A player with fairly mediocre stats from his brief 14-match List A career and who is not currently in England’s World Cup squad is going to dominate England’s World Cup build-up.
Because it’s England, and because they’ve stuffed these things up so, so many times in the past making disastrous last-minute changes to World Cup planning to hilarious effect, the temptation is to wonder whether they’ve f***ed it again.
They haven’t, though. They’ve got it exactly right. While the current bowlers inevitably close ranks, Archer’s arrival for England is a blessing not a curse. If there is one remaining weak link in this superb England one-day team it is the fast bowling.
Archer is the solution. Ed Smith said as much after announcing the squad, coming as close as he reasonably could to confirming that if Archer performs against Pakistan, he will be in. There are no guarantees in sport, but Archer will perform and he will be in.
England have admirable and worthy bowling options, but Archer is better than any of them, he just doesn’t yet have the international or 50-over stats to prove it.
From the outside, naming him by not naming him looks like a fudge. And I suppose it is. But it is not a fudge of England’s making. It is the ICC’s provisional squad deadline – a marketing rather than cricketing necessity (and as someone with 150 player profiles to write one for which I am not ungrateful) – that has led England down this path. Without the provisional deadline, England would simply have named him in the 17 fully expecting to name him in a trimmed 15 in May. That is still what they expect to do.
Really, the headlines should be ‘Archer earns first England call-up’. He will have seven matches – six of them ODIs – between May 3 and May 19 to stake his claim. The one challenge for Archer is to prove his talents can be extended from four overs to 10.
The tools of his T20 success – pace, yorkers, late movement, nasty bouncers – and stellar first-class stats suggest it’s a challenge he should rise to as he has every other he has faced. Six ODIs may not seem much, but by the time he has played them it will comprise almost one-third of his total List A experience. We will know a lot more about him in a month, and the news is almost certain to be good.
Archer is so thrillingly, eye-catchingly good that his place outside the current 15 is irrelevant. All it does is tell us precisely who is taking part in the shootout to avoid being the odd man out in a month’s time.
David Willey, Tom Curran, Liam Plunkett and Joe Denly are all vulnerable. Denly’s own inclusion in the squad – he hasn’t played an ODI since 2009 – shows up the folly of the idea that selecting from outside the squad that has taken England this far may not be “morally fair”, to borrow a phrase used and immediately regretted by Chris Woakes.
Woakes’ was a poor choice of words, let down in the crucial moment by his own brain, but taken in full and with the daftness about morality and fairness ignored, his quotes were on the right tracks.
The argument over Archer’s inclusion isn’t really about fairness, it’s about the risk of throwing an unproven yet startling talent into a successful and settled squad. For all Archer’s ability, that is a gamble. That’s why he’s not already in the 15; far easier to leave him out of a squad he was never in than have to remove him at the very last minute. That really would be same old England.
England dramatically and successfully changed course just before the 2010 World Twenty20, when Denly himself and Jonathan Trott were replaced at the top of the order by Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter.
That, though, has been the exception that proves the rule. England always make changes before a World Cup – from leaving out Nick Knight at the start of the 1999 event, to replacing Steven Davies with Matt Prior in 2011 and the Gary Ballance-at-three unpleasantness four years ago – and it nearly always goes wrong.
Archer’s case is different, though. He represents not a sudden desperate move made far too late to address fundamental flaws but an opportunity to make a good team even better. England will take that opportunity; they would be mad not to.
England really ought to win the World Cup. They are so, so good.
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