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The moment Jofra Archer revealed his instinct for greatness

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There was a revealing moment as Jofra Archer walked off the pitch having just completed the first five-wicket haul of his Test career.

Thrown the ball by team-mates who recognised the significance of the occasion – there will, no doubt be more five-wicket hauls, but there will never be another first – Archer did not, initially, at least, raise it to soak up the applause of the crowd. Instead, he continued to rub it on his trousers; still looking for the shine that might help him gain some swing.

It was a moment reminiscent, perhaps, of the way in which Jonathan Trott, at his best, would sometimes mark his guard even after he had guided his side to a victory in a match. For these are men so locked in their craft, so consumed by their profession, that it becomes instinctive to work on it even when the immediate targets have been hit.

ALSO READ: Warner makes own fortune on return to form

That craft was evident in Archer here. After showing the fire and brimstone side to his game at Lord’s, where he achieved a pace of 96mph and displayed that wonderfully unpleasant bouncer, here Archer reasoned that conditions called for different skills. So instead of looking to make the batsmen jump and parry, he sought to draw them onto the front foot and exploit conditions which saw the ball move sharply through much of the day.

That is a remarkably mature approach for a young man playing just his second Test. Many of this crowd would have longed to see him unleash the sort of deliveries that had Lord’s on the edge of their seats last week and many of them roared him in at the start of the day. So despite claiming one wicket – Marcus Harris caught behind of an almost perfect delivery that demanded a stroke and moved fractionally to kiss the edge – in his opening spell, there was a slight sense of anti-climax as it finished. This had been a demonstration of subtlety, skill and control. And when you’re dressed as Elvis, a banana, or a monk – and that accounts for a fair few in the Headingley crowd on Thursday – subtlety can get a bit lost.

But this was exactly the approach taken by the likes of Malcolm Marshall or Richard Hadlee in such conditions. And Archer’s ability to nip the ball both ways, using both seam and swing, while maintaining that full length that allowed the ball the chance to swing and demanded a stroke from the batsmen. After producing a hostile performance at Lord’s that would have made Mitchell Johnson proud, he produced a skilful performance here that would have done the same for James Anderson. To be capable of both approaches is immensely encouraging for England.

“I don’t need to run in and bowl 90mph every spell to get wickets,” Archer said afterwards. “I’ve shown that today. There will be times in Test matches you have to focus on hitting your length. There will be times to ramp it up as well but you don’t have to go into it every innings.

“This wasn’t a wicket where you had to run in and bowl 90mph. It was a bit softer on top; there was a bit of swing and nip. If you put it in the right areas you should get wickets.”

That’s not to say Archer did not display sharp pace here. By the time he was recalled to the attack for his second spell, Australia were 124-2 and England were in real danger. In these conditions, that was a fine score. The support bowlers had failed to maintain the control of the openers and, at one stage, 88 runs had been leaked from 14 overs. The thought remains that, had they all bowled tighter, Australia may have struggled to score many more than 100 in such conditions. England may yet struggle in reply.

As a result, Archer appeared to go up a gear. Having beaten David Warner with an 88mph delivery that nipped past his outside edge, the next ball – timed at a fraction under 90 mph – demanded a stroke and again took the edge on its way to the keeper. The word ‘unplayable’ is overused, but the best most batsmen could hope to do with such a delivery was miss it. The wicket precipitated a sharp decline which saw Australia lose eight wickets for 43. Coincidentally, 8 for 43 were the figures Bob Willis took here in that famous game in 1981. Archer’s haul of 6-45 was the best by an England bowler in the Ashes at Headingley since.

Later, Warner compared him to Dale Steyn – in terms of his skills and his ability to up his pace as required – and Jasprit Bumrah – in terms of the difficulty in picking up his lengths from his action. Look at the names mentioned in this article so far: Marshall; Hadlee; Steyn; Bumrah. These are some of the best there have ever been. England have something very special here.

“It was incredible Test bowling,” Warner said of Archer and Broad’s opening spells. “It was world-class bowling at its best. They bowled unbelievably well and a play and miss became a good shot.”

Is this praise premature? Well, we’ll see. But Archer really does appear to have the armoury – the control, the pace, the skills and the robust body – to suggest he can sustain the bright start to his career. Indeed, when his captain eventually realises that he is the man who should be running in down the hill, and he is the man who should bowl in shorter spells, it’s possible his figures could even improve. He bowled at the wrong end for much of this innings and conceded runs as a result of the unusually attacking fields.

The one cloud on his horizon is his workload. Already, he has delivered 61.1 overs in this series and this was just the third innings in which he has bowled. By contrast, Broad has delivered fewer than 50 overs in the same timeframe. Overall, England have delivered 194.1 overs since Archer came into the Test side, meaning he has bowled almost a third of them. That is not sustainable.

So while it is understandable that Joe Root turns to him in every situation – the Ashes are on the line here, after all – it has to change. While he’s shown he is far more than a tearaway with a magnificent bouncer, that top register of pace remains a significant weapon. Even in this innings, he produced the odd sharp bouncer which would have had batsmen just a little reluctant to prop onto the front foot. England need to help him retain that pace. Johnson, at his best, rarely bowled spells of longer than three or four overs.

It was that weariness that was most apparent straight after the game. Asked by the BBC how he felt about that first five-for, his instinctive response was to reply: “It means I get to rest now. I’m over the moon to have got six wickets today, but I’m equally happy just to get off.”

That sustains a familiar theme. Following the Lord’s Test, Archer tweeted a picture of an old man struggling to raise himself from a chair with a stick for help and wrote: “Me getting out of bed tomorrow morning.”

It was a joke, of course, but it was also a warning. Bowlers like Archer come along, for England at least, very rarely. He’s already helped England to a World Cup and he might just have got them back in an Ashes series. He needs looking after. He needs protecting. We’re only at the start of Archer’s international journey, but already he has shown an array of skills that whisper the potential of greatness.



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Not v Wor: First semi-final match-ups

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Nottinghamshire go into Finals Day’s first semi-final as favourites with the bookmakers, but have struggled in recent games against Worcestershire. Player-on-player match-ups and tactical phases are a crucial part of modern T20’s vocabulary: here are the battles to watch out for…

How do Notts solve a problem like Moeen?

It may seem unlikely to those used to seeing him struggle against Nathan Lyon with a red ball and white clothing, but Moeen Ali is an excellent player of spin in T20 cricket, and his five Blast innings this season have brought him 312 runs with a strike-rate of 175.28. Clearly, he is the key man for Worcestershire on Saturday.

Moeen has strong match-ups against two Nottinghamshire bowlers in particular, scoring 45 runs off the 23 balls he has faced from Samit Patel in the Blast, and 32 off 13 against Dan Christian.

The pace-off option offered by Steven Mullaney may prove a good one for Notts – he has gone at under a run a ball against Moeen in the Blast – though after he missed the group stage due to injury, picking Mullaney would be a big call.

In the past three years, few teams have risked offspin against Moeen early on, but he has only scored 22 off 23 balls against it in the powerplay, so Notts should persevere with their tactic of using Matt Carter in the first six overs.

At the death, Moeen’s scoring rate is 14.52 runs per over since the start of 2017 – if he takes the game deep, Notts are in serious trouble.

Bowl left-armers to Whiteley

Ross Whiteley is yet to find his best form in the competition, but still has a strike-rate of 151.96. He destroys right-arm pace at the death, but struggles comparatively against fellow southpaws.

His scoring rate against left-arm spin in the middle overs is a conservative 7.30 runs per over, and against left-arm seamers at the death he is out every 7.9 balls he faces. It might make sense, then, to use Patel against him when he first comes in, before turning to Harry Gurney (though more on that below) and Luke Wood at the death.

Whiteley also takes the best part of ten balls to get set. His strike-rate five balls into his innings is just 82.55, but after a few sighters he can fly through the gears; Christian should start with an attacking field rather than letting him knock a single off his first few balls as is his wont.

Hatching a Hales plan

If Moeen is Worcestershire’s undisputed star, then Notts will expect similar heroics from Alex Hales, who has an immense wealth of experience playing worldwide.

The good news for Moeen is that there is a clear chink in Hales’ armoury with regards his relatively poor record against left-arm spin in the Blast: in the past three years, he has faced 24 balls from left-arm spinners in the middle overs, scoring 29 runs for three dismissals. The bad news is that Worcestershire have no such bowler in their squad.

And that issue does not extend to all balls turning away from the bat: in the last three Blast seasons he scored at 11.14 runs per over against legspin in the middle overs, so Moeen should not be tempted to use Brett D’Oliveira unless he has a cunning masterplan.

The best player-on-player match-up available to Worcestershire against Hales is either Wayne Parnell, whose 17 balls against him in Blast cricket have yielded only 19 runs, and one wicket, or indeed Moeen himself. Moeen has bowled 22 balls at Hales in all T20, giving up 21 runs and dismissing him twice; though one of those came only thanks to a physics-defying AB de Villiers catch in the 2018 IPL.

Adapting to Gurney’s threat

Gurney is the most important bowler at the death for Nottinghamshire, and Worcestershire would be well advised to try to manufacture a match-up that works against him for the last five overs.

Since the start of 2017, Gurney’s figures at the end of an innings are brilliant, but there is a reasonable split between his efforts against right-handers (economy rate 8.62) and left-handers (10.50) in that phase.

It would be worth making sure that Parnell, Moeen, or Hamish Rutherford manufacture the strike in a right-hand/left-hand partnership at the death when Gurney is bowling, while the difference in his records adds a further layer of importance to how Notts deal with Whiteley’s threat.

Whiteley’s record against Gurney is very good, and he is the best death hitter out of Worcestershire’s lefties; he is the man most likely to take him down.



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Waqar looks to reignite chemistry with Misbah

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When Waqar Younis twice served as the Pakistan head coach in the past – 2010 to 2011 and 2014 to 2016 – Misbah-ul-Haq was the Test captain on both occasions. Three-and-a-half years since his last stint with the team, Waqar has returned to the support staff set-up as the bowling coach and Misbah is now the head coach.

Waqar will, as a result, work under Misbah after the PCB overhauled the support staff that was led by Mickey Arthur until the World Cup. Waqar and Misbah have shared a cordial relationship and the former fast bowler brings with him loads of coaching experience. This will be his fifth term in the Pakistan support staff, having served twice as the head coach, as the bowling coach in 2006-07, and the bowling and fielding coach briefly in 2009-10.

His two stints as head coach had not ended on a good note earlier as he resigned both times before the end of his tenure. In 2011 he stepped down amid differences with then limited-overs captain Shahid Afridi and in 2016 he quit after a dispute with the PCB’s management following that year’s T20 World Cup.

Will working under Misbah be a “demotion” of sorts for Waqar? He doesn’t think so.

“As far as thinking like it’s a demotion, it’s only a myth that you go up or down,” Waqar said. “Our goal is how to make Pakistan a better team. For me the exciting thing is to try and help some of the promising youngsters who are in the pipeline, and some more who will come in the near future too.

“You come directly under a head coach as it’s his domain and you work according to his mindset. The others are helping hands like the fielding coach and bowling coach. We will try to help Misbah as much as possible and move forward.

“In three years lots of things have changed,” Waqar said when asked what made him come back. “The format has changed in domestic cricket, new people have come, there are new coaches, new thinking has come. I am not here to make controversies, I will try to make the Pakistan bowling attack a good one.”

Waqar clarified that he wasn’t “mentally ready” to apply for the post of head coach again and he knew that Misbah was the main contender for the job. Waqar applied for the bowling coach position and he was the main candidate after another shortlisted applicant, Mohammad Akram, withdrew at the last minute.

“I decided that I wasn’t mentally ready to get back into the set-up [as head coach] so I applied for bowling coach,” Waqar said. “I think I have a very good chemistry with Misbah, I’ve got a very good understanding with him and it will help in the future. The PCB has given Misbah an opportunity and it’s our responsibility to support and back him because he’s a very honest man and passionate about the game.

“My role is very simple and well-defined. I had done both the roles as a head coach and a bowling coach so I have an idea. The best thing is that I know about Misbah’s mindset because whatever coaching I had done was with Misbah as the captain.”

Their first assignment together will be two limited-overs series against Sri Lanka starting September 27 in Karachi with three ODIs followed by as many T20Is in Lahore next month. Currently, Waqar and Misbah are holding a training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore where Waqar is working with young fast bowlers.

“The emphasis of the camp is on training and fitness, we are always focusing on fitness with our bowlers,” Waqar said. “We have bowlers in the pipeline like Mohammad Hasnain and Nasim Shah and in the next few months they will come on the scene.

“The best thing is Sri Lanka is coming, it’s a plus for Pakistan, and other teams should also come. Our short-term goal is that we should win matches early on and build the confidence.”



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‘Disappointed is an understatement’ – Liam Plunkett hits out at white-ball contract snub

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Liam Plunkett has said that “disappointment is an understatement” after he was surprisingly overlooked in England’s list of centrally contracted white-ball players for 2019-20.

Plunkett played a key role in England’s maiden World Cup triumph this summer, including three wickets in their victory in the final against New Zealand at Lord’s, and has claimed a total of 96 ODI wickets at 28.01 in the four years since the last World Cup in 2015, more than any other England white-ball seamer.

However, at the age of 34, Plunkett has been considered by the ECB management to be past his prime as they begin to gear their white-ball squads towards next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia and ultimately the defence of their 50-over title in India in 2023, by which stage he will be 38.

Explaining the decision at Lord’s on Friday, Ashley Giles, England’s director of men’s cricket, praised Plunkett’s contribution as a “fantastic servant” to the white-ball team, but pointed out that his pace had dipped in recent seasons and that a team with an eye to the future had a duty to prioritise a new generation of bowlers – not least Tom Curran, who was a non-playing member of England’s World Cup squad, and the Lancashire paceman, Saqib Mahmood, who is expected to be named in England’s T20 squad next week, for their five-match tour of New Zealand.

“Plunkett has been … one of Eoin [Morgan]’s go-to men,” Giles said. “But moving into a new cycle of four years, before the 50-over World Cup and two T20 World Cups, he probably didn’t fit those future needs for the next 12-24 months, which is tough.

“He’s one of the most physical men we have in our line-ups. He’s incredibly fit and strong, but in terms of the numbers, I guess his paces have been down a little bit for some time.

“His best came in that role in the World Cup, and the World Cup final. He should be really proud of that achievement, and what they did as a team, but everything moves on for all of us.”

Writing in his Independent column after the World Cup win, Plunkett conceded he had “definitely” played in his last 50-over World Cup, but had vowed to “stick around in the game for a little longer”.

He took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to express his disappointment at the decision, although he later clarified: “I am really happy for all the boys who got contracted. I am not having a pop at anyone just disappointed I didn’t get one.”

Giles added: “We’re not saying that the door’s closed, but just in terms of the core of that team, which is where those contracts are offered, he probably just misses out. It’s difficult to be the person who puts that pen through the name, but that’s cricket.”

Another player on whom the door is not closed is Alex Hales, despite being stripped of his white-ball contract in the wake of the positive tests for recreational drug use that led to his sacking from the World Cup squad.

Hales has a prominent opportunity to make his case for an England recall on T20 Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday, where Nottinghamshire take on the defending champions Worcestershire in the first semi-final.

Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore, who were stood down from England Lions duty following inappropriate off-field behaviour, were also given a clean slate as Giles cited the recent example of Ben Stokes to show that players who make career-threatening errors of judgement can earn themselves second chances.

“The door isn’t closed on Alex, or certainly those other guys,” he said. “They’ve served whatever time they had to serve. It will come down to performance, and there is always an element of culture and team cohesion.”

In the short term at least, Hales might find his path back to the England squad blocked by the captain, Eoin Morgan, who was scathing in his assessment of Hales’ character when explaining the reasoning behind his World Cup axing.

“Eoin talked about that element of trust, and has there been enough time to make up for that?” said Giles. “Maybe, maybe not … that’ll come down to Eoin and the selectors, but the door is still open. He’s a fantastic T20 player and, you know, a mistake shouldn’t haunt you for life. As we’ve seen very good other example this year.”

After a period of reflection in the wake of the World Cup win, Morgan recently confirmed that he was ready to carry on as England captain, a development that delighted Giles, especially given that the concurrent departure of the coach Trevor Bayliss would have left the white-ball squad rudderless in the interim.

“We met about a month after the World Cup final, and he wanted some time to consider his future, which is just the way Morgs operates,” Giles said. “He’s very sensible, very logical. And thankfully, he rang me a couple of weeks after that, and said, I’m absolutely fully committed to going forward. And I’m looking forward to it, refreshed.

“That first month was probably a bit of a haze for him anyway,” he added. “But he’s probably dried out a bit and come around, and I’m delighted. He is a fantastic leader of men in that dressing room. And with us losing Trev, it’s important we maintain some consistency and that leadership going forward.”

Morgan’s role in moulding the England team post-2015 has been well documented. But Giles believes that, even if he is unable to take the side all the way to the 2023 World Cup (by which stage he will be 36), the groundwork already laid is such that Jos Buttler (or AN Other candidate) would be well placed to take over at shorter notice.

“To give Jos that responsibility now, I think, is a lot for him, given he’s playing across all three formats. But is he a future leader? Quite possibly. And given where the white-ball team is, perhaps we can manage that transition better.

“But just because we’re world champions, we can’t just keep doing the same stuff. When the new coach comes in, his relationship with the captains is going to be important. And we will need different things in both environments, because the white-ball environment is probably more mature in how they play their cricket than the Test environment. But both are really exciting opportunities.”



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