England’s Ashes hopes received a welcome shot of adrenaline on Tuesday when Jofra Archer impressed for Sussex’s second XI in his first red-ball match for 11 months to make a compelling case for his inclusion in next week’s second Test against Australia at Lord’s.
The 24-year-old fast bowler took six for 27 as Gloucestershire’s seconds were routed for 79 inside the morning session. More important was that Archer, who has played two T20 matches for Sussex in the past fortnight, got through 12.1 overs without any hint of discomfort from the side strain that had affected him during the World Cup.
He later hit an impressive century with the bat, reaching three figures in 84 balls in his first red-ball match since last September. There was one scare late in that innings of 108, when Archer took a glancing blow on the helmet from the Scotland bowler Adrian Neill, who eventually trapped him lbw. However, after a short break for treatment and no replacement helmet needed, Archer was fine to continue.
Bowling at full pace, Archer had earlier got through three spells – the first of eight overs. He did not hold back either, forcing two players out of the game. The first, Milo Ayres, was hit flush on the grille by a short ball. The 19-year-old continued to bat after treatment but did not reappear when Gloucestershire were fielding. The second was one of his own teammates, Jack Carson, a Sussex academy player, who split the webbing on his left hand taking a sharp slip catch for the final wicket of the Gloucestershire innings.
The opposition, a team containing seven teenagers and only two players over the age of 20, and the setting, the leafy Blackstone Academy ground in rural Sussex, were worlds away from what Archer will face at Lord’s when the second Test starts next Wednesday.
However, with the injured James Anderson out of that match and England reeling from a morale-sapping 251-run defeat in the opening Test at Edgbaston, Archer has provided some much-needed grounds for optimism.
It now appears inevitable, barring further injury setbacks, he will make his Test debut at Lord’s. Given how well he played in the World Cup, taking 20 wickets to help England win the tournament for the first time, his inclusion will hopefully spark an upturn in confidence and form for the rest of the series.
One Australian fully expecting Archer to play next week is Jason Gillespie, the Sussex coach, who told TalkSport: “Look, he’s 100% fit, he’s fine and ready to go. Personally I think England missed a trick by not playing him [at Edgbaston] but he’ll certainly play at Lord’s. He has to play. To be perfectly blunt he had to start the first Test but the powers that be decided he wasn’t quite ready.
“I think we all saw what a great World Cup Jofra Archer had. Pick a guy when he’s in form and going well, so for me it’s a no-brainer. He must play this second Test. He adds another dimension to this England bowling attack – he’s got pace, bounce, movement off the seam, through the air. Four-day cricket, five-day cricket is his best format to appreciate how good he is.” That claim stands up to scrutiny, given Archer’s first-class average is 23.44, compared with 27.59 in List A cricket.
He certainly looked ready in this match, striking twice in his first spell and peppering the inexperienced Gloucestershire team with plenty of short balls.
One interested spectator was Chris Jordan, Archer’s fellow Barbadian and Sussex teammate. “He’s been good ever since the World Cup,” said Jordan. “He had that week break [in Barbados] which did him a lot of good, freed his mind, rested his body and, as you can see from the couple of T20s he’s played and a session here today, he’s more than ready.
“You see that every time a challenge is put in front of him he seems to rise to it. He’s very competitive and he sets himself high standards and he’ll be looking to live up to those. So going into the second Test, he’ll be a big, big asset for England.”