Jofra Archer full of confidence following his emphatic six-wicket-haul against South Africa
Hearing Jofra Archer laugh and joke again was almost as gratifying as witnessing his returning predatory abilities.
Olly Stone, Archer said, was now fighting for England’s role as enforcer in the mid-innings. “I could have bowled another 10 overs to be honest,” he smiled, highlighting a confidence escalated by his second appearance after enduring 22 months of injury hell with the best international numbers of his career.
Increasing that workload will come with time and will be dictated by England’s medical staff, but it was hard to witness the effortless ease with which Archer scorched through South Africa’s percussion on Wednesday night and not imagine the impact he will have against Australia this summer could. four years after his epic skirmishes with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.
In fact, Archer, 27, hadn’t achieved that level of fast bowling championship since his amazing debut in the summer of 2019, with the interim being an ongoing ritual of recovery. Even before his 679-day absence from duty in England, which ended in Bloemfontein last Friday, he had played through pain from body parts that required further evaluation.
How did the Barbados-born star get back to full fitness? And what next for a man whose mere presence on a cricket pitch made Test captain Ben Stokes tweet last month: BUZZING BUZZING BUZZING.
Jofra Archer recorded a career-best ODI score of six to 40 against South Africa on Wednesday
He came back in his first series for England after 679 days with various injuries
He sacked four of South Africa’s top six, including the dangerous Heinrich Klaasen for 80
Perhaps understandable for someone whose career has been plagued by fitness issues, Archer hates to reveal details about his injuries, even to those close to him, but what is known is that it required three significant surgeries to repair stress fractures.
First there were two attempts at a stress fracture of his right elbow after lingering bone fragments caused irritation the first time. The fact that this problem developed within weeks of him winning 22 ashes wickets and finishing as the top bowler in a major tournament for England four years ago tells you something about the timeline.
Then there was last year’s secret operation in New Zealand, after the ECB’s medical team, led by Rob Ahmun, sought the opinion of Christchurch reverse adviser Rowan Schouten. The modern New Zealand method of treating stress fractures has been a pars repair, a procedure in which two screws and a length of titanium wire are inserted into the lower spine to strengthen it.
Black Caps bowler Matt Henry accepts the procedure saved his career in 2012. The first cricketer to opt for what was once considered a radical route was another Kiwi in Shane Bond. Fast bowling is the most physically demanding of all professions, sending a force of about 10 times your own weight through your body with each delivery. You have to be physically strong.
Psychologically, rehabilitation after rehabilitation proved challenging, but the ECB made it easier for him by allowing him to return to his family in Barbados for an extended period of time.
There on the east coast of the island he would swim or run on the beaches, occasionally with some of his six dogs in tow.
The care of Sheba, Ace, Onyx, Ghost, Nova and Luna also ensured routine. Caribbean temperatures mean that dogs need exercise shortly after sunrise, if at all, and getting up to feed them and do “shovel poop” provided daily discipline.
He also had familiar faces around him. An elbow comeback coincided with then-Sussex teammate Phil Salt breaking his foot in a bicycle accident. They became friends at the gym in Hove, a stone’s throw from Archer’s flat.
Archer joked he “could have pitched another 10 overs” after England won by 59 runs
In the recent recovery, the ECB sent Jon Lewis, Archer’s former landlord, as a county teammate and outgoing England bowling coach, to oversee him and Saqib Mahmood to bowl with him at a Bridgetown camp.
His first action was strategically planned as short-form cricket. It has yet to be decided if he will add anything to his five appearances for MI Cape Town in SA20, which served as a warm-up for his two ODIs last week.
Of course England are wary of overdoing it too soon but yesterday picked him in both the 50-over and Twenty20 squads for a tour to Bangladesh which flies in three weeks.
“Someone who has been out for so long wants to play cricket when they are fit again. That’s the big picture for Jofra,” said England Limited-Overs captain Jos Buttler.
Jos Buttler said Archer “just wanted to play cricket” and spoke of his possible return to Test play
“If he is fit and cricket is available then there doesn’t seem to be any point in holding him back.
‘He obviously needs to build his overs and resilience to be able to pitch 10 overs a game and obviously for English cricket looking ahead you’d want to see him play Test cricket too where he can do magic after cursing.’
Archer intends to take a stash of Dukes red balls with him when he reports for duty with the Mumbai Indians next month and admits he has to play bowling in the Indian Premier League as well.
However, Sportsmail understands that the employers who have stood by him and have extended his £800,000 central contract over the past two years while he is set to set up the IPL, the ECB will consider calling him back early to hear about the County’s action Championship to prepare for the Ashes in June. Discussions on this topic are expected shortly.
However he gets there, English cricket is hoping for a repeat of the brutal beauty that grounded the South Africans in Kimberley on Wednesday night.