Rob Key backs Jofra Archer to be England’s ‘special’ one at T20 World Cup

Rob Key has backed Jofra Archer to prove he is England’s “special” one at the T20 World Cup but admits he is still crossing his fingers over the seamer’s fitness after a year out of the game.

Once he was passed fit for England’s title defence in the Caribbean, Key had no qualms about selecting Archer in a 15-man squad, despite the 29-year-old suffering a long series of false starts and setbacks over the past couple of years.

He has not played professional cricket since the Indian Premier League last May, laid low by a recurrence of a stress fracture in his troublesome right elbow. The same injury had sidelined him from playing for MI Cape Town in the Betway SA20 earlier this year.

But his status as an X-factor cricketer means he is pencilled in to lead the attack with high expectations.

All he has to do now is make the team flight to his native Barbados on May 31 without picking up any further injuries.

“Jofra is a bowler that’s just so special you do everything you can to try to get him back playing,” said Key, England’s managing director of men’s cricket.

“He’s one of those rare cricketers. When you look at the attributes you want for a bowler in international cricket, Jofra has all of them. We’ve taken the longer road this time but, as always with Jofra, it’s fingers crossed until he’s out there playing. You’re waiting for something really good to happen and you don’t quite believe it until he’s there.

“I know it’s been a massive toll on him. Mentally it’s been tough but we’re hopeful and confident that he’s going to be right.”

Archer is currently playing club cricket in Barbados and will turn out for Sussex’s second XI before featuring in a four-match warm-up series against Pakistan at the end of May.

The majority of England’s squad was long settled, with only a couple of tricky picks to work through. Uncapped left-armer Tom Hartley got the nod ahead of teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed as back-up to Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, with the Lancastrian proving his mettle on the recent Test tour of India, while there were contrasting fortunes for Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes.

The selectors had good news for Chris Jordan (right) but bad news for Chris Woakes (left).
The selectors had good news for Chris Jordan (right) but bad news for Chris Woakes (left) (PA Archive)

No pace bowler has taken more T20 wickets for England than 35-year-old Jordan, a close friend and Bajan compatriot of Archer, and an uptick in his batting output has tipped the scales in his favour. Woakes, meanwhile, was overlooked having struggled at key moments in last year’s 50-over World Cup wipeout.

Key commended Hartley for his “youth and optimism” and suggested Ahmed was already being primed for a standby role. Woakes could be handed a similar replacement role in the event of injuries but may be edging towards red-ball specialism.

“Chris had an outstanding summer in the Ashes last year so we see him as someone who is going to feature in Test cricket,” noted Key.

On Jordan’s re-emergence, he added: “The fact that he can bowl at the death has always been something we look for but his batting seems to have kicked on a bit this time. Having power is a big thing out in the Caribbean, which he has, so that’s why CJ has comfortably got in there.”

The likes of Phil Salt, Jonny Bairstow and Will Jacks have enjoyed profitable stints at the ongoing IPL but all players will return for the Pakistan series. Captain Jos Buttler, whose Rajasthan Royals are top of the standings, led the way with that decision as he and head coach Matthew Mott look to repair some of the damage sustained in their last tournament together.

Key reaffirmed his belief in the pair when asked if he had any doubts about their leadership.

“I don’t think so actually,” he said. “After the 50-over World Cup there was a lot of noise about it but I feel like these guys are the right ones to take what is, right now, a fresher team.

“We’ve got a team that’s got a bit more of a blend of youth and experience. It’s been such a great era of white-ball cricket, now we’re starting to move into the next era and I think those two will be excellent.”