A fine debut season in the Big Bash during the winter of 2017-18 convinced the Rajasthan Royals once and for all that they should take a punt on Jofra Archer.
He took 16 wickets in 12 matches for the Hobart Hurricanes in Australia and impressed with his skill and pace, which regularly pushed 90mph. Before that tournament, Archer had been steadily impressing for Sussex but wasn’t long out of club cricket. His England debut was still more than a year away and while his performances for the Hurricanes were excellent, it was just one tournament. For those reasons, Archer admitted later that he was unsure whether he would be selected in the IPL draft at all.
But the Royals, and a number of other IPL franchises, had been watching during the Big Bash. And they liked what they saw. To them, his talent was obvious. And they wanted in. After a bidding war, Archer was eventually picked up by the Royals for GBP 800,000 in the draft ahead of the 2018 IPL season. Far from worrying about not generating any interest, in the end, Archer received more money from the Royals than he ever thought possible.
He wasted no time in making an impression there either. On his IPL debut in 2018 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, Archer ripped out three Mumbai Indians wickets in the 19th over of their innings – both Pandya brothers and Mitchell McClenaghan – which helped the Royals to a three-wicket victory and him to the player of the match award. He ended up with 15 wickets in that 2018 tournament. It put Archer on the map as a future global superstar, even before he had played for England.
His exploits in the 2018 and 2019 IPLs were a major contributing factor to England including him in their squad for the 2019 World Cup despite his qualification period only having ended a few months earlier. He had not played any international cricket before the 2019 summer but had shown both his big-match temperament and high-class ability numerous times in the IPL. For Eoin Morgan, that was enough to include him in the World Cup squad. For Joe Root, it was enough to include him in the Test side for the Ashes too.
While Archer’s talent surely would have seen him rise to the international arena at some point, the exposure and profile he received at the IPL certainly sped things up. Without that, it is possible that he may not have delivered that crucial Super Over at Lord’s or made such an introduction to Test cricket during the Ashes. He may have had to wait longer for his chance with England. As it was, the IPL made him impossible to ignore. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Indian cricket has been just as important to Archer’s development as English or West Indian cricket has been.
The upcoming Test series will be the first time Archer has played Test cricket in India, though. As he said during a press conference on Tuesday (February 2), “the white ball is different dynamic, you can’t really compare the two.” Archer knows that his success in the IPL will count for little over the next five weeks against arguably the best Test team in the world.
The challenges will be varied. Firstly, Archer has got to deal with a recent lack of match practice. He was given the two Tests against Sri Lanka off last month, allowing him to spend time back home in Barbados. He managed to get some bowling in there and, having arrived in India on January 24, was allowed out of quarantine before the rest of England’s squad to begin training. His last red-ball match was the final Test against Pakistan at the end of August, however. It is hardly ideal. Even so, when asked whether he would be ready for the first Test, Archer replied, simply: “Yes.”
Then there are the pitches, the heat and humidity and the SG ball to contend with, all of which are very different to what he, and the rest of England’s players, are used to at home. It also remains to be seen what role Archer plays. If England’s tactics in Sri Lanka are replicated in India, he may be used in short, sharp bursts much as Mark Wood generally was in both matches in Galle. In that case, Archer will be looked upon to provide aggression and pace in an attempt to unsettle the Indians.
“It doesn’t matter to me, short or long [spells], it doesn’t matter at all,” he said. “Whatever is going to contribute to the win. Whatever’s for the team. If that means me and the other seamers have to do the hard work, then so be it.”
Not that pace and aggression are the only things that Archer offers. He moves the ball off the pitch and in the air and has great skill, including the ability to bowl knuckleballs, yorkers and various cutters. He can also bowl accurately and keep things tight. If the pitches offer the quick bowlers little, and the SG fails to swing or stay hard, those are the sort of skills that might be able to make something out of nothing for England. Archer is far from a one-trick pony.
Nevertheless, there remains work for him to do in Test cricket. His initial introduction, during the 2019 Ashes series, was revelatory. Four Tests, 22 wickets. But things have been tougher of late. On two morale-sappingly flat pitches in New Zealand last winter, Archer took just two wickets in 82 overs worth of toil. He then bowled exceptionally in the opening Test against South Africa at Centurion, picking up a second innings five-wicket haul, before injury struck and forced him out of the rest of the series. Last summer, back to fitness, he averaged a disappointing 45 in four Tests.
This is not to suggest that Archer is anything other than a special talent. Already, he has three five-wicket hauls in Tests, from just 11 matches. It took James Anderson 17 Tests to do that, the same number of games as it took Pat Cummins. And he is still learning about bowling in the longer formats. Outside of Test cricket, Archer has only played 29 first-class matches and just four of those have come outside England. As he says, bowling with the red-ball is very different to bowling with the white-ball. He needs time to develop his long-format game.
Be that as it may, despite a quiet year or so, Archer remains a central part of England’s Test squad. He was rested for Sri Lanka specifically to be ready for this series against India. It represents a chance for him to restate his long-format credentials in the country that gave him the biggest break of his career, setting him on course to where he is today. The challenge will be different to what he has faced before but if Archer can continue his love affair with India over the next four matches, he and England will be very happy indeed.