Conceded 97 runs without picking up a wicket in the first innings at Manchester. Only three wickets in the match. England lost the Test and also the Ashes. Suddenly, all the spotlight was on a player who had played just three Tests. This not only reflected the pressure on the shoulders of young players who have had an incredible start to their international careers but also the need to always be on your toes.
On Day 2 of the final Test at the Kennington Oval, with figures of 62-6 , Archer well and truly showed the world that one average performance won’t bring him down. While David Warner’s wicket arguably came off a loosener, the remaining five wickets were all set-up perfectly. Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne fell victims to his clever use of angles and fantastic line and lengths while Mitchell Marsh was undone by an uncomfortable short delivery.
The icing of the cake was Nathan Lyon’s wicket, which came off a superbly disguised slower delivery. If all this wasn’t enough, then Rory Burns came up with a stunning catch off Peter Siddle’s bat in the gully region to present Archer his sixth wicket. The perfect mix as Archer helped England bowl out Australia for a total of 225.
When some fans and pundits started undermining Jofra Archer’s talent due to one underwhelming performance at Manchester, all his World Cup exploits earlier in the summer flew out of the window. Archer himself had a fair bit to do with this. Before the fourth Test, he ignited some fire into the series with his reply to Steve Smith’s comments about him.
Smith had said, “There’s been a bit of talk that he’s got the wood over me, but he hasn’t actually got me out.” Archer cheekily retorted: “Well, I can’t get him out if he wasn’t there… but there’ll be more than ample time.”
Best average for an ENG pace bowler with 20+ wickets in a men’s Ashes series:
— hypocaust (@_hypocaust) September 13, 2019
The Barbados pacer couldn’t walk the talk though. His pace was considerably down and he was only able to clock speeds around 85 mph. This was a big difference to his average pace from the Lord’s Test when he was bowling 93-94 mph with ease. While one could argue that it is impossible for anyone to consistently maintain such levels of speed, especially in Test cricket, he was still visibly not at his best even though he concentrated more on control than pace. The commentators on-air too spoke about Archer’s approach and run-up to the crease, which wasn’t as strong as one expects from the bowler.
When his pace increased on Day 2 of the Manchester Test, the control went missing. Archer is someone who is known for his precise line and lengths but at Old Trafford, it was just something he couldn’t achieve. Obviously, when one could not set up the batsmen with consistent line and lengths, even the difficult-to-handle variations like the slower balls and the bouncers had minimal impact. Either it was his workload or his concentration levels, but something seemed wrong.
He had never recorded figures as worse as 97-0 even in first-class cricket. Yes, the wet conditions were such that it was difficult to bowl but Archer had set a different standard for himself after his previous performances. Fortunately or unfortunately, Archer was always going to judged by those standards.
Coming into the 5th Test, England and Archer still had something to prove in spite of the fact that the team couldn’t win the Ashes anymore. There wasn’t a massive gap between the 4th and 5th Tests and Archer had to wash away whatever mistake he was doing in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test. Or rather, just continue on from where he had left off in the second innings, in which Archer bowled with the same intensity; same pace that he is synonymous with nowadays.
He did this and more at The Oval, as England find themselves in a strong position heading into Day 3. The home side will be confident of squaring the series and it is largely down to the firebrand young man in the form of Jofra Archer. While this series might not be won, England have unearthed a gem in Archer, who can rectify his errors and come out roaring in quick time.