Handle with care – Archer must not be changed just to suit corporate template
Let paceman be himself within limits and find his own ways to shine, writes Paul Hayward The numbers fail to tell the story of how he can excite the masses
Two of the most entertaining cameos in the Ashes came with a quality of eyeballing a boxing promoter would envy. The pugnacious, verbally incontinent Matthew Wade squaring up to the taller, much less garrulous Jofra Archer had crowds roaring their approval.
Archer vs Wade was a comical but also classically intense subplot to the last two Tests. In the first episode, at Old Trafford, Wade turned to take a second run and found Archer’s glaring presence blocking his path.
Daunted and discombobulated, Wade hit reverse gear and scurried back to his crease. At the Oval, Australia’s last-innings centurion was not willing to climb down a second time and bustled up the pitch to meet the advancing Archer after being smashed on the body at 95.6mph.
In homes and in the stadium, English cricket could see the other string of Archer’s bow: aggression, machismo, a love of battle and an eagerness to impose himself on batsmen – especially those with the biggest reputations.
His face-shake and mocking grin at Wade as the space closed between them will be replayed 50 years from now as an example of what lurks beneath the Ashes rivalry.
Archer’s blitzing of Steve Smith at Lord’s electrified the home of cricket and ended up removing Australia’s most prolific batter for the Headingley Test. Put all this together and you have a fairly unusual debut summer for a 24-year-old with Barbadian heritage stepping into an England dressing-room with settled routines and great personal familiarity among the players.
If Archer brings a new chemistry and temperament into that set-up, it falls to England to shift towards him, to let him be himself and not bend him out of shape to fit a corporate template. Nobody would discourage him from delighting the crowds by eyeballing a Matthew Wade, but there may be times, perhaps on tour, when conservative voices pipe up to say he is going too far or allowing himself to be wound up by opponents.
That line may one day be crossed – perhaps in Australia two years from now – but English cricket would need
its head examining if it failed to welcome the point of difference Archer brings, and allow him time to adapt to international cricket, in his personal and professional routines. Good management finds the line between free spiritedness and imposing the necessary basic disciplines of life on tour.
The unspoken element here, of course, is that Archer is very new to the England camp and new to this set of players, which is why Joe Root said on Sunday night: “I am still learning how to get the best out of him as captain but he is going to entertain and make things happen.”
Archer took 20 wickets in the World Cup and bowled the defining super over under intolerable pressure. In the Ashes, he grabbed two six-fers and 22 wickets in all at 20.27. This is an astonishing return on a debut international summer. The numbers fail to tell the story of how he can excite the masses, destabilise opponents and change games, all the while with control and accuracy to complement his pace.
The grumbling at Old Trafford when his speeds dropped showed how high he has set his bar. He came thundering back at the Oval with a man-of-the-match performance and a brilliant onslaught against Wade, who, to be fair to him, was gracious afterwards. “I felt like I could deal with what he was delivering, and he obviously thought he could rip my head off or get me out,” Wade said. “It was a good battle, there was a little bit of banter, no words really. Just good, hard Test cricket.
“That’s what I expected coming into an Ashes series. I’d never played an Ashes series before and the way Jofra has taken to Test cricket – I knew he was obviously a freakish talent. When he was around the England team I knew he’d be playing this series. That’s what Test cricket is. Especially Ashes cricket, you’ve got to be ready for the contest.”
Archer was ready for the contest and now he is ready for careful handling that should not be about making him conform. England dressing rooms have a mixed record of managing nonconventional players (and yes, sometimes players from ethnic minority backgrounds), so it would be fatal to 1. bowl Archer into the ground (he sent down 156 overs in this series) and 2. micromanage his every move. The facilitation of talent is meant to be the aim.
His personality, cricketing ability and gift for comedy (see his Twitter account) are a once-in-ageneration windfall and, within limits, he needs to be allowed to find his own way to keep shining. Matthew Wade was not messing with him – and nor should England.
Hot summer: Jofra Archer has made his mark in impressive style