At the start of the fabled 2005 Ashes, England had to choose between one of their best batsmen of the modern era, Graham Thorpe, and a newcomer with an overseas background who had taken one-day cricket by storm, Kevin Pietersen.
Any doubts Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan had made the right call in going for the outrageously talented but raw Pietersen were dispelled in what arguably became the most important summer English cricket has ever enjoyed.
Until now. For there is little doubt that, if England win the World Cup on Sunday for the first time in its 44-year history and then go on to regain the Ashes, English cricket will have had the most significant season since those heady days of KP and his skunk hairstyle.
And at the heart of a World Cup campaign that could culminate gloriously at Lord’s on Sunday has been another overseas-born cricketer with an English parent and a British passport.
Jofra Archer did not have to replace a legend like Thorpe, but it is easy to forget how he was worried about ‘treading on people’s toes’ ahead of his inevitable call-up at the expense of the luckless David Willey when he became eligible for the land of his father.
Far from doing that he has been more occupied with roughing up batsmen with bowling that has marked Archer down as a rare talent.
Truly, if he stays fit, this Barbadian-born Englishman is destined to become an all-time great in all formats.
His coach at Sussex, Jason Gillespie, believes he is an even better red-ball bowler than a white-ball one. And, Gillespie tells us, wait until we see him properly bat. There is no hyperbole in that statement.
Simply a realisation that West Indies have missed out on a bowler so gifted he can achieve whatever he wants in the game with that smooth, languid, effortless approach, and pure pace and hostility.
And no little skill, as he showed in dismissing Glenn Maxwell with a knuckle ball at Edgbaston. The Caribbean’s loss is England’s gain.
Archer has shown, just like Pietersen did in 2005, he has the big-match temperament to go with his talent, not least with the first ball he bowled that dismissed Aaron Finch and set the tone for Thursday’s victory over Australia.
‘It was the first time I’ve taken a wicket with the first ball I’ve bowled in any game,’ said the 24-year-old after the biggest day of his fledgling career. ‘Looking back now, I think it was the perfect day to do something special. I’m just glad I got to contribute to the win for the boys.’
But surely there were butterflies before such a huge game? After all, we are still talking about a very inexperienced bowler on the biggest stage?
‘No, not really,’ he insisted. ‘I may be wrong but even at breakfast today I could tell no one was nervous. Everyone just looked focused by the time we got to the ground and it’s those little things that tell you when the guys are ready.’
Archer pauses when asked how he remains so laid-back in his approach to cricket. ‘I’ve always been like this,’ he said.
‘I try not to get nervous because then you start doing stuff you’re not really supposed to do. The calmer you are the better you are in match situations.’
His words are delivered quietly and in the matter-of-fact manner of someone who has been unfazed by the step up from county and franchise cricket, which have seemingly provided him with the perfect grounding for his spectacular England introduction.
‘It has gone pretty all right,’ is his understated verdict on his England World Cup record tally of 19 wickets so far, not to mention the deliveries that struck South Africa’s Hashim Amla on the helmet at the Oval and then, symbolically, drew Australian blood when he hit Alex Carey at Edgbaston.
The bowler’s reaction both times on the pitch has been to show nonchalance, as if roughing up a batsman is very much part of his job, and off it he managed to display compassion and deliver a warning to future opponents at the same time.
‘I try to use my two bouncers every over. It’s not a set plan to go short,’ he said after Australia were summarily dismissed. ‘You don’t always need to hit the batsman. A short ball can be a wicket-taking delivery or a dot ball. When it hits them you can feel a little bad but that’s cricket. I don’t think Carey will be the last person to get hit.’
It is frightening to think Archer is not even fully fit. It has even been suggested the left side injury he is playing with is so serious it will delay his inevitable first Test cap until the second Ashes game.
He certainly seems a doubt for the inaugural Test against Ireland that will rapidly follow the end of this World Cup.
‘I will keep soldiering on,’ said Archer with a smile. ‘It has been like this for a while but I will get through. I was going to rest after this tournament anyway. I don’t think Sussex are going to flog me now. I will get a hard-earned break and hopefully it will all be worth it after Sunday.’
One more big World Cup date remains on a Lord’s ground where Archer has had ‘mixed feelings’ and where he had one of his rare failures in this tournament in not getting his length right against Australia in the group defeat.
Yet he has learned so quickly, it would be no surprise if he excels again in the biggest game of them all against New Zealand on Sunday. The rise and rise of Jofra Archer shows no sign of slowing down, just like his 90mph bowling. (Telegraph)
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