England face Jofra Archer dilemma: should they stick or twist?

Jofra Archer

There’s quite a dilemma brewing within the England ODI fast-bowling ranks, if you haven’t already heard.

Throughout their five-match tour of Sri Lanka and the three ODIs played so far against the West Indies, Trevor Bayliss’ side have chopped and changed their options, without really finding a settled set of seamers.

Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett and Tom Curran have been regularly involved since the winter tour began. Olly Stone was too – for a period – after making his one-day debut against Sri Lanka, but a back injury put paid to his travels.

Luckily for Mark Wood, however, he replaced the 25-year-old in some style and it now looks to have cemented his place in the World Cup, especially after a hugely impressive four-wicket burst in Wednesday’s batsman-dominated Grenada runfest, while Plunkett’s extra pace also proved an asset. Woakes had a bad day, but remains a lock with the new ball.

But wait. There’s a potential curve ball in all of this. Barbados-born Jofra Archer recently finished tearing it up in the Big Bash League, and it just so happens that he becomes eligible to play for England on Friday, due to new ECB regulations that came into play at the turn of the year.

By Saturday, England will have completed their ODIs with the West Indies and will face six more – one versus Ireland and five against Pakistan – before the World Cup gets under way.

The upcoming months, then, will be crucial for national selector Ed Smith and Bayliss, who must prove that an England side blessed with insane batting talent but flakier bowling deserve to top the ODI rankings. One way to do that could be through the inclusion of Archer.

The 23-year-old took 18 wickets in 15 innings in the Big Bash League – with 3-25 his best figures – as the Hobart Hurricanes reached the semi-finals. But it is Archer’s bowling speed that could prove too attractive to turn down; the seamer consistently reaches the 90mph mark and upward. Oh and he’s a pretty good fielder, too.

The last person to hit that kind of speed for England was Wood, who is firmly re-established after rediscovering his pace. And a similar call-up could very well be on the horizon.

But England must tread carefully. While he has impressed in the Big Bash in the last two seasons, Archer has never played an ODI in his life, and nor will he get the chance to before the World Cup squad must be announced.

Following the latest ODI series, England play three quickfire T20s against the West Indies, with the third on March 10. But after that, the ODI action resumes on May 3 against Ireland – 10 days after the deadline for England to submit their final 15 for the World Cup.

If England are to allow Archer to dip his toes into international cricket with them before naming the World Cup squad, they must call him up for the three T20s against the West Indies. If not, the only option is to throw Archer in at the deep end, and that could prove costly for a player with so little experience on the international stage.

But Archer has certainly turned heads, and the likes of Nasser Hussain think he’s good enough to be included.

He told Sky Sports News: “Usually before a World Cup I would say ‘don’t make any big changes’. We’ve done that in previous World Cups and it hasn’t worked.

“Jofra Archer is a seriously talented cricketer and I say you are probably changing for the better.”

If he was to make the final cut, it would be interesting to see who would drop out.

Wood certainly won’t after rediscovering his touch, and despite Woakes’ chronic knee problems, he is likely to stay too. The Warwickshire man was rested for the second ODI against the West Indies, with Eoin Morgan worried about him playing two games in as many days.

With that in mind, the longest gap between England’s nine group stage matches in the World Cup is three days, but Woakes is adamant that he can remain injury-free throughout the tournament.

It would, therefore, be between Curran, Plunkett and David Willey as to who would fight Archer for that final fast bowler spot. Warwickshire are uncertain whether Stone will be fit for the start of the county cricket season on April 5, but even if he is, a couple of weeks of action before the April 23 deadline is unlikely to be enough to convince the selectors to gamble on him.

Plunkett has been around the England ODI squad since 2005, and the 33-year-old’s average of 1.54 wickets per match is the highest of anyone currently fighting for a spot. Curran, meanwhile, has struggled since the start of the current England tour. Figures of 5-35 against Australia in January 2018 are his career-best, and 3-17 off four overs in the first ODI against Sri Lanka got his tour off to a good start. But since then, he has only taken three wickets from as many outings, shipping 183 runs in the process.

Elsewhere, Willey is the current replacement for one of the aforementioned players, should they fall out of favour. The Yorkshire all-rounder’s last ODI was against India at Headingley in July, and overall the 28-year-old averages 1.17 wickets per innings. But he is also known for his work with the bat, and he can produce solid spells of lower-order attack when required.

Everyone in and around the England ODI squad is aware of the talent Archer possesses, and with a world number one ODI ranking to defend, the selectors must consider all the pros and cons before making a decision on the 23-year-old.

But even if Archer’s inclusion in the final World Cup squad is done to add depth and competition to the current crop, it will be exciting to see such a player take to the international stage.

By Jonny Whitfield