The rapid rise of Jofra Archer, England's secret weapon
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"I'd have been happy not playing in the World Cup" - Jofra Archer
The mood is buoyant on a sunny weekday morning at Lord's, the home of cricket, where England will soon take on Australia in the first World Cup held on these shores since 1999. Two decades on from that disaster, England could not be in a more contrasting situation. Eoin Morgan's side are ranked the best ODI team in the world and are favourites to lift the coveted trophy in July. And they've just brought in one of the most exciting young cricketers in the world: Jofra Archer.
Archer only made his England debut at the start of May after rule changes regarding eligibility meant he could play for England having lived here for just three years as opposed to seven after moving from his native Barbados.
Archer strolls along the side of the nursery ground at Lord's, cricket ball in hand, throwing and catching to himself in perfect rhythm. Crowds of schoolchildren struggle to contain their excitement as he passes by. Tom Curran is whizzing around on an electric scooter in the background. Before Archer can have a go on the scooter, he admits he would have understood if he had been left out of the World Cup squad.
"For me I’d have been happy just playing in this series and not going to the World Cup. I’d have been upset but not too upset, I’d have understood the reasons why obviously," the Bajan born bowler says with an unexpected softness to his voice.
For such a towering figure and explosive talent, Archer is extremely laid back and is not letting the pressure affect him too much ahead of a huge summer of cricket.
"I think the pressure is more for England, not just me. Obviously being the new kid, having to wait and stuff going on with the rules being changed... but I think there’s more pressure on England. We’re the number one team in the world and we’ve been deemed favourites as well."
Fully aware of the significance of this tournament, he says it will be "the biggest stage I’ve played on."
"Indian Premier League and other franchise tournaments are different. When you’re playing to the millions of people who live in Great Britain you’ve got them to think about as well."
There were no guarantees that Archer would make it into the final 15, especially coming into the equation so late. But captain Eoin Morgan could not bring himself exclude him after impressive performances against Pakistan.
"Anybody who comes in and performs does create a selection headache, and a really good one," England's white ball captain says.
"I've played in teams where you’re struggling to find guys who can deliver when there’s pressure on them. We’re lucky, we have a number of guys who can do that.
"He’s a lot younger than most of them but his potential is extremely high."
Archer made a name for himself among most cricket fans during his stints in T20 franchises around the world, but he has been on Morgan's radar ever since he moved to the UK and started playing for Sussex.
"We were constantly asking for feedback on how things were going, what his aspirations are. And he made that clear that it was his dream to play for England and that was his dream once he moved here."
Archer confirms that since he has had his heart set on playing for England for years, but that scepticism around his selection from various corners of the media did make him question whether it was the right decision. Talk of him potentially disrupting a settled squad and affecting team morale seems to have been rooted in myth, with Archer saying the team have welcomed him with "open arms."
"It did affect me a little bit. You see the players on TV but you don’t know what they’re like. I actually thought it wouldn’t have been a good idea to play for England, hearing that the group was together for four years, hearing that I might throw off the team chemistry and all of that but since I came into the team, everyone’s been really welcoming."
Archer himself sees social media as the root cause of the notion that he could be disruptive becoming an accepted opinion, suggesting one murmur snowballed into a storm in a teapot.
Morgan is proud of the diversity in the current England side, which features players born in Ireland, South African, New Zealand and Barbados as well as two British Asians.
"The way of the world and the way of our culture at the moment is that everything about it is quite diverse," Morgan says.
"Our team culture reflects that. Guys like myself, Moeen (Ali), Adil (Rashid), we all come from extremely different backgrounds and we embrace that as a team, Jofra is no different."
Joe Root, one of England's best batsman and Test captain, understood the scepticism, but is in no doubt of Archer's positive impact.
"When you’ve got such a settled squad a squad that’s number one in the world, they’re always going to look for holes to poke in it. I don’t think he’s had a negative effect whatsoever. He’s an exciting young player who adds a lot to the group."
On the field, it is Archer's pace that will excite England fans the most. Jos Buttler describes him as "not much fun to train against."
"He bowls extremely fast, he’s very skilful so it’s great to see. He’s good practice in the nets because he’s tough."
It's unlikely that his batting will be called upon too often this summer, but Buttler assures me he is more than capable of striking a ball cleanly, citing matches he was on in the IPL with the bat.
Archer has the world at his feet and is well aware of the part he could play in not only winning the World Cup, but inspiring a new generation of cricketers.
"I think we have a chance to make history and inspire the next generation. We’re trying to get cricket to the number one sport in the UK as well so it’s just the start really."
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