to be there.

That didn’t entirely surprise me, as before this series in New Zealand, there were already red flags about Archer’s inconsistency of effort and propensity to reach for excuses.

In the fourth Ashes match in Manchester, when Archer encountered his first lifeless Test surface, he looked as flat as the pitch. He acted with petulance towards his skipper Root amid a tepid performance, which was criticised by a number of ex-cricketers both in the UK and Australia.

Steve Smith looks on as Jofra Archer bowls

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Then before the first Test in NZ, instead of focusing on the challenge of his first overseas tour, Archer took aim at the Kookaburra ball and the pitch used for England’s warm-up match. He complained about the lack of assistance offered by the Kookaburra and then slammed the Whangarei pitch as the “flattest” he had played on in his life.

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For a bowler to start a major Test series whingeing about the ball and the unhelpful local conditions is a bad omen. And so it was, as Archer had a shocking series.

Archer’s response yesterday was to slam the pitches used in that series and even have a bizarre dig at the bowling speed radars that were employed. In his column for the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, he implied these radars were faulty and had given falsely slow readings for his bowling.

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It was an utterly odd way for Archer to sign off from his first overseas Test tour. He will need to quickly get used to dry, sleepy pitches and non-responsive balls because that is what he will encounter more often than not in Australia, India, the UAE, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and NZ.

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Only consistent effort can help him overcome those hurdles. Complaining will be of no assistance. It will also help Archer greatly if the expectations on him are greatly reduced by his home public and, above all, his own skipper.

England have long yearned for a solution to their lack of penetration with the ball away from home. In Archer, they appeared to see a remedy. While he may turn out to be just that, Archer is not the quick fix they hoped he would be.