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The moment Jofra Archer revealed his instinct for greatness



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.

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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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Cheteshwar Pujara signs for Gloucestershire for six County Championship games | Cricket



Pujara walks off to applause © Getty Images

Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian top-order batsman, will play six County Championship fixtures for Gloucestershire this season after signing a short-term deal with the club.

Gloucestershire, who will be playing in Division One for the first time since 2005 after winning promotion last season, will be Pujara’s fourth county, following spells at Derbyshire (2014), Yorkshire (2015 and 2018) and Nottinghamshire (2017).

Pujara is one of only two Test specialists in the contracted list of 27 Indian players not to feature in the IPL, making him available for the start of the English season.

His first game will be the season opener against Yorkshire at Headingley on April 12, and he will leave immediately before the T20 Blast starts at the end of May. Qais Ahmad, the Afghanistan legspinner, will play the final six Championship games as well as the whole of the Blast, while the club does not currently have an overseas player for the mid-season games against Somerset and Hampshire.

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Pujara will be the club’s first Indian player since Javagal Srinath in 1995, who took 87 Championship wickets at 19.09 apiece after being recommended to the county by Courtney Walsh.

“I am really excited to get the opportunity to represent Gloucestershire this season,” Pujara said. “The club has a rich cricketing history, and this is a great opportunity to be a part of it and contribute to its success.

“I am grateful to the club for giving me this opportunity and cannot wait to get to Bristol to meet my teammates and score some runs. I have really enjoyed the experience of coming over to the UK and playing county cricket over the last few years and I am looking forward to building on that whilst continuing to improve my game.”

Pujara’s record in County Championship cricket is surprisingly underwhelming. He averages 29.93 across 36 innings in the competition, including a six-game spell with Yorkshire in 2018 in which he failed to make a single half-century.

Richard Dawson, Gloucestershire head coach, said: “Cheteshwar is a player with great temperament who will add international experience to the squad. He is undoubtedly one of the best batsmen in world cricket and we are very fortunate to have him in our squad for the start of the County Championship campaign.

“Adding Pujara to a strong batting line-up gives me great confidence ahead of our opening County Championship matches.”

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Periodic breaks the best way to deal with ‘rigorous’ schedule – Virat Kohli



He has a “rigorous three years” lined up, and Virat Kohli feels taking periodic breaks during the hectic schedule has helped him continue to play all formats of the game, at the international level and the IPL, regularly.

Kohli is one of the busiest cricketers in the international circuit and has often stressed on workload management of the India players, especially the ones playing across formats. The India captain, who was last rested for the Bangladesh T20Is in November 2019 following the World Cup and the series against West Indies and South Africa, also highlighted the added pressure of “being captain”.

“I think it’s been eight or nine years that I have been playing almost 300 days a year with the travelling and practice sessions,” Kohli said ahead of the first Test against New Zealand. “And the intensity is right up there all the time. So it does take a toll on you. I am not saying it’s not something the players are not thinking about. We do choose to take a lot more breaks individually even though the schedule might not allow you to. You are going to see a lot of that in the future from many players. Not just myself, especially from the guys who are playing all three formats. It’s not that easy.

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“Then being captain and having intensity in practice sessions and discussing the game, so it does take a toll on you. So periodic breaks for me seems to work pretty okay. At a time when the body doesn’t respond as well, maybe when I am 34-35, you might have a different conversation at that stage. But, for the next two-three years, I have no issues at all. I can keep going on with the same intensity and I also understand that the team wants a lot of my contribution so that we can ease into another transition phase that we faced some five-six years ago. So the mindset is on the larger picture, and from that point, I am preparing myself for a rigorous three years from now.”

Following back-to-back home series against South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Australia, India arrived in New Zealand for a different challenge of having to play away against a strong opposition, in all three formats. The side’s approach and attitude hasn’t changed, according to Kohli.

“They are intense and very, very fit guys, and they can keep going all day and test your patience, really skilled with what they do as both bowlers and batsmen and obviously brilliant fielders as well. So they don’t give you a lot within the game to sort of bank on or pounce on”

“It [the approach] is not different at all,” he said. “It’s international cricket. Every team needs to be treated in the same manner. Basically, what we do is focus on our strengths. It doesn’t matter how much patience the opposition has.

“I think in New Zealand it’s all about cricket discipline and what the team brings on to the field. They are intense and very, very fit guys, and they can keep going all day and test your patience, really skilled with what they do as both bowlers and batsmen and obviously brilliant fielders as well. So they don’t give you a lot within the game to sort of bank on or pounce on. You need to be wary of the chances that come on the way, and be focussed enough to capitalise on those. So I think it takes a lot more concentration on the field rather than dealing with things off the field in New Zealand.”

India’s opening pair will be a new one, with Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal likely to step out at the top after Shubman Gill, the third option, finished with two low scores. It is expected to be a challenge, especially against the new ball, but Kohli doesn’t want anyone to be under unnecessary pressure.

“Look, these guys [Shaw and Agarwal] have no baggage,” Kohli said. “These guys are not desperate to perform here in any manner or they don’t have any nerves in wanting to do well overseas because they haven’t done well in the past or something like that. I think with a clear head, as Mayank played in Australia, hopefully Prithvi can do the same in New Zealand and Mayank can carry forward that as well.

“A bunch of new guys, they play with a lot of fearlessness and something that can motivate the whole team and give us the starts that we want and not be intimidated by the opposition in any manner.”

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Matt Henry to join New Zealand Test squad as cover for Neil Wagner



Fast bowler Matt Henry has been called up to the New Zealand Test squad as cover for Neil Wagner, who is awaiting the birth of his child. New Zealand Cricket tweeted that Henry will arrive in Wellington on Wednesday evening for the Test starting on Friday.

Henry will join Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Wagner and Kyle Jamieson among the pace options for New Zealand. Even though Lockie Ferguson had returned to the domestic Ford Trophy, coach Gary Stead had said recently that his “loads aren’t anywhere near for us to be able to consider him for four-day [Test] cricket.” Henry, too, has been playing the Ford Trophy but Stead had said picking Jamieson over Henry in the initial squad was a “tough call”.

ALSO READ: Lockie Ferguson not rushing return from calf injury

While Jamieson will be in line for a Test debut after impressing in the recent ODIs, Henry has played 12 Tests, including the Sydney game against Australia last month in which he finished with 1 for 94 and 1 for 54 in New Zealand’s 279-run loss before being dropped.

Overall, Henry has taken 30 Test wickets in his 12 games with an average exceeding 50. He has played two Tests against India – both in India in 2016 – but it was in the World Cup semi-final last year that he troubled them with his 3 for 37 to set up New Zealand’s win.

The hosts will be eager to pose problems for India again, this time because the two Tests count for the World Test Championship, where New Zealand are currently placed sixth with only one win from six games. India, meanwhile, are on top with seven wins from as many games.

Test squad: Kane Williamson (capt.) Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Matt Henry

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