One week before the start of the ICC World Cup in England and Wales, Jofra Archer, the Barbados-born new England fast bowling all-rounder continues to be a big talking point.
Archer, 24, was named in England’s final 15-man squad on Tuesday – just over two weeks after making his international debut. He has played three One-Day Internationals and a Twenty20 International.
It is a dramatic rise to international recognition against the background of being fast-tracked by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Born to a Barbadian mother, Joelle Waithe and an English father, Frank Archer, he was educated in Barbados at Hilda Skeene Primary School and Christ Church Foundation School, where he made his mark as a cricketer before representing both the Barbados and West Indies Under-19 teams.
Archer has never played first-class or one-day cricket for Barbados but he made his first-class debut in 2016 for Sussex against Pakistan and impressed with four for 49 in the first innings.
One year later, in a 13-match campaign – his first full season – Archer scored 638 runs (ave: 45.57) and took 61 wickets at 25.29 runs each, resulting in Sussex giving him a three-year contract. He was Sussex’s leading wicket-taker in the first-class Championship and their third highest run-scorer.
Interest in whether he wanted to represent West Indies or England then heightened significantly.
Initially he had to spend seven full years completing his residency qualification, which would have made him available to England by 2021-22. But when the ECB reduced that period to three years, he suddenly became available in March this year.
“I had got it in my head that I’d have to wait seven years,” he said. “Then back in December, they obviously changed it a little bit, but I was prepared to wait however long it would take,” Archer was quoted as saying.
Yet, it is no secret that outstanding performances in T20 domestic competitions, namely with Hobart Hurricanes in the Australian Big Bash and Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League, kept him in the spotlight.
Observers also point to the fact that he had played just 14 one-day (50-over) matches in his professional career prior to his England call-up, but Archer stressed he was not worried by the lack of specific experience.
“I think I’m ready. I’ve played a lot of cricket outside of 50 overs. And I know to deal with the pressure of crowds. Obviously because I was playing franchise cricket, that was the reason why I wasn’t able to play much List A cricket for Sussex, but you don’t forget how to bowl. And I think you get more opportunities to bowl than in T20s, you get another six extra overs there to take more wickets,” he said.
His selection on the England team would have been helped as well by impressive speed, clocking 90 miles per hour, along with his versatility as both a new-ball and death-overs bowler.
Archer was understandably overjoyed at his selection.
“I got a call from Ed Smith (chairman of selectors) yesterday (Monday), maybe at about six o’clock or so,” Archer said. “I was actually driving at the time and I just felt the phone vibrate and I answered it without looking at it. It is really, really exciting to be part of a big summer of English cricket.”
Another interesting story was highlighted yesterday at the World Cup captains press conference in East London when Virat Kohli, the India captain and World No. 1 ranked batsman in both Test and ODI cricket, said it was a great compliment to have been name-checked by Archer as the wicket he most wants to claim in the World Cup.
According to Kohli, Archer is a “world-class bowler and a great athlete”.
Archer had said on Tuesday that he wanted to get Kohli’s wicket above all others – not least because, in their four IPL clashes to date, his Rajasthan Royals team-mate Shreyas Gopal had dismissed him before he could get him in his sights.
“I’d quite like to get Virat out, because I wasn’t able to get him in the IPL because I think a leggie [Gopal] got him in every game he played,” Archer said.
Kohli commented: “I take a lot of pride in performing well for the team and making a big impact on each game I play so, if Jofra said that, it’s a big compliment as he himself is a world-class bowler.
“The way he has come through at the IPL over the last couple of years, I have seen him and he’s played all round the world and done well, so there’s a good reason why he’s been fast-tracked into playing for England in a tournament like the World Cup.
“I think he’s going to be the X-factor because he has all the skillsets and he’s very different from anyone else. He can generate a lot of pace which can be intimidating and you don’t really expect that from his run-up. He’s just a great athlete and I’m sure the England team will be delighted to have him and he will be exciting to watch at the World Cup. I personally will be watching his bowling because whatever I’ve seen of him he is really impressive.”
While other West Indian-born players have represented England in Tests, ODIs and T20Is, Archer’s selection is unquestionably the most sensational.
He was originally a spinner and a member of the champion Foundation School Under-13 team before turning to pace bowling.
And Archer can argue that 2013 was a big year for him and Foundation as they captured three titles. He played a key role in helping Foundation to win the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Intermediate division three-day Championship, as he excelled with both bat and ball in the Final against Isolation Cavaliers, whose side included former Barbados and West Indies opening batsman Dale Richards, at the Pickwick Club ground, Foursquare Oval. Archer scored an attacking 86 at No. 9, and took five for 50 as Foundation gained first innings lead and were duly promoted to the First division where they have remained ever since.
The Church Hill boys also retained the Schools’ Under-19 trophy and grabbed the Goddard Enterprises Schools’ title in 2013.
Archer impressed for Barbados Youth in the Elite division Championship that season as well. In six matches, he scored 249 runs and was second in the overall batting averages with 62.25. He took 19 wickets at 17.36 runs each, which put him ninth in the overall bowling averages.
It was, therefore, hardly a surprise that he was named the Most Improved Youth Cricketer by the BCA for the 2013 domestic season.
For those who have followed Archer’s career closely, there will be mixed feelings about his selection on the England team.
In 2017 (October) during a Barbados trial match at Bayfield while he was on holiday, I had the privilege of interviewing him and he spoke frankly on the issue of his likely international preference.
And he disclosed that he has a very high regard for another Barbados-born England player, Christopher Jordan, his Sussex teammate and close friend, who was instrumental in getting him to play for the club after facing him in a net session in Barbados.
Jordan, 30, represented Barbados in the regional first-class Championship in 2012 and 2013 before playing for England in all versions of the game. Their friendship is so tight that Archer has described Jordan as being “like family”.
“Christopher is like family. Getting to play in England was the beginning but it stretches much further. It is just not cricket related. We also play football together,” Archer said in the interview as he was preparing for a hectic schedule.
In relation to representing Barbados, he said then: “If scheduling permits, I would love the opportunity to play for Barbados. Ideally I would have wanted to make my first-class debut for Barbados. It didn’t work out but I am still keen to play for Barbados. I haven’t ruled it out.”
Pressed about whether he was desirous of playing for West Indies or England, Archer responded: “I think my style of bowling suits the English conditions. Having the opportunity to play for Sussex, I just think that I am a better fit in England.”
And so it has turned out.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).