Updated:Jan 31, 2023 12:12 pm
The Jofra Archer comeback was about as flat as the Bloemfontein pitch. During the build-up to the first ODI against South Africa, the Sussex paceman said his body was only 80 per cent ready for the return. Fair enough. He subsequently leaked 80 runs in his allocation of ten overs, including a 20 off one of them. Archer got a fourth-ball duck with the bat too to round the performance off as something from the “just glad to be back” variety.
Archer Comes Back after Almost Two Years OutEmbed from Getty Images
It wasn’t about the stats though. It was some effort to be back on the international pitch after 678 days of frustration and fractures. The rehab probably felt as agonising as 127 Hours, where James Franco’s arm gets stuck under a boulder for an eternity. The 27-year-old has been trying to push a fitness boulder uphill before it rolls all the way down again. Archer is very fondly remembered as the man who bowled the super over in England’s incredible World Cup final win over New Zealand at Lord’s back in 2019. It seems aeons ago now. England ODI 2019 knew exactly who they were. England ODI 2023 is a team in transition.
England Missing Morgan’s Sure Hand and Stokes
Slowly but surely the erosion of Eoin Morgan’s one-day band of troops in the 50-over format has led to a jarring of progress. Some key figures have gone. Morgan retired last summer after not being able to score a run against the Netherlands. Ben Stokes cited an unsustainable schedule as the main reason for walking away although the door remains open for superheroes. Tellingly, Jason Roy, the glue and galloper at the top of the order, had lost his way for much of 2022, including his central contract.
England ceded the series at the Mangaung Oval at the weekend and have been defeated in the last five one-dayers overall, their worst streak since 2015. The side now has a rather B-movie look to it without the fatherly guidance of Morgan. Jonny Bairstow will surely reappear at the top of the order when he stops having accidents at golf tee boxes. Jos Buttler has led gloriously in the fast food of the T20s but has admitted he is still learning on the job. England look bloated in the longer format and the World Cup is only nine months away.
Roy Finds Freedom in Owning the MomentEmbed from Getty Images
At least there were seeds, green shoots (and shots) of recovery. Roy came out like he was the man, planting his foot and smashing it as if this batting lark was supposed to be fun after all. He was the go- to guy. The time had come for the Surrey man to own the stage and stop the miserabilism after spending much of 2022 wishing he was somewhere else. Roy had alluded to a chat (or possibly some ego banter) with Kevin Pietersen in an effort to find that freedom.
The opener opined: “I’ve gone out there and just enjoyed myself, tried to impose myself which I don’t think I’ve done over a period of time so it was a nice feeling to go out there and just be myself: chew on some gum, give it the full bravado, say a few things to the opposition, get in the fight a bit and it was a very proud moment.” Roy is clearly the Clint Eastwood of the thirtysomethings left in the team.Embed from Getty Images
Archer Looking to Summer for Heavy Metal Ashes Return
English cricket needs Archer to get back to the status of full new ball business partner. His tussle with Steve Smith at Lord’s was one of the most thrilling since England’s four-piece pace attack roared in for that first morning against Ricky Ponting’s team in 2005. He almost knocked out Marnus Labuschagne too.
The summer of ’23 might be the time for England to throw some rockets at Australia. Archer has taken his first steps back to the launchpad.