Jofra Archer played for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. Photo: AP/Rajanish Kakade
This is a rare tempo in English. cricket that every update of Jofra Archer's injury is projected with deeper meaning, and inevitably the last one is thrown into the Ashes light. Archer is returning from the IPL so England can keep a close eye on him, as it turned out that “getting over the discomfort during the recent game, hoping that he will calm down, was not easy.”
This is a four-over bowling alley in T20, not in one run, but with several days of rest in between. It's always been optimistic that he'd be a good fit for most of the Ashes, and Archer himself said in March that he'd be happy to play just one game. We should have taken it at face value then, and England would gladly jump at it if offered now.
But first he had to prove his worth in a four-day game for Sussex by winning two or three spells a day, because it's the doubling of overs that proves a bowler's worth, and then repeating that in the second inning. England can't afford to be tested with suspected bowler health, especially with Ben Stokes disabled by a knee injury. It will cost them the game.
It's always difficult to gauge Archer's mood because England talks so little about injuries, and it wasn't until the Telegraph Sport recently reported that he had traveled to Belgium for treatment that it became known that he had undergone more medical intervention.
C since then, he's been quick to bowl for the Mumbai Indians in four matches, but not without pain, and that's important. Now he's heading home and you suspect it's best for him and you let England focus on who's in shape if a decision is made soon about him being ready for a Test match.
This is devastating for Archer. who had invested so much in his rehabilitation and wanted to repay the faith of England and his other employers around the world. It's a lonely existence to be hurt by a fast bowler, deal with the demons inside as they naturally worry about never regaining full fitness, and then have to endure watching from the sidelines while the big series grabs the nation's attention. Must be torture.
Stokes welcomes Archer after IPL season ends early
We don't know if Archer is back at the start, but it looks like England's attack this summer will look very familiar: James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Chris Wakes. This is the same squad that barely made Australia blink at home 18 months ago.
Yes, they are more effective in English conditions and there are also Matt Potts and Saqib Mahmood adding numbers as well, but there is a worrying wait for Ollie Stone, who suffered a hamstring strain for Notts against Lancashire at the weekend, to add another headache. Mahmoud did not play in this game as he was not drafted by Lancashire while at the start of the season the county was dominated by bowlers lacking pace for Test cricket. Another speed bowling hope, Jamie Overton, is already out of action with a stress fracture.
Stokes said he wanted “flat and fast” fields for the Ashes. What he really needs is to “train and shoot” bowlers, a message he gave to the England medic team earlier this year. He's worried about who's going to put in the change? Anderson at 40, Brod at 36? Both disappeared in Wellington when England forced a sequel. Robinson? He's in top form for Sussex and can see from the front seat how to fix a weakness in Steve Smith's game, but last week he needed a painkiller injection in his back and hobbled with a cramp against Worcestershire.
The Stokes scored one after the Wellington Test and it was as painful to watch as it was to execute, and one unintended consequence of England's fast scoring championed by the skipper is less time for the bowlers to recover during match time. It's hard work.
Meanwhile in Australia, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Stark are resting and recuperating, and Josh Hazlewood is back from a long break from the IPL over the weekend. Marnus Labouchagne scored 170 points for Glamorgan last week and Smith is slowly making his way. His stay in Sussex is not about learning English, but about finding a form and getting into a nickname. This is while Joe Root remains in India, waiting for his first average time from February 24th. Ruth has done nearly 11,000 tests so England trusts him to know what he needs. He'll be fine.
But Archer won't be fine. And it's a blatant shame for all the England fans who now have to hope it's some big double bluff and it will show up on Hove's networks this week to terrorize Smith again. Unfortunately, this will not happen and their duel is probably over.