Jofra Archer insists that the dream of playing Test cricket for England remains his ultimate ambition, but admits that a life-changing winter on the global T20 circuit may eventually force him to reassess his priorities in a bid to avoid burn-out.
For the past two years in county cricket, Archer has been quietly recognised as the Next Big Thing, ever since breaking into Sussex’s first team midway through the 2016 season. But it was during his stint with the Hobart Hurricanes in the recent Big Bash that he shot to global prominence, consistently pushing 145kph in claiming 16 wickets at 23.06, as his team finished runners-up to Adelaide Strikers in this year’s final.
Off the back of those performances – which also included some breathtaking moments of all-round skill, such as two incredible run-outs and a nonchalantly brilliant one-handed return catch off Brisbane Heat’s Ben Cutting – Archer was snapped up for GBP 800,000 by Rajasthan Royals in this year’s IPL.
“It is life-changing,” Archer told ESPNcricinfo at Hove, ahead of his departure for India. “I’ll be able to buy my own home, and change my family’s life as well.
“It’s probably the biggest T20 competition outside of international cricket, and I can’t play international cricket at the moment, so it’s probably going to be the biggest challenge of my life so far. I just want to perform as well as I did in the Big Bash and take that form back to Sussex.”
The reason that Archer cannot currently play international cricket is that he has opted to put his England ambitions ahead of those of his native West Indies. He turned 23 this week and is in the early stages of his seven-year residency qualification, which means that his availability for Test cricket won’t be until 2022 at the earliest.
“I just want to tell them, be patient, I’m coming,” was Archer’s message for England’s Test supporters, who might see in his languid and athletic attributes the answer to their long-standing fast-bowling problems.
“[My priorities] won’t change. I think Test cricket is the reason I tried to become a pro, I just hope that the time flies. If it is that I have to wait until 2022, I’m much happier doing what I’ve done this winter and seeing new places, so either way I’m not fussed about waiting.”
Nevertheless, there’s a huge amount that could happen in Archer’s career between now and then, especially given the proliferation of the global T20 leagues. This winter alone, Archer has already featured in the Bangladesh Premier League, the Big Bash and the Pakistan Super League, and is set to embark on another packed county season with Sussex when he returns from the IPL at the end of May.
“For me is about juggling cricket and my family time,” he said. “I’m in England for 210 days a year, and other franchise tournaments limit my family time, but family time is most important to me. If it is that it is going to cut into my family time, I may have to leave a tournament out.
“My family keeps me grounded, keeps me sane,” he said. “I try not to be away for too long, it is very easy to be constantly on the go. l literally left Bangladesh [in December] and went to the Big Bash, within hours of it finishing. You can be here, there and everywhere in a matter of hours.”
His next venture, however, promises to be a step into the unknown, as Archer makes his first foray into the IPL. He will at least have some familiar faces around him, with Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes making for a sizeable English contingent at the Royals, the Jaipur-based franchise which won the inaugural IPL in 2008.
“Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of Jos over the winter,” Archer said. “He was in Bangladesh as well as the Big Bash. I don’t really like bowling to him so it’s really good to have him on my team. And Ben Stokes, he spoke to me as well, after the auction, it’s good to know I have support even before I go there.”
One significant name who won’t be present for this season, however, is Australia’s captain, Steve Smith, who had been set to captain the Royals until his contract was terminated in the wake of the recent ball-tampering scandal.
“The biggest key is not to let it get to you,” he said. “There’s hype in every tournament in whatever tournament you go to, but obviously with Steve Smith not being there now, that probably shifts some of the hype off of me, but I just want to stay clear of that, to be honest.”
With his laid-back Bajan attitude, Archer doesn’t look like the type of guy to let fame and fortune go to his head. But he still remembers clearly the moment his life changed during the IPL auction,
“We’d just finished one of the Big Bash games, I was a bit upset because we lost – it was the last prelim game and we had to hope that Renegades beat Brisbane Heat, and they did – but before that I was a bit upset. So I went into my room to watch the auction, and I still can’t believe that so many teams were bidding for me, and I still can’t believe I went for that much money.”
One man who missed out this time around, however, was Archer’s Sussex team-mate, Tymal Mills, who was himself the stand-out tale of the 2017 auction when Royal Challengers Bangalore paid GBP1.4 million for his tearaway quick bowling. Though Mills is as phlegmatic about his situation as you could wish any player to be, his is a useful cautionary tale about the ups and downs of professional sport.
“I haven’t really spoken to him too much about it as we were still playing at the time and I didn’t want to shift my focus from the Big Bash,” said Archer. “But this year the draft was a bit weird. Guys like Martin Guptill, T, even Chris Gayle didn’t get picked up in the first rounds. So I’m not too sure what the teams are looking for, really, but I just can’t wait to get out there and just do well.
“Two years ago I was playing club cricket, then halfway through that club season I made my debut here with Sussex. And the rest is history really. Everything happens for a reason, I believe that, and I showed that this winter.”