No player has ever had more of an impact on international cricket than Jofra Archer. Three months ago he was little more than that bloke from the Big Bash whom a few people had raved about. Now, he is not just the face of English cricket, but unquestionably the most feared bowler in the world.
Just one test ago, Steve Smith was being lauded as the most gifted player of the modern era and the finest cricketer to grace the game since Sir Donald Bradman. Fast forward a week and England are now more concerned with Smith’s physical well-being than how to get him out.
The Australian batsman has been well and truly humbled and it’s all thanks to one man. Pace has been a word frequently unaffiliated with English bowlers in recent times, yet Archer’s pace is such a devastating weapon, that one would sooner see a hard-Brexit than face one of his deliveries.
Amidst all the speculation regarding England’s batting line-up and the frailties of the top-order, Archer has not only nullified Australia’s principal batting threat, but dampened the worries of another batting collapse. The mind-set now, is not ‘we need a hell of a lot of runs because they’ve got Smith,’ but instead ‘whatever we get, Jofra will get you out cheaper.’
With Smith ruled out for the Third Test because of the blow he sustained at Lords, he may finally be able to get the good night’s sleep he apparently fails to enjoy before match days. One thing that’s for sure though, is that amidst his dreams of more centuries later down the line, the Phantom of the Jofra will be there, inside his mind.
Root cannot become too reliant on Jofra this series though. Whilst his run-up is relatively short, and his action demands far less than that of Mark Wood in comparison, Archer bowled a third of the overs in the second innings, which constitutes the sort of workload you would only expect from a spin-bowler.
Batsman are terrified of Archer and rightly so, yet Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head proved that if you can somehow make it through his first spell unscathed, then things get the tiniest bit easier. Few bowlers have ever been able to generate both the pace and accuracy of Archer, but those who have- Mitchell Johnson in 2013/14 is the obvious example, have been used tactically not desperately.
Chris Woakes was criminally underused at Lords, especially given his record and Ben Stokes has frequently delivered successful spells of short-bowling in the past. England finally have a man that strikes genuine fear into their opposition, but the key to winning this series is not Jofra Archer himself, but rather how and when he is deployed by Joe Root.
The 2019 Ashes thus far have drawn a number of comparisons with the great series of 2005. A first test defeat, a second test epic and the feeling that England were certainly underdogs leading into proceedings. Steve Smith’s unexpected injury mirrors Glen McGrath’s which made so much difference, Joe Root is another Yorkshire born captain who bats at number three and Archer, of course, had a debut which rivals that of Kevin Pieterson.
England have every chance of levelling the series at Headingly starting today and if history is going to continue to repeat itself, we’re in for another classic.