Sun, 18 Aug 2019

Jofra Archer puts England in World Cup fast lane

ESPNCricInfo
10 Jun 2019, 04:42 GMT+10

12:59 PM ET

We live in momentous times. Times which make us question things we thought as indubitable. So the Moon, we're told, is part of Mars; Dwayne Leverock, we now know, has the build of a heavyweight champion; and members of the Rolling Stones could be forgiven for reading about Tory leadership candidates and murmuring "those lads should take it easy".

But, most surprisingly of all, England have the fastest bowling attack at the World Cup. That's England, whose typical answer to the heavy artillery aimed at them on Ashes tours is to pick several fast-medium seamers; the equivalent of tutting a little when confronted by muggers in the street. And then handing over your wallet.

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This is the 12th World Cup but surely the first in which England have had the two fastest bowlers. In the last few days, four England seamers - Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes - have registered 90mph/145kph and two (Archer and Wood) have hit 95mph/153kph. And while there was much to encourage England in Cardiff, perhaps the most eye-catching moment came from one of those fast bowlers.

When Archer bowled Soumya Sarkar, so much pace did the ball have on it that, having clipped the top of the stumps, it carried over the boundary before bouncing again. It wasn't the longest boundary - perhaps 55-60 metres - but it was an unusual and compelling sight that underlined the impression: England have a gem in Archer.

The man himself admitted he had not seen such an incident before. "It's probably the first," he said. "I've seen it go for six off a helmet before. But this is the first time I've seen it go off the stumps."

That reference to a batsman's helmet - a not especially subtle reminder of his pace and hostility - is fast becoming typical. This is, after all, the man who was tweeting way back in 2013 that batsmen would require two helmets when playing against him. So even while he insists that bowling well is more important to him than bowling fast, he makes the point about how fast he's bowling; note the way he says "just 90" mph.

"It's nice to see [high speeds]," he said, "but I'm much more concerned about bowling well. If I bowl at just 90 and I'm bowling well, I'd be much happier than bowling fast and going for six or seven an over."

Equally, when asked if he felt batsmen didn't like facing him, he made the point that he posed physical danger, or at least discomfort, as much as cricketing challenge. "I think you saw someone got hit twice on Saturday," he said. "If I get hit once I don't want to be there anymore really. Imagine getting hit twice..." The (largely) unspoken implication? He's quick. And we'd better not forget it.

His reaction to a question suggesting Wood's pace might be pushing him on was intriguing. "I'm a little bit quicker than him," he said, politely but firmly. And when it was pointed out that Wood actually bowled the quickest delivery against Bangladesh, he simply denied it. "No, he didn't," Archer said, dismissing the idea as if it was preposterous. Eventually he conceded: "It's good competition to have someone at the other end. It pushes you to do a bit better."

It does appear to be working that way. At present, Wood and Archer are trading records like schoolboys might exchange boasts. Moments after Archer set a new mark for the quickest ball of the tournament (95.09mph/153kph), Wood set another one (95.69/154kph). And moments after Archer set a record for the quickest average pace (90.68mph) in an opening spell for England in ODI cricket, since such records began in 2006, Wood set one for the fastest average speed for a bowler in the tournament (86.79mph, versus Archer's 86.75mph). All figures, provided by CricViz, exclude slower balls.

"Only Woody's speed came up [on the scoreboard]," Archer complained with tongue only partially in cheek. "So it was a bit... well, a bit biased really."

Archer has one significant advantage over Wood. For while Wood appears to be permanently on the edge of injury, Archer looks able to generate a similar pace without forcing his body to the brink. He makes the desperately tough task of fast bowling appear relatively easy.

"I feel niggles here and there," he said. "But nothing to stop me from playing. I'll just keep going."

He is certainly not going to want to miss England's next match. While he insisted "it's just another game", the fact it is against West Indies - and we surely don't need to go into Archer's backstory again here - does add piquancy. And his knowledge of the opposition could provide some useful insight for England.

"It's just another game of cricket; same as the last game," he said. "I know them pretty good. I played with a few of the guys at Under-19 level, so it will be good to actually play against them this time.

"I'll be able to share some knowledge, but I do that whenever we play. I played against and with some of the Bangladeshi guys in the BPL and I guess I'll share some knowledge when we play India and Australia. It's not just the West Indies: I've got a pretty good knowledge of most of the prominent batters.

"Some of my family are over right now, too, so they will go to that game. They will just want me to do well."

The game will only serve to increase interest in Archer. So will the Ashes that follow. His life has changed radically over the last few weeks and, you suspect, we're just at the start. One week you can nip to Tesco in your pyjamas, the next you're sharing a sofa with Pauline Quirke on breakfast TV and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear. And despite one underwhelming game against Pakistan - Archer conceded 79 in his 10 overs and was fined for dissent - he seems to be taking it all in his stride. He knows there will be some poor days among the good but he trusts the latter will significantly outnumber the former.

"I never doubted myself," he said. "If you're doubting yourself I don't think you're ready. You probably shouldn't be here if you're doubting yourself.

"I didn't really notice the step up [to international cricket]. I've been playing competitive cricket for the last few years against the same guys, really, so it doesn't really change anything. The only thing that changes is your uniform.

"I don't think I did anything different [on Saturday] than at Trent Bridge. I wasn't cross, I was a bit emotional. Every game I play I'm very emotional. I take my cricket very seriously.

"The wickets change, the batters change, conditions change. You know that sometimes you won't have a good day and the good balls might go for boundaries. You just keep a level head and keep bouncing back."

That attitude, that pace, that hostility: it all bodes well for England.

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