Root missing Archer’s venom in attempt to dismiss tourists
Lack of real pace hampered England with the old ball Omitted bowler allowed to warm up in Old Trafford nets
It was a few minutes before a quarter to three. The Manchester sun had returned, and the lacquer had long since worn off the new ball. With few alarms, West Indies had reached 171-3 midway through the 57th over.
England’s chances of regaining the Wisden Trophy were dwindling by the ball.
Now, Joe Root did as Test cricket captains have done throughout the ages. In lieu of trying to take wickets through conventional means, he summoned his most menacing fast bowler and asked him to bowl around the wicket to the righthanders, going as far to leg theory as the laws of the game have permitted since Douglas Jardine hatched his plan to take down Don Bradman in 1932-33.
Root’s plan even fell foul of those laws revised to prevent a repeat of Bodyline. Three balls into adopting the tactic, Ben Stokes was called for a no-ball because three men were behind square leg on the leg side.
Stokes adapted admirably to the role of mid-innings enforcer, pounding in from around the wicket with a leg gully and short leg lying in wait. The 10th over of his spell yielded a deserved wicket, Kraigg Brathwaite chipping Stokes a return catch. Yet all Stokes’s great skill and phenomenal will could not quite disguise a simple truth. When England were in need of relief from the mid-innings ennui that had set in, the man Root would have most wanted to toss the ball to was warming up in the nets, unavailable after violating biosecure protocols.
Stokes’s quickest delivery of the day was 84.8mph; at the Ageas Bowl last week, the man who should have been fulfilling the role of bowling around-the-wicket bouncers when the ball had gone soft had reached 90.9mph.
Before this series, Stuart Broad wrote that, for all the selectorial uncertainty, “you would think that Jofra Archer is in the best team 100 per cent”.
Archer’s mesmerising bowling in the second innings at the Ageas Bowl illustrated as much. Yet so, perhaps even more, did his absence at Old Trafford.
Archer or no Archer, England’s attack has potency with the new ball – or, indeed, the second new ball. The problem, as it has been for generations of English teams, is what happens when the new ball zip is gone on flat surfaces.
And so, in a curious way, the excellence of Stuart Broad, and then Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, with the second new ball only emphasised how much England had missed Archer with the old ball –
Masterful: Jermaine Blackwood is bowled by Stuart Broad for a duck during day four of the second Test at Old Trafford
the value of pace in is eternal. A 90mph yorker is the same delivery the world over. A 90mph bouncer is not quite the same, but a well-directed one is still a menace regardless of the heat, the opponents or the ground.
These are the gifts that Archer brings England: essentially, the capacity to remove the pitch from the tussle between batsman and bowler. England have other bowlers who can exploit the new ball, just in very different ways to Archer, but no one who has his sheer range of gifts when the ball has gone soft and the pitch is flat; even Mark Wood, who has Archer’s pace, is less versatile.
As they aim to build a team able to win in all climes, England have prioritised pace, identifying it as essential to opening up opponents on flat pitches in the middle of the innings.
This is a role that, for all their excellence, England’s fast-medium bowlers have struggled to do. From overs 31-80, England’s main four right-arm fast-medium bowlers – James Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Chris Woakes – are all averaging over 30 since the last Ashes; the first three all average 33 then, and Woakes averages 45.
It is only with more varied options that England have had success with an older ball. Curran, for all his reputation as a new ball swing bowler, has actually averaged just 21 with the old ball in this period; his dismissal of Shai Hope with an
The problem has always been what happens when the new-ball zip has gone on flat surfaces