In his first year as an England international cricketer, Jofra Archer helped win a World Cup, took 22 wickets at 20.27 in four Ashes tests and bagged a 5-for in his only test in South Africa. He made the best batsmen in the world retire hurt, took new ball wickets in tests and ODIs and quickly became one of England's key players. A year on, and Archer has had an underwhelming summer. He managed just eight test wickets at 45, broke the bio-secure bubble and generally struggled to make an impact, only having one brilliant spell. The question many ask, is what next for Jofra Archer?
Some may argue Archer is not good enough to be a test match bowler for England. This, I say, is nonsense. While he has struggled this year, a bowler does not do so well against the Aussies and then be discarded a year later. The challenge for Archer is finding his role in the side as a bowler, something neither he, nor Joe Root and England's management seem to know.
Given his ability to hit above 90mph, Archer could be an option as an enforcer. With Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad holding a monopoly on the new ball, having Archer make batsmen jump around seems a good idea. But this is a poor use of Archer's talents. His short ball is so effective because of it's disguise, and having every ball land in the same spot not only hurts his body, but reduces the impact of his very effective short ball, as it's surprise is countered by repetition.
Lots of discussion on Archer has focused on his pace. He can hit very quick speeds but sometimes doesn't, ergo, questions are asked of him. I would suggest that perhaps bowling every ball at above 90mph takes a lot out of the body, and sometimes Archer simply can't do it. Does this reduce his impact as a bowler? Yes. Does it make him bad and uninterested in winning tests? Of course not. While we'd all love to see Archer bowl at 95mph every ball, some things are not possible, especially if his work load is to be the enforcer that England ask of him.
Last summer, Archer was at his best when he had the new ball. He found movement off the seam, and looked at ease when taking wickets. This is understandable, as one presumes that before the international spotlight was on him, he was taking his wickets for Sussex like this. With the new ball, and the odd bouncer is when Archer is at his best, as we saw when he tormented the West Indies in the early part of their second innings at the Ageas Bowl.
Archer's breaking of the bio-secure bubble ahead of the second test against the West Indies was reckless, but criticism from certain pundits has been borderline racist. A mistake was made, but it should not define his career, and nor should it be seen as a reason to question his hunger, ability or attitude when playing. Just because Archer appears nonchalant, it does not mean he is. Indeed, the cover photo for this article shows the exact opposite of this; the euphoria of victory for one's side at last year's World Cup final. I'd ask readers to remember his battle in the fifth test of the Ashes against Matthew Wade. Archer was angry at his BBL teammate; his passion cannot be questioned.
The battle with Wade does show the challenge for Archer though. The Aussie reached his century, and despite looking all at sea, survived Archer's spell. Yes, it was great short bowling, but, sometimes, it doesn't work. Most of this summer, it hasn't worked for Archer. But that doesn't mean that next time it won't.
But the frustration at Archer's struggles this summer may seem to him hurtful. He has been racially abused on social media; his behaviour is scrutinised at all turns. Given his obvious white ball skills, and the lucrative nature of white ball cricket in the modern game, Archer could easily step back from England. We, and England's management need to appreciate Archer, because losing his skills would be upsetting.
Archer is key for England in all formats. We are quick to judge him, but in eleven tests he's taken 38 wickets at 31.1 and has a brilliant white ball record. He has had a very impressive start, and while 2020 hasn't been his year, he will be back. Maybe we just need to let Jofra be Jofra.