Seventy-two days after he made his England debut near Dublin, Jofra Archer will inflict his scorching pace and infectious energy on New Zealand in a cricket World Cup final.
First chosen for England’s all-conquering one day-international side in May, Archer said he was anxious not to “step on any toes.” He meant English toes. In this home World Cup he has stomped on the feet of opposition batsmen and knocked them over with fearsome intent. Not since Kevin Pietersen deposed Graham Thorpe in the 2005 Ashes side has a fast-track promotion been so fulsomely rewarded or so delighted English crowds.
Archer’s hostility took him to 19 wickets for the tournament and left Alex Carey swaddled in bandages (and later in need of stitches) from a ball that rose through his guard and knocked his helmet off at the end of the eighth over. When England-Australia games attain maximum intensity, blood and bruises usually follow. Both sides understand that someone is likely to get hurt. In this ancient lore of nose to nose to combat, Archer is now firmly established as a bowler capable of instilling fear. After the Mitchell Johnson years, England are due a turn at planting trepidation in the minds of batsmen.
The euphoria that coursed through Warwickshire’s home ground was a recognition of many pleasures. To see Australia pummelled in England’s midlands fortress had the home crowd chanting “cricket’s coming home” and exulting in Jason Roy’s three consecutive sixes off Steve Smith, whose efforts with the ball were swiftly and mercifully curtailed. All the English anxiety around semi-final let-downs was blown away by one of the most emphatic victories in their limited-overs history.
Those trusty openers, Roy and Jonny Bairstow, made Australia’s pace attack seem feeble. To say England “chased down” Australia’s 223 would be too generous to Smith’s men. England cantered past that unconvincing total with a rose between their teeth, rendering even Mitchell Starc innocuous. Starc broke Glenn McGrath’s Australian record of 26 wickets at a World Cup but only as a minor footnote to England reaching their first ODI final for 27 years.
But for all the insouciance of England’s batting, which completed an eight-wicket win in 32.1 overs, it was Archer who lit the torch with his belligerent opening spell: as clear a declaration as you will see from a quick bowler, and one that will have England’s supporters dreaming about him running in, red ball in hand, in the Ashes. Archer, 24, looks as if he has been part of this group all his life. True to the Pietersen precedent, he has added something that was not fully there before - a point of difference that has emboldened England’s whole starting XI.
When the highlights of this day are organised, they will start not with Roy’s typically bullying 85 but Archer removing Aaron Finch with his first ball of the day. It was also the first ball Finch faced. Australia’s captain, who had seven ODI centuries against England, was trapped leg-before by an inswinger that turned every decision review box red for ‘out.’ Finch’s desperation not to depart empty-handed was itself a sign that Archer is capable of scrambling batsmen’s thoughts. Finch’s review was doomed. His tormentor’s rhythm, pace and confidence were channelled smoothly into the biggest test of his fledgling international career. Cometh the hour, cometh Archer’s arrows.
And he was only just warming up. Archer’s next move was to bounce Smith before David Warner, Australia’s other run machine, fell for nine. Peter Handscomb was like a ghost at the crease. Two Archer deliveries seemed to go straight through him, as if he were made of smoke. Chris Woakes put him out of his misery before Archer went to work on Carey, evoking the great archive photo of Rick McCosker, bandaged from head to crown like an injured cavalryman.
Archer’s dramatic impact on this team in 12 ODIs is easily measured by those 19 wickets and the welts on opposition batsmen (Maxwell, caught at extra cover by Eoin Morgan, was his other victim). That debut at Malahide in Ireland 70 days previously was the start of something potentially special. It arrived as some were questioning his right to join a winning team after so much work had gone into building a successful formula. Some thought the rapidity of his promotion might “destabilise” the dressing room. Plenty of people have been destabilised: all of them, in opposition colours.
Beyond the numbers, an electricity has been added to England’s bowling attack. There has been a charisma implant. Archer has already reached the point where England fans are bowing to him when he jogs back to the outfield. They are already wolfing down their pulled-pork baps to be in place when he starts his run-up. That gallop carries none of the angular threat of a Mitchell Johnson. Plenty of experts have made the comparison between Archer and the whispering menace of Michael Holding, so we can be free with that analogy. There is air displacement but no shapes thrown by his arms. The ball flows from him as if passing through a luxury engine designed for minimum friction.
“I didn’t think I’d be playing cricket for England this year, never mind playing in a final,” Archer said after Carey had shown us the repairs to his chin. New Zealand’s batsmen will need to hide theirs well.