Updated May 22nd, 2024 at 10:40 IST

Jofra Archer's return gives England wary optimism of retaining the T20 World Cup title

Fingers crossed. That was the common expression used about Jofra Archer by Rob Key, the managing director of England's men’s cricket, when he announced the squad for the Twenty20 World Cup.

Jofra Archer participates in a training session ahead of their second T20 cricket match against Bangladesh in Dhaka | Image: AP
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Fingers crossed.

That was the common expression used about Jofra Archer by Rob Key, the managing director of England's men’s cricket, when he announced the squad for the Twenty20 World Cup.

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Key spoke for Archer, England and it supporters as he hoped the sleek paceman capable of bowling speeds of 95 mph (152 kph) will not only make the starting line of the tournament in the Caribbean and the U.S., but also stay fit for however long England's title defense lasts.

Following his stunning international debut in the summer of 2019, Archer has spent long and regular stints on the injured list.

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England changed its eligibility rules in time for the Barbados-born Archer to help the team in 2019 win its first Cricket World Cup in the 50-over format and draw the Ashes test series at home against Australia.

Then elbow and back issues limited his appearances.

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He missed the next two Ashes series and hasn't played a test in three years; since the 2019 World Cup final he's played only seven one-day internationals; and he hasn't played a Twenty20 in more than a year. He has missed the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cups and the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

Archer's health issues wore him down so much he questioned his desire to keep playing. But he was extra motivated by the thought of playing in front of family, friends and his dogs in Barbados, which hosts England's first two T20 World Cup games against Scotland on June 4 and Australia on June 8.

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Initial fitness deadlines set by England didn't work for Archer, or made things worse, so team management has taken a cautious approach to getting him right and giving him a shot at a lengthy career. At 29, there's still plenty of cricket in him.

Archer was permitted to return to Barbados to get fit. His first action in England this year wasn't until last week; six brisk overs for the Sussex Second XI.

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From there it was straight into this week's Twenty20 series against Pakistan, marking his first England appearance at home since September 2020. Archer will return with a managed workload and expectations.

“Don't expect too much, too soon,” captain Jos Buttler said. “The great success would be him coming through this series with a big smile on his face and his body holding up.”

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The main aim is to get Archer primed for the T20 World Cup.

England, too.

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The Cricket World Cup crown in the 50-over format was surrendered without much resistance in India last November due in large part to England being too busy to come together until the last minute.

Lesson learned, the eight players in the Indian Premier League were brought home before this week's playoffs — even if their teams qualified — to settle into their national team roles in the crucial Pakistan series.

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Some had profitable IPL seasons. Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Will Jacks scored centuries, allrounder Sam Curran averaged 27 and took 16 wickets, and wicketkeeper-batter Phil Salt scored four half-centuries and averaged 39.54 at a strike rate of 182.00.

Among Buttler's provisional 15-man squad, 10 were at the 2022 World Cup, but not left-arm fast bowler Reece Topley. Just three days before England's 2022 opening match, Topley stood on a boundary cushion in practice, damaged ankle ligaments, and returned home. When he's not injured, Topley's bowling has shone in the power play and death overs.

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Ben Stokes hit the winning run against Pakistan in the 2022 final in Melbourne, but the test captain ruled himself out of this T20 World Cup to rehab his knee.

Still, England's batting appears stronger than its bowling.

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But Archer will offer a fear factor for opposing teams.

“As always with Jofra, it's fingers crossed until he's out there playing,” Key says. “You don't quite believe it until he's there.”

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Published May 22nd, 2024 at 10:40 IST