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INTERVIEW: ARCHER ON TARGET

The fast-bowling allrounder talks to Taha Hashim about England or West Indies and resurrecting Sussex

Jofra Archer does not run in to bowl. He glides towards the crease seemingly without a care in the world. You might think that the brute force required to hurl the ball will arrive when he winds up to release. But it does not seem
like it.

He does not burst past the umpire. He lets the ball go with a gentle goodbye.

It is here where things take a turn. The ball flies through the air, tails in towards the toes of batsmen and, quite often, leaves them hopping back towards the dressing room.

Batsmen across the country have been left confounded by Archer this season, with his 44 Championship wickets in Division Two (before the T20 break) coming at under 22.

Archer says his is not an action that has been tinkered with or been picked apart by the Sussex coaching staff: “It’s just the action I’ve always had. I haven’t made any changes since I was a kid, so I’m just grateful to have a good one.”

It is rather surprising to see Archer in action and know that he has also undergone a serious stress fracture. Born and raised in Barbados, it was not enough to stop him from getting on a cricket field. While unable to bowl, Archer turned his attention towards the other two disciplines of the game.

“I really worked on my batting because I still played cricket at that time but only as a batter. I really learnt to treasure my wicket because if I got out that was me done for the day. My batting and my slip catching really came on.”

Archer sends off stump cartwheeling

Archer’s batting efforts during his injury have led to talk of him developing into a cricketer of all-round potential. He does not seem fazed. When asked where he wants to eventually find himself in the batting order, he is clear in his aims. “In the future in four-day cricket, I’d like to bat at No.6 or 7. In T20 cricket I’d like to get myself to No.4, and at 50 overs, maybe Nos.6 and 7 again.” Those who have seen Archer launch the ball into the stands this season will testify that those goals seem firmly achievable. 

While Archer sees himself as a developing allrounder, it is easy to see that nothing gives him more pleasure than preying on the stumps of fearful batsmen. When discussing his heroes as a young boy in Barbados, he lists a roll- call of West Indian fast-bowling greats: “I came up watching Curtly Ambrose, Michael Holding and Joel Garner.”

Imagine Archer’s surprise, then, when an ordinary day at school, Christ Church Foundation, turned into an encounter with one of his idols. “I didn’t even know that Joel Garner went to my school. One day he was just there and my cricket coach said that he’s an old scholar that comes back quite often. I think that was one of my highlights in school, to see him in person.”

Archer’s call-up to West Indies Under-19s in 2013/14 came while he was carrying out the rather mundane task of grocery shopping. It did not take any shine off “one of the best feelings” he has ever had.

“My action is the same I’ve always had, so I’m grateful to have a good one”

“It was special because I always used to tell my stepdad that I’m going to play for them, but I don’t know how. I had a very good year with Barbados Under-19s and I think a week after we got back from a tour, I got the call saying that I was in the team to play Bangladesh.” 

Soon afterwards, Archer moved to England to play club cricket.There could soon be a international tug-of-war on the cards between West Indies and England over his services. (If he is to choose England, Archer faces a seven-year qualification process up to 2022/23.) He is not ready to nail his colours to the mast just yet. “I just want to keep doing well for Sussex and let the teams come for me instead of me going to the teams.”

So the door to a senior international bow for West Indies is not closed just yet? “I guess so.”

While the dream is to reach the lofty heights of international cricket, Archer is focused on his day job of performing for Sussex, having broken into the Championship side in 2016. However, it could have all been so different had it not been for the intervention of a fellow Bajan, Chris Jordan. When Archer realised he had access to a British passport through his father, Frank, it was Jordan who suggested he explore possible avenues in English cricket.

 "There could soon be a international tug-of-war on the cards between West Indies and England over his services"

“He’s the reason why I’m here at Sussex, because I was supposed to go to Northamptonshire. I spoke to him just before he left Barbados and I asked if there was anything he could do for me with his county team. I didn’t hear for a couple of days and then Northamptonshire told me to come up. He then called me that same morning and the rest is history.”

Cricketer-cum-scout Jordan has been a key figure for Archer. When discussing the difficulties of moving his life from Barbados to Sussex, cricket is not the main topic for discussion. “The main challenge is not being able to go home and see your family. Everybody else gets to go home and be with their family and so for me that’s my biggest challenge.”

It is here where Jordan has stepped in. “I’m always over at his [house], always in the gym or something. So he’s more than a team-mate, he’s like family now.”

It is not only Jordan. Jon Lewis, a former England seamer and now assistant coach at Sussex, has been a supportive figure.

“I remember when I was injured and trying to bowl. He would always come over and ask me about my progress and he helped out a lot. I reckon he was the one pushing for me to play in that Pakistan game [in 2016, Archer’s first-class debut], and he’d never tell me if it was him, but I think it was.”

With Archer now firmly settled in a Sussex line-up making a strong push for promotion, do not be surprised if you see him bemusing batsmen in Division One soon.

Interview by Taha Hashim

Boundless is the shirt sponsors for Sussex Cricket's NatWest T20 Blast competition. Boundless, a membership organisation which helps Civil Servants and Public Sector workers get the most out of their free time, had its logo proudly displayed on Sussex Sharks’ NatWest T20 Blast shirt. For more information please visit www.boundless.co.uk