England need return on their Jofra Archer investment

England's Jofra Archer looks on before play on the third day of the fifth Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia at The Oval in London on September 14, 2019
Archer has played just 13 Tests, 21 ODIs and 15 T20Is since making his England debut in 2019 - Getty Images/Glyn Kirk

England’s World Cup squad packs potent T20 six-hitting punch, but it is the presence of Jofra Archer that will go a long way to deciding their level of success.

It is a bowler with pace, capable of wickets and four inexpensive overs, that will be a valuable commodity at a tournament where murderous batting is expected to dominate.

Archer is up there with the best. He can be England’s Jasprit Bumrah because he has all the physical skills as well as mental strength to keep control under high pressure at the start of an innings and at the death.

Both sides – England and Archer – deserve some payback after three years of patience, pain and frustration.

It is hard to think of another player who has enjoyed such support from England as Archer. He has missed three World Cups and two Ashes series since making his debut in 2019 but rightly had the security of central contracts throughout, which also include detailed, high level medical care, moulded around time in Barbados surrounded by the support of friends and family.

England's Jofra Archer celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Cameron Bancroft lbw on the third day of the second Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on August 16, 2019
Archer broke onto the international scene like a lightning bolt in 2019 - Getty Images/Glyn Kirk

He signed a two-year contract last year in the first phase of multi-year deals, turning down the maximum three years from England, which given his injury record was a very generous offer from Rob Key. It is not a bottomless pit, however, and in professional sport everyone eventually has to justify the investment.

But it is not just England that are owed some reward, so of course principally is Archer for the years of painful recovery from elbow surgery and a back stress fracture that have exacted a toll physically and mentally. “He hasn’t been around for a while but everything he does, there’s noise around him. Mentally it’s been tough. That’s why we try to get him right,” said Key. “It’s always been a balance with Jofra where you’re trying to take into account his mental well-being and actually how we get him ready for what we need. I’ve always been aware of that and the toll it’s been on him. Fingers crossed he gets the bit of luck he deserves really.”

There have been many false starts, aborted comebacks and relapses that frustrate Archer and sadden supporters. He struggles to comprehend why everything he does is news and it affects him whenever there is comment around his injury record. He is sensitive and takes to heart some of the nastier comments on social media. There is no excuse for those, there never is, but he makes headlines because he is so highly valued and many just want to see him terrorising Steve Smith again. England have little to throw back at Australians most of the time so cling to a bowler like Archer, elevating him to a rarified status despite playing only a handful of Tests.

This time it feels like make or break. He is likely to only play a second team game for Sussex before the Pakistan series at home next month that is England’s only preparation for the World Cup. The opening T20 at Headingley on May 22 could be his first game of professional first team cricket for over a year. Nobody knows how he will cope. England play four group games at the World Cup in 11 days from June 4 and if they progress to the Super Eight phase another three fixtures in just over a week. It is a rapid turnaround and the intensity will test Archer’s recovery because it is playing multiple matches in a short period that can cause a relapse.  Archer himself has admitted he is not sure if he can cope with more injuries saying recently “I don’t know if I’ve got another stop-start year in me”. It was sad to hear but totally understandable. England too would feel robbed after waiting for so long.

Ben Stokes of England and Jofra Archer of England celebrate after winning the Cricket World Cup during the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between New Zealand and England at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 14, 2019 in London, England
Archer's glorious summer of 2019 feels a long time ago now - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

If it is different this time, and he can recapture his best form, it will be just at the right time for England who harbour hopes of unleashing him on Australia next winter. It is no secret England lack pace across all formats. The best attacks - India, South Africa and Australia, have multiple pace options. For three years England have only had Mark Wood. He needs support from Archer, and it was their partnership that helped propel England to World Cup success in 2019. It is hard to see them winning this one without him.

“As always with Jofra, fingers crossed until he’s out there playing. You’re waiting for something really good to happen - you don’t quite believe it until he’s there,” said Key on Tuesday.  Despite all the medical care, and modern management of players, it is a complete unknown how Archer will go over the next few weeks. It will be fascinating and the rewards for England and Archer could be great. The other alternative is too sad to contemplate.

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