Ben Jones analyses one of the more remarkable England debuts.
It is hard to recall the last time an England player debuted in a Test match and had such a profound impact. Not necessarily on the result – England still head into the next Test without a win under their belt in this series – but on the atmosphere surrounding a team, the personality of an XI, the vibe. Jofra Archer has set English cricket alight.
The reason? Speed, pure speed. England are used to facing turbo-charged Australian bowlers, then countering the pace with their own battery of skillful swingers and seamers, grey skies and green pitches the perfect foil to the old enemy’s greatest threat. That’s the natural order of things, in this rivalry.
Yet throughout this Test, and hopefully in many more to come, Archer has offered Joe Root something different to the rest of the bowlers. Archer wasn’t just the quickest bowler in the attack, he was the quickest bowler on show full stop, in either dressing room. For the first time since the opening game of the 2013 Ashes, when Steve Finn’s average pace was 139.95kph, and Englishman was the fastest bowler in an Ashes Test.
The excitement around Archer’s pace has centred on the ball which hit Smith, of course. Deservedly. It was a frightening ball in every sense and it provided a moment of genuine brutality, the kind of which is rare regardless of which teams are involved. Yet whilst the single moment was what drew the focus, what really made English fans start to quiver with excitement and optimism was how Archer came back, time and time again deep into those spells, and was still hitting those top speeds. He didn’t just bowl the fastest ball of the match, the fastest over, or even just the fastest spell, but the five fastest spells in a Test with plenty of other men capable of hitting those incredible heights.
England have a world class bowler arriving into Test cricket as part of the elite, a man who bowls almost as fast as any comparable bowler on the planet; only Mitchell Starc, a player whose action offers vast pace with the significant compromise of reduced accuracy, can claim to be significantly quicker.
It was unfamilar territory for the crowd at Lord’s. This wasn’t what they were used to, not in the slightest. An England bowler in home conditions, yet Archer didn’t really swing the ball at all. He can swing it, when the conditions are right – anyone who’s seen the viral clips of batsmen being bowled after leaving Archer’s hooping inswingers will be aware – but in the Second Test, it was the seam movement which was his primary weapon. He found more deviation off the pitch than anyone in the game, comfortably more in fact. There’s an irony that the man swinging it more than any other travels on an Australian passport.
Perhaps this aids Archer in terms of his control. He’s not pushing the ball particularly full looking for lateral movement through the air, but rather hitting the channels just back of a length, over and over as we’ve seen him do in white ball cricket. It means that Archer’s control at Lord’s stood out almost as much as his speed.
His economy was just 2.06rpo – the last time an England seamer bowled as many deliveries as Archer did a single match, and recorded a lower economy rate, was Stuart Broad during the last Ashes tour. The last time an England seamer not called Broad or Anderson managed to do so was Ryan Sidebottom, in 2008. Those are all bowlers who operate in the mid 80mph range at best, generally, so for Archer to be matching their economy and control at the speed he works at, is quite the achievement.
The underlying point here is that Archer’s unusual route into international cricket, means that more than most, he is already the complete bowler. The need for him to remain in England for residency reasons has limited his exposure to T20 tournaments around the world, and has meant that he’s played more FC cricket than you might expect for such a talented white ball bowler.
Steven Finn had 94 FC wickets when he made his Test debut; Archer had 131. Finn had bowled 4858 deliveries; Archer 5953. Finn felt generational when he came through, and was just as quick as Archer, but was significantly more raw, less complete; Archer has more miles in the legs, and seems to know his game better. It’s not an exact comparison, for several important reasons but for two England quicks debuting near enough a decade apart, the differences are stark.
Archer’s debut match will live long in the collective memory, perhaps only clouded by his own future achievements and exploits. There is, already, a sense of “where were you” circling around the Smith delivery, a ball bowled in the fifth spell of his Test match career. All being well, there’s so much to come in this young man’s career – for England, his arrival is the most important since Kevin Pietersen. It feels, in earnest, like the beginning of a new era of English cricket.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.