England and Archer still working each other out
Pace bowler is a unique talent but he needs to know what is expected as much as his team must learn how to handle him
It will be tortuous to be so close, yet so far from playing; a perfect time to reflect on his error
‘From a holistic point of view, we’re growing together.” That was Chris Silverwood, the England coach, talking about Jofra Archer in November last year. Fast-forward to late last night and the Hilton Garden Inn hotel at Emirates Old Trafford, where England’s relationship with Archer took another twist when he was put into self-isolation after confessing he had broken the team’s biosecurity protocols.
Archer will spend the next five days in his room overlooking the outfield, giving him a perfect view of the Test match he is missing. It will be tortuous to be so close, yet so far from playing; a perfect time to reflect on the error he has made.
Archer has not graduated through the England “pathway” and, as an outsider, they are still trying to get to know this exceptionally talented bowler in the pressurised world of top-level sport, as Silverwood confessed last year.
The England age-group teams undergo psychological profiling as part of their preparation for international cricket. Coaches work with them for years. Archer arrived in England via Barbados and the first time he had anything to do with the national team was when he was picked to play a one-day international in Ireland, drafted in as the last piece in the World Cup strategy.
Picked alongside him in the squad for the Ireland match was Chris Jordan, his friend from Sussex and Barbados. A hugely popular figure in the England dressing room, Jordan’s job was to smooth his transition into the team.
It worked. Archer, too, has become liked and accepted in the group, but there have been lapses in professionalism that have infuriated management. Trevor Bayliss rarely lost his temper when he was England coach, but he had a chat with Archer during the Ashes Test at Headingley last summer when he was seen in the outfield wearing his sweater tied around his waist. In the heat of an Ashes series, with England 1-0 down and bowled out for 67 in their first innings, Bayliss was not in the mood for a joke.
He warned him that people would soon become fed up if he did not become a little smarter about how he conducted himself. Archer responded with six wickets, bowling England back into the match.
In New Zealand, he was rebuked by the England management for riding a broadcaster’s Segway in the minutes before the first Test. England
thought he had risked injury and were particularly aware of the fact that Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s chief executive, was at the ground.
This is all trivial stuff compared to Alex Hales failing two tests for recreational drugs and the Ben Stokes incident. Archer does not drink. He is not going to divide the dressing room or have stand-up rows with coaches, like Kevin Pietersen might. He is not going to pour a pint over James Anderson’s head in a nightclub, as Ben Duckett did on the last Ashes tour. He is also _ unlikely to playfully “head-butt” an Australian cricketer in a bar, like Jonny Bairstow did two years ago.
Archer is just a bit feckless. He has a habit of transgressing the kind of rules that appear petty to the outside world but in a cricket environment, where players spend months together, can be very important.
This lapse, though, had implications beyond team discipline. He imperilled the match and showed contempt for the work done by those who put in months of planning to ensure this series went ahead. They gave the players one moment of self-responsibility, the drive up to Manchester, and Archer ruined it.
Joe Root invited Archer to sit with his family for Christmas dinner on the tour to South Africa in a bid to get to know him better. Root has not handled Archer well, overbowling him in New Zealand, leading to questions about why his pace had dropped and whether he was trying hard enough. That was nonsense, and Archer’s commitment could be seen when he sat in tears after he broke down trying to prove his fitness for the final Test of the winter in Johannesburg.
“The difference in managing Jofra is managing the expectation of him,” Root said. “His reputation gets him put with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, these guys who are very experienced. So, for management, it’s a question of understanding where he is in his game.”
Stokes proved to be an excellent communicator in his first Test as a stand-in captain last week and it was visible how often he tried to gee-up Archer. He made him feel like the No1 strike bowler, putting his arm around him after lunch on the final day, asking him to “run through a brick wall” for the team. “I’ve got a good relationship with Jofra,” Stokes said. “I think he trusts me and that goes beyond the field.”
Stokes has had far more important issues than Archer, but is his role model now. Stokes is the ultimate professional and that has enabled him to make the most of his ability and become one of the most recognisable sporting figures in Britain. Archer has already bowled England to a World Cup win. There is more to come but he needs to understand what is expected of him, as much as England need to learn how to handle this unique talent.