There are people who play by the rules. Then there are some who like breaking the rules. And then there are very few of those "alphas" who force the rule-makers to change their rules for their own betterment. Jofra Archer is one of them!
May 3, 2020, will mark the completion of Archer's one year into international cricket. On this day in 2019, the tall and lanky right-arm paceman made his international debut for England in a One-Day International against Ireland at Dublin. It's just been 12 months but the Barbados-born paceman has already seen it all.
He played a pivotal role in England's maiden World Cup triumph, and also bowled the super over in the final to see the host nation defeat New Zealand in the most dramatic of fashions. He then had an outstanding Ashes, but struggled badly during the two-match Test series in New Zealand. There are not many players who have made such an impact... Forget about the impact, just three months into international cricket and Archer had a World Cup-winning gold medal around his neck. However, his "fast-tracked" journey to the English side had its fair share of controversies.
The highly-rated fast bowler was born in Barbados to a British father and West Indian mother. His father's citizenship allowed him to have a British passport from birth. Archer played junior cricket in the Caribbean and even played Under-19 cricket for West Indies. The pacer suffered a back injury at a very young age and that pushed him to the back of the line as he couldn't make it to the 2014 Under-19 World Cup squad, and that's when he decided to leave West Indies for Sussex. The move came after Chris Jordan, who also grew up in Barbados and moved to England aged 15, advised him to take a similar route.
It was Jordan who recommended him to the Sussex team management and the club signed Archer in 2016 as an overseas player. It didn't take him much time to make an impression as Archer took five wickets in his first-class debut against the touring Pakistani side. He dismissed the likes of Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq but it was in the 2017 season where he forced everyone to sit up and take notice. He had a pretty solid 2017 NatWest T20 Blast campaign for Sussex Sharks and then signed a deal with Khulna Titans in the Bangladesh Premier League. Then the Big Bash League came calling and he became a worldwide sensation after his exploits for Hobart Hurricanes.
Archer had already made quite a name for himself but when the Indian Premier League franchise, Rajasthan Royals, acquired him for a whopping INR 7.2 crore, his stocks sky-rocketed. Meanwhile, according to England and Wales Cricket Board regulations, Archer was braced to serve a seven-year residency qualification, which would have made him eligible to play for England only in 2022. There were also thoughts about him becoming a globe-trotting T20 player and it would have been a huge loss for England. There was a board meeting held at Lord's in November 2018 and the decision to cut residency requirements from seven years to three was made. The decisions were made, rules were changed, and Archer was eligible to play for England in the 2019 World Cup.
Having played just three ODIs and one T20I, Archer was still callow going into the mega event. Even if Archer wasn't part of the England squad, the Eoin Morgan-led side still would have been the red-hot favourites to lift the title because of their fearless and ruthless brand of cricket. They even had a good bowling attack but still needed a bowler who could bowl at a rapid pace and deliver those lethal bouncers and yorkers. That's where Archer came into play and got the full backing from Morgan and the team management who were unfazed by all the "why-tinker-with-a-settled-unit" talks.
There were few criticisms regarding his selection but people closely involved with the game knew what Archer brought to the table. He made an early statement by taking 3 for 17 in the tournament opener against South Africa, announcing his arrival on the grand stage in tremendous fashion. As a batsman, if you are watching Archer running towards you in a relaxed manner, at no point of time would you be expecting a 150-155 KMPH delivery, but that's what you exactly get, and that's how Archer operates. There's nothing frightening about his run-up or bowling action, but the repeatable action helps him in transferring energy from the run-up into the ball. It's all about rhythm, coordination and timing. He is someone who bowls from very close to the stumps, plus his fast-arm action, backed by that flick of the wrist as he releases the ball, makes those yorkers and bouncers even more baleful.
Archer didn't have a great game against Pakistan but then picked up four consecutive three-wicket hauls in his next four encounters. He dismissed the likes of Aaron Finch, Faf du Plessis, Martin Guptill and Glenn Maxwell throughout the tournament and contributed in almost every single game. The opposition were willing to play him out and that helped his fellow England bowlers, giving them opportunities to pick up wickets. Then came the knockouts! He got rid of the dangerous Finch and Maxwell in the semi-final against Australia and played a key role in bundling them out for just 223, which they chased it down with utmost ease. England were through to the finals!
There's already enough written about the finale that went down to the super over, courtesy Ben Stokes' brilliance. England managed 15 runs in the super over and Morgan then threw the ball to Archer who was playing his first World Cup and had only made his debut around 40 days back. In terms of talent, England couldn't have asked for a better option, but was Archer mentally strong enough to deliver under SUCH pressure? Six balls later, England had won their first World Cup on the boundary countback rule, and all those changes in rules to make Archer eligible for the showpiece event proved to be a masterstroke. The right-arm fast bowler did bowl a couple of bad deliveries in the super over but was strong enough to hold his nerve under the highest pressure imaginable in cricket.
There was a lot of hype around his selection and he more than lived up to it. Archer claimed 20 wickets in the tournament, only behind Mitchell Starc (27) and Lockie Ferguson (21). Whenever England were in trouble, Morgan looked to Archer and the seamer more often than not did the job. He featured in all 11 games and was the only bowler in the tournament to bowl more than 100 overs. He didn't receive a single player-of-the-match award but Archer had the time of his life. 15 of his 20 victims were dismissed for fewer than 20 and his impact just couldn't be limited to the number of wickets he took. Forcing Hashim Amla off the field with a blow to the helmet, knocking over Soumya Sarkar with a delivery that flew and landed over the boundary ropes after hitting the bails, Archer had quite a few moments that would easily make it to the tournament's highlight reel.
Exactly a month after that emotionally-sapping final, Archer made his much-awaited Test debut in the Ashes. England didn't play him in the first Test and were thrashed by 251 runs. He made his debut at Lord's and straightaway made a solid impact. His battle with the in-form Steve Smith was a treat to the eyes. He took out Smith with a vicious bouncer in his very first match and the right-handed batsman was ruled out of the third Test. The match in Leeds will always be known for Stokes' heroics but Archer too had his moments, including his maiden five-wicket haul. The series ended in a draw and Australia managed to retain the Ashes, but just like the World Cup, Archer left quite an impression. He played one Test less than Pat Cummins (29) and Stuart Broad (23) and finished with 22 wickets at an average of 20.27.
Archer hasn't played white-ball cricket for England since the World Cup. After playing non-stop cricket for almost three months, Archer didn't have a great time in New Zealand and then suffered a low-grade stress fracture to his right elbow, ruling him out of the Sri Lanka tour and IPL 2020. With cricket around the world on hold, Archer will have enough time to recover and get himself ready for a busy two-three years, if and when the situation gets better. Meanwhile, England have been criticised for over-bowling Archer and will have to be very careful managing his workload in the future.
Archer's middle name is Chioke, which means ‘Gift of God’ in the Ibo language of Nigeria. Yes, he is a ‘Gift of God’ to England cricket. He is only 25 and with age on his side, the tearaway paceman still has a lot to achieve. There will be a few roadblocks on his path to greatness but England's very own Barbadian is not one of those who will get lost or give up easily. No matter what, one thing is for certain, it's going to be a fun ride!