Ben Jones analyses another big day for the young quick.
Lord’s was the set-up, Leeds was the punchline. Some, bizarrely, watched Jofra Archer’s performance in the Second Test and saw only a relatively barren wickets column. All those bouncers, all that pace, was just for show, with no substance behind it. Well, the first day of this Test rather nipped that in the bud.
Lord’s was a flat pitch, albeit with inconsistent bounce, and Archer recognised this. As everyone knows, he bowled with extreme pace, his average speed in the first innings almost 142kph. Shortly before he hit Steve Smith on the head, he bowled the fastest over by an Englishman in the entire CricViz database, which goes back to 2006. On that pitch which, if we’re honest, was a tough surface for bowlers, Archer did what he had to do – bend his back, and throw the ball down with flames on it.
Yesterday, he also did what he needed to do. It was a grey, foul day in Leeds, the players on and off the field throughout. Whether such days benefit batsmen or bowlers more is up for debate, but the actual conditions themselves were about as far in the favour of the bowlers as you can imagine. The ball was swinging 1.22°, seaming 0.9° (both above average for Test cricket in England), the moisture in the air perhaps helping the lateral movement, the damp aiding the nip off the pitch. Unlike at Lord’s, the conditions were offering the bowlers something – and Archer took it.
With that movement available, he went down through the gears in terms of pace, and pitched the ball up. His pace, reduced by 4kph from last match, was no longer the main weapon. In that Test, 18% of his deliveries were full of length; on day one at Leeds, it was 44%.
When he needed to, when he sensed that something was happening, Archer was still capable of cranking it up. The ball from which dismissed David Warner was 142.88kph, the second quickest Archer had bowled all day at that point. It was in and of itself an excellent delivery, but more importantly it showed that Archer’s lack of pace was not simply a result of being overbowled at Lord’s, but rather an intelligent tactical choice from a man in his second ever Test. It was a conscious choice to adapt to the situation at hand.
The sort of bowling we saw from Archer yesterday has implications well beyond this game, or even this series. Joe Root is yet to really stamp his mark on this Test side. He’s been captain for over two years, and has had plenty of success, as well as plenty of failures, but the lack of a clear playing style is notable. Yet the hand he’s been dealt – and experienced pair of legendary seamers, who know exactly how they want to go about their business – makes any sort of tactical expression quite hard. Broad and Anderson know what they are, and know what they’re good at.
Archer, it seems, can be anything Root wants him to be. On a dead wicket, he can bowl rockets and wait for inconsistent bounce to do the damage; in traditional English conditions, he can pitch it up, hit the seam, and exploit the lateral movement while saving his real pace for another spell, another day.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.