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Smooth and explosive: who is Jofra Archer and how does he do it?

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Smooth and explosive: who is Jofra Archer and how does he do it?

Jofra Archer has been known as a rising star since his teenage years in Barbados, when his stepfather practiced bowling with him for hour after hour on homemade pitches near their family home. But his promise was fulfilled this summer when the 24-year-old rookie was launched on to the world stage for the Ashes. Archer has been nothing short of destructive since debuting with a brutal fourth-day spell during the second Test at Lord's, inspiring West Indian fast bowling great Michael Holding, now a respected commentator, to venture on Sky Sports: "This man will change the entire outlook of fast bowling in the modern era."

What is it that makes Jofra Archer unique? What is it about his style – the moves he developed as a teenager on those dusty cricket pitches – that has led him to such startling success in England?

Who is Jofra Archer?

The English fast bowler grew up just outside the Barbados capital, Bridgetown. From the age of nine, he and his stepfather, a former police officer who now works for a bus company, Patrick Waithe, would spend hours practising on makeshift pitches near their family bungalow, using tennis balls wrapped in tape. Archer would bowl all day when time permitted, honing a natural technique that is now as smooth as it is explosive. He later played for Pickwick Cricket Club, initially as a fast bowler, where he became known for his cricketing promise. "One day, he just clicked. I stood facing him in the nets and, in four consecutive balls, he clean-bowled me," Waithe told the London Mirror. "It was like his bowling had been plugged into the mains and 240 volts were running through him. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Batting too. "One time, Jofra got hold of a ball. It was like he hit it into space. I could see this car and knew what was going to happen. Sure enough, it hit the car. The driver got out and I feared the worse but he was delighted to have been hit by a ball hit by Jofra." In his mid-teens, Archer had morphed into a wicketkeeper and leg-spinner for the Christ Church Foundation School. Encouraged by physical education teacher Nhamo Winn to return to fast bowling, Archer had an immediate impact. The foundation for what shapes as a grand international career had been set.

Why isn't Archer playing for the West Indies?

The West Indies once boasted a proud production line of elite fast bowlers but that has slipped since the end of the era of Courtney Walsh (from Jamaica) and Curtly Ambrose (from Antigua). Archer shaped up as being part of a new breed when he was selected in the under-19s national side. But when he was overlooked for the 2014 World Cup, he became disenchanted with the sport in his homeland and believed the only way he could pursue his dream was to leave. Archer's biological father, Frank Archer, was English, and while he had split from his Barbadian mother, Joelle, when Jofra was three, Frank had a British passport – meaning his son could have residency in England. Under long-held England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) rules, Archer initially was going to have to wait seven years to represent his adopted country, as he hadn't lived in England until after his 18th birthday. But in November 2018, the ECB – with the urging of Test captain Joe Root – revealed it had changed the rules, reducing the eligibility period from seven years to three, correlating with International Cricket Council regulations. Archer joined county club Sussex after making the move in 2015 and, a year later, made his first-class debut during Pakistan's tour of England. He immediately impressed. In 2017, he signed with the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash League, and in 2018 he was drafted by the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. He was fast-tracked into England's limited-overs squad against Pakistan in April and also the one-off one-day international against Ireland. He debuted against Ireland in May and, days later, had his first Twenty20 International, against Pakistan.

While the buzz that followed Archer grew, he was initially overlooked this year for England's preliminary World Cup squad but, when the final 15-man squad was revealed, Archer was chosen. He claimed 3-27 off seven overs in England's opening World Cup clash, leaving veteran batsman Hashim Amla concussed after he was hit on the helmet. Former England captains Michael Vaughan and Mike Atherton immediately penciled him in for the Ashes. As coach of Sussex, former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie said before the Ashes that Archer's best format would be the sport's long form. "He adds another dimension to this England bowling attack – he's got pace, bounce, movement off the seam, through the air. Four-day cricket, five-day cricket is when he will be at his best," he said.

What's remarkable about his bowling action?

His height (182 centimeters) is shy of many other West Indian legends such as Curtly Ambrose (2.01 meters) and Joel Garner (2.03 meters), who each extracted a frightening bounce, so height is not the key. His fastest delivery so far in the Ashes is 154.65km/h – blistering but still short of the fastest ever recorded in international cricket, 161.3km/h by Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan – so raw speed, while certainly persuasive, is not his only weapon. A batsman facing a ball at 150km/h has an average .48 seconds to react, according to research by Dr Rene Ferdinands, a biomechanics expert at the University of Sydney, some of which is taken up with perceiving and deciding, which leaves just .28 seconds to actually move to hit the ball. In such a high-velocity setting, Archer's pace and biomechanical precision meld with an element of surprise. In a nutshell, he combines a relatively brief and languid run-up with an explosively powerful delivery at the crease. The usual cues that would be scrutinized by a batsman – the long run-up, the backward lean before delivery – are simply not there, but the power is.

What's the future for Archer?

There is little doubt Archer will become a pin-up boy of world cricket. He has the looks, the charisma and the charm, and is a throwback to the halcyon days of West Indian fast bowling. For the batsmen who lived through that time, that's not a pleasant memory – but for those who love the edge-of-seat excitement that only express quicks can provide, Archer is one to cherish.

 

Caribbean American Passport

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Category: Creole LifeStyle

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