As if Friday’s fixture in Southampton was not tantalising enough, there will be an extra piquancy in England and West Indies’ World Cup match-up, given the reunion between Jofra Archer and the team for whom he might already have been a mainstay.
The Barbados-born Archer, 24, has been one of the stars of the tournament to date, having qualified to play for England in April after the ECB chose late last year to reduce its residency period from seven years to three.
And though he is hardly an unknown quantity on account of his exploits in T20 leagues around the world, he’s undoubtedly benefited in some of his early outings from a certain surprise factor – not least his ability to bowl in excess of 90mph from an ambling run-up that scarcely requires him to break sweat.
But according to Floyd Reifer, West Indies’ head coach and fellow Bajan, there will be nothing about Archer that can take his players by surprise on Friday – and he should know, having played alongside him in club cricket while he was still a West Indies youth prospect.
“To be honest, we knew Jofra for a long time,” said Reifer. “He is from Barbados, where we are from. We knew him from the U15s, U17s, U19s so he is not new to us. Yes, he’s bowling quickly, but there’s nothing that we are not accustomed to. We are looking forward to the challenge. So we will see how it goes on Friday.”
In a tournament that has already featured some tantalising match-ups, the expectations around Friday’s game have been heightened by the extraordinary feast of attacking batting and fierce quick bowling that lit up the team’s 2-2 series draw in the Caribbean earlier this year.
In a see-saw series, England appeared to have struck a decisive blow in posting a hefty 418 for 6 in the fourth match in Grenada, a match in which Jos Buttler cracked a remarkable 150 from 77 balls.
But their thunder was stolen in the series decider in St Kitts, where Chris Gayle set a personal seal on a brilliant campaign with 77 from 27 balls, after Oshane Thomas had bombed England out for 113 with figures of 5 for 21. And with a further trial by pace in prospect on Friday, England will doubtless be grateful to have their own spearhead to return the compliment to their opponents.
“We are entertainers,” said Reifer. “We are here to entertain so the players come out and entertain us. But yes, we will have a good game. I’m sure Jofra will be chomping at the bit to come at us and we will be ready for him.”
Archer’s decision to abandon his aspirations to play for West Indies came after he was overlooked for the Under-19 World Cup in 2014. Instead, he followed the advice of his friend and fellow Bajan-turned-England international, Chris Jordan, and took advantage of his British passport to forge a new career at Sussex. The rest, as they say, is history.
Asked if he was disappointed that Archer would be playing against, rather than for, his team on Friday, Reifer laughed and said: “He made his choice.”
“Jofra is a tremendous talent, we all know that. Like I said, we are looking forward to the game on Friday.
“He obviously had the pace [to play international cricket]. He had a few injuries as a young guy. But I’m guessing though he’s fully over those injuries and he is bowling very well for England.”
West Indies’ own fast-bowling stocks were depleted for the South Africa game with the absence of Andre Russell, who has been managing a knee problem since the start of the tournament. But Reifer said that his non-selection had merely been a precaution, given the length of the tournament and his importance to the cause.
“Yes, Andre will be fit enough for the game on Friday,” he said. “The game against England is a big game for us. We are looking forward to that game. Looking at the weather forecast, it was 90 percent rain today and they had rain over the last couple of days here as well. So it is just a precautionary measure where we are kind of wrapping him in cotton wool.”
Opener Evin Lewis has also been bothered by injury and has played in just one game of the tournament. He suffered a blow to his hand ahead of the Windies opener against Pakistan and was ruled out of the fixture.
Even though he returned for the Australia clash last week, he subsequently missed the South Africa game after the injury resurfaced.
“Evin got struck on his hand in one of the practice sessions so he is still getting some pain, some severe pain from it as well,” Reifer explained.
“So he played the last game [against Australia], but he is still having some pain in his hand.” (Cricinfo)