Have England found the answer to their only problematic position in their ODI team? Yas Rana explains why Jofra Archer simply demands selection for the host country’s World Cup squad.
Four years ago, after England crashed out of the 2015 World Cup with their tails placed firmly between their legs, it was unthinkable that they would enter the next iteration of the tournament as such resounding favourites.
As unimaginable as that prospect once was, that is where we stand.
England have won their last nine multi-game bilateral series, mostly in dominant fashion. They have the most feared batting line-up in the world – one that sometimes bats all the way down to 11.
England’s batting is in such good health that one of Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Alex Hales, arguably England’s three greatest ever ODI openers, are likely to miss out on selection.
We all know about the power of England’s top seven (well, top 11 really), but it is the understated sustained improvement of England’s bowling attack that elevates the current side from mere contenders to overwhelming favourites next summer.
On the 22 occasions that Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes have taken the field together, they have lost just once. In the last two years, England have lost 10 ODIs but none when that trio have played together.
Rashid, Plunkett and Woakes all average less than 27 with the ball, have strike rates under 30 and economy rates under six runs per over in that time period. No other England bowler comes close to that consistency across those three measures.
With 300+ scores now the norm, wicket-taking has never been so important in ODI cricket. The ability to break seemingly set partnerships is often what prevents teams racking up massive, unattainable scores.
Four of England’s ten losses in the last two years have been when they’ve folded for sub-215 scores. The other six have been when teams have built huge middle-order partnerships. Crucially, they have all occurred when one of Woakes, Rashid or Plunkett have been unavailable.
Whilst it’s hard to pick holes in England’s batting line-up, there is a significant drop in the efficacy of the bowlers after Woakes, Rashid, Plunkett, and to a degree, Moeen Ali, whose economy rate of 5.29 is impressive even if his average of 45.54 is not.
Woakes is quite simply the best bowler in the world during the opening ten overs. In the last two years he averages 17.12 (a world best in that period) in the Powerplay with an economy rate of 4.03 runs per over, which is remarkable by modern standards.
He lacks a partner, though. Despite his reputation, David Willey is not really a wicket-taker with the new ball. He averages 44.6 and goes at nearly a run a ball in the Powerplay since the start of 2017. Wood’s Powerplay average is north of 70.
Tom Curran has done well (an average of 21) in the Powerplay but he’s only bowled 14 overs during it, and you feel that his lack of pace will eventually be his downfall in the first ten overs.
Considering the likely the make-up of the team, there is a spot that is yet unclaimed for another seamer to take. Curran, when you take into account his variations and appetite for the big occasion, may well be capable, but as of last week there is now an alternative option whose claim for selection is simply irresistible.
Step up, Jofra Archer.
In selecting Olly Stone for the Sri Lanka tour, England made their intentions clear – they are looking for a bowler with genuine pace, who, like Plunkett, can take wickets against the run of play in the middle overs.
Last week the ECB confirmed they had amended their residency rules, which means the Barbados-born Archer will now qualify to play for his adopted homeland ahead of the World Cup next summer.
The Sussex quick, who county teammate Chris Jordan labelled “a one of a kind“, isn’t just pacey, he’s got a genuine claim to regard himself as one of, if not the, quickest bowlers in the world.
According to CricViz data, Archer bowled the fastest delivery in this year’s Vitality Blast. And despite his comparative lack of 50-overs experience – he only has 14 List A games to his name – Archer has seriously impressed in the biggest T20 leagues in the world, which despite the different format, surely prepares players more for international cricket.
Bowling at the death to Rohit Sharma in a close game in front of 30,000 screaming fans in Bangalore is a closer replica of bowling in a World Cup Final than bowling on a green top at Hove in early May.
In the 2017/18 Big Bash League (BBL), he was the third highest wicket-taker, behind only Rashid Khan and Dwayne Bravo. Incidentally, Archer’s economy rate was also considerably better than Bravo’s.
Archer isn’t a huge swinger of the ball, but CricViz data reveals his average amount of swing per delivery during the BBL (0.557°) was nearly identical to David Willey’s (0.575°), a bowler with a reputation of swinging the new ball.
Archer’s pace, big game experience, cool head and adaptability – he has the pace to be a wicket-taking option in the middle overs, the movement to open, and the variations to bowl at the death – all make him the perfect candidate to be England’s third seamer alongside Woakes and Plunkett, with Ben Stokes being a more than useful fourth option.
That’s even without considering his freakish, Stokes-esque all-round skillset.
With the bat, his strike rate of (121.51) is in the top 25 of anyone in List A cricket since he made his debut in 2016.
His fielding, particularly off his own bowling, is up there with the very best in the game too.
IS THERE ANYTHING JOFRA ARCHER CAN'T DO?!
He runs Voges out with a direct hit…from the boundary! 😳 pic.twitter.com/VHYIbabcPX
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) January 20, 2018
According to the CricViz fielding metric, Archer was ranked in the top ten fielders in last year’s BBL in terms of average positive impact per game.
Taking all this into account, England would be fools not to incorporate Archer into the ODI set-up as fast as possible.
There’ll be those who’ll say that England shouldn’t change a settled team so close to a World Cup, but there is still a spot in the team that’s not been properly nailed down. It’s not as if England suddenly have another explosive opening batsman available.
Even if England decide not to parachute Archer straight into the XI, his all-round skill-set and raw pace makes him the perfect replacement should either Woakes or Plunkett break down during the World Cup.
After four years of searching, England have been gifted the availability of a world-class performer who can fill the weakest spot in their XI – the final piece of jigsaw.