MARTIN SAMUEL: English cricket has questions to answer over Archer

MARTIN SAMUEL: English cricket has questions to answer over ailing Jofra Archer… he has been bowled to the ground with a lack of support for his constant elbow injuries

  • Jofra Archer’s career may amount to substantially less than was envisaged  
  • The fast bowler’s predicament is getting worse after being ruled out of Ashes 
  • After picking up another elbow issue, there is a feeling he is not being supported 

It was in Johannesburg two winters ago that Jofra Archer contemplated his future, amid the increasing demands on elite cricketers.

‘The physios will have a plan for my well-being,’ he said, still nursing the first of several disruptive elbow injuries. Some 18 months on and those plans are no closer to fruition.

If anything, Archer’s predicament is getting worse. It was confirmed yesterday that he was out of the T20 World Cup, out of the Ashes tour. It is another elbow injury, although not the same one. More than ever, there remains the fear that Archer’s career will amount to substantially less than envisaged.

There is a fear that Jofra Archer’s career will amount to substantially less than was envisaged

Will he even play Test cricket again, that was yesterday’s question. There was always a frailty around Archer which sat rather awkwardly with the lofty heights of the ECB’s hopes for him. Didn’t they know his history, the reason he fell out with the hierarchy in West Indies cricket in the first place?

It was a dispute over his fitness for the Under 19 World Cup that drove him into the ECB’s arms. Archer had been fast-tracked into the team but doubts over a back injury saw him left out of it prior to the tournament in 2014. By the time Archer recovered he was already talking to Chris Jordan and Sussex about coming to England.

His reputation, and worth in his new home, built from there. With hindsight, maybe there were some in the Caribbean whose initial fears have been realised.

The politics of West Indian cricket are notoriously hard to negotiate and Archer felt increasingly unsupported. Yet what has befallen him since changing allegiance is hardly an endorsement of the pastoral care in his adopted home.

He has already been ruled out of the T20 World Cup and Ashes tour over another elbow issue

English cricket has, at various times, bowled Archer into the ground — and failed to recognise a significant injury problem. There have been some very public trials and injudicious comments that implied his heart wasn’t sufficiently in it. In between, there have been moments of pure brilliance — a World Cup win, that incredible duel with Steve Smith at Lord’s — yet if what Archer has done for English cricket is obvious, what English cricket has done for Archer is less so.

Wednesday’s announcement saw him resigning from the two events that were meant to be his priority: the T20 World Cup, and the Ashes. He was central to England’s strategy in both. The day that statement can again be made with confidence seems further away than ever.

The worry is that Archer’s current elbow injury is said to be unrelated to his first. It suggests a wider problem. As heartbreaking as it has been to see athletes such as Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson laid low after waiting so long for their moment at the Olympics, these are injury episodes, an occupational hazard.

What Archer is enduring has a degree of permanence, like the woes that affected Jack Wilshere or, most recently, Andy Murray. Archer’s body has not held up well to the immense strain of the modern cricket schedule; and there is no great movement to make it any easier.

English cricket has bowled Archer into the ground – failing to recognise a significant problem

He is a marquee player in the white-ball game, a marquee player in the red-ball game, a most valuable player in the IPL, a gun for hire everywhere. Something has to give. Let’s face it, something has given. What will never be known is the extent to which English cricket’s handling of Archer has contributed to this malaise. One careful owner? It has hardly been that.

At the 2019 Ashes, Archer took two six-wicket hauls in his first four Tests. He also bowled 155 overs. Then, the first Test match after that — in New Zealand, also the first of the Chris Silverwood era — he was bowled for 42 overs in one innings.

To put this into perspective, in 272 Test match innings, Stuart Broad has never been bowled for 42 overs. Archer was worn down as BJ Watling made a double hundred and Mitchell Santner 126 and two Tests later the elbow stress injury appeared.

‘Jofra has to learn there are certain spells where he needs to ramp it up more,’ said his captain, Joe Root. ‘The energy and effort must be there all the time.’

We will never know the extent to which English cricket has contributed to this malaise 

It was the beginning of the debate about whether Archer was ‘one of us’; whether he was too laid-back, too other, too Caribbean. English cricket took a player from Barbados and then got the vapours when they thought he might be a tad Barbadian. Maybe that clouded the judgment about the extent of his problem.

In South Africa, Archer underwent a very public fitness test, conducted with his team-mate Mark Wood, by the end of which he was in tears. That was when news of a stress fracture first surfaced, eventually requiring an operation to remove bone fragments that were causing severe internal irritation.

The recurrence is the real worry because it suggests skeletal weakness — and, with rest the only cure, we now won’t see Archer until 2022, at a Test series back in the West Indies in March.

Yet will Archer’s career be subject to adjustment by then? Undoubtedly, he wants to play Test cricket — certainly a series as big as the Ashes — but if this persists it is hard to see beyond white-ball cricket. The worst case scenario, of course, leaves him short of those top speeds as happened to Tim Bresnan after elbow issues. At 26, Archer should be nearing a peak. Instead he must be beset by worry.

We won’t see Archer until 2022 – he should be near his peak but is instead beset by worry

Take away the pace with which Archer peppered Smith at Lord’s and he is not the same player. He is capable of being a clever bowler, a subtle bowler, but the bombs were a huge part of that armoury.

Certainly, England were relying on them in Australia. With Olly Stone out — more over-bowling, another stress fracture, this time of the back — and Ben Stokes’ return unknown, the idea of touring with a trio of quicks is already in disarray. Wood is now shaping up as England’s not-so-secret weapon although his ability to last a Test series is greatly doubted.

Yet, while Archer’s news is a blow for England, one cannot help but think of the player. When he had his operation earlier this year, he summed up his predicament in the starkest terms. ‘If I don’t get this right, I won’t play any cricket — period,’ he said.

Now he waits, hoping this is not the winter his Test career ends in a full stop.

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