England need Archer to crank up the pace and regain X-factor status
Pressure on bowler to add fire to attack against Pakistan Hosts look to Curran with Anderson likely to miss out
The Ageas Bowl was the scene of Jofra Archer’s fastest spell this summer, and he returns there for the second Test this week with England wanting a repeat performance.
Archer has made little progress in Test cricket this summer and England need to see more pace from a bowler picked to be their Xfactor quick. The 25-year-old let himself down by leaving the biobubble to go home last month, forcing himself into self-isolation and out of the second Test against West Indies.
Since then he has struggled to ramp up the pace, taking five wickets in two Tests, a total inflated by tail-end wickets in the first innings against Pakistan.
England captain Joe Root has always stressed that Archer is young and learning the game. It has become apparent this summer that he is still working out his method at Test level, and he admitted he was still a little concerned about the serious elbow injury that curtailed his winter.
Archer has only really cranked up the pace once, when he bowled to Jermaine Blackwood in the second innings of the defeat in the first Test by West Indies at the Ageas
Bowl last month. He took three for 45, with his pace unsettling the West Indies lower order.
Even though Blackwood saw his side to victory, England exploited West Indies’ weakness against the short ball for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, they had to do it without Archer in the second Test when Ben Stokes stepped up to bowl bumpers and injured a thigh in the process.
It seems to help Archer to pick a fight with a batsman on the field. His quickest spells for England have been against Steve Smith at Lord’s, Matthew Wade at the Oval and Blackwood in Southampton. Tempers did fray on Saturday in Manchester, so Archer may feel fired up for the second Test, which starts on Thursday.
Archer felt the pitch for the first Test last week was not one to “bend my back on”, suggesting he was concerned about overdoing it on what he saw as unresponsive surfaces. But there was plenty of carry in Manchester, which was exploited by Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi, and England have picked him to bowl fast, not to be another right-arm fast-medium seamer.
With Mark Wood carrying an injury and telling England he is unlikely to make it through the next Test, Archer will have another chance this week.
It would be useful for Root to hand him the new ball alongside Stuart Broad, to give him a sense of responsibility and a clear message that he is seen as England’s strike bowler. But it appears likely that Chris Woakes will open the bowling instead.
Root has struggled to handle Archer properly, veering from overbowling him before Christmas
to underbowling him at times this summer. Archer responded well to Stokes’s leadership in Southampton when he stepped in for Root.
Stokes asked Archer to bowl quickly as England chased wickets in vain to win. If Archer can this week repeat his bowling to Blackwood, it would give England a point of difference they lacked in Manchester.
Sam Curran looks likely to replace James Anderson, who needs a rest and wants to work on a few technical issues as he recovers from a poor performance, in his view, in Manchester.
Curran lengthens the batting line-up, crucial in the absence of Stokes. Zak Crawley should come in at No 3, having been left out of the past two matches only on tactical grounds to accommodate the extra bowler because of Stokes’s injury.
It allows Root to move back to four. Jos Buttler will stay at six and step up as vice-captain, emboldened by his match-winning batting in Manchester. Dan Lawrence, the Essex batsman, left the England bubble after the first Test to attend a family funeral and is not in consideration.
Jack Leach is likely to play only if England think the pitch is especially dry and warrants two spinners. Leach has not played a Test since November as Dom Bess has dislodged him as the No 1 choice.
But Bess has taken seven wickets at 47 in four Tests this summer and is struggling to provide Root with control, conceding runs at 3.31 an over. The preponderance of righthanders in the Pakistan top order, with opener Shan Masood the only leftie, should bring Leach into the game more as a left-armer who spins the ball away from the righthander’s outside edge, but England want Bess to gain experience.
Slowing down: Jofra Archer has shown only glimpses of the pace that made him such a threat on his Test debut