England captain Eoin Morgan believes Jofra Archer’s first outing against his native West Indies could be a defining moment in the paceman’s international career.
A recurrence of Mark Wood’s left ankle problems means Archer is likely to take an even greater share of the fast bowling burden in today’s World Cup clash at the Hampshire Bowl, but he was always likely to be the headline attraction.
Barbados-born to a Liverpudlian father, the seamer might easily have been lining up against Morgan had he been selected by the West Indies for the Under-19 World Cup four years ago, but his omission set in motion a sequence of events that led him first to Sussex then to the blue of England.
The opposition XI are more friend than foe, including his one-time youth team-mates Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran and fellow Bajans such as captain Jason Holder, Shai Hope and Carlos Brathwaite.
Morgan understands better than most what his 95mph bowler is about to experience, having switched allegiance from Ireland to England a decade ago.
“I think it is a moment where you reaffirm your decision. The difference is the feel,” said Morgan.
“When you play against guys that you’ve played with at age group level, it feels like a club game against your mates you’ve known for a long time, compared to playing against strangers. That’s the different feel.
“Being in that position myself it does feel different. He won’t know how it feels until he plays the game. If I feel the need (to speak to him) I will, but I haven’t yet.”
Morgan would be more than happy if the 24-year-old performs with the same success he has done against his fellow Irishmen in the past. Morgan averages 67.25 in five ODIs against the Boys in Green, compared to a career mark of 39.54, starting with a half-century and a hundred in his first two outings.
Having watched him at close quarters in recent weeks, he expects Archer to breeze through the occasion.
“I’m sure he will handle it like he’s handled everything else in the tournament so far,” said Morgan.
“Every challenge he has come up against so far he has come out the other side really well. So let’s just see how it goes, we are not expecting anything majorly different.
“Jofra is extremely interesting because everything he has been confronted with, particularly out on the field, he has overcome. He’s still learning, he’s a very young, he has a lot of talent, and that is great for us. It’s great that he’s in an England shirt now.”
Archer has forged a fearsome double act with Wood in the past couple of games, pushing each other on as both hit 95mph against Bangladesh.
It seems unlikely that the Durham man will be on duty against a Windies side he enjoyed great success against over the winter, with his troublesome left ankle flaring up again.
Morgan was keen to downplay the issue, describing it as soreness rather than an injury, and there will be a fitness test before the toss. Given his importance to the side and his career-long, career-threatening history of problems England will surely approach with caution.
Jason Holder claims Archer would not get into his West Indies team for one simple reason: “He’s English”.
Cricket West Indies made a late bid to win Archer’s allegiance back before he became eligible for England, but when asked if the 24-year-old would make the current XI, Holder’s answer was telling.
“He’s English, so no,” said the all-rounder with a smile. “I have seen Jofra over the years. He’s grown up in Barbados playing cricket so what you see, what I’m seeing of Jofra, doesn’t surprise me. It’s something that has been talked up in the press, in the media. I don’t want to limit it to Jofra, but we are looking forward to this game against England.”
The Windies drew 2-2 with England on home soil earlier this year in a ODI series that saw left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell come to the fore. He marked each of his wickets with a theatrical march and military salute – a nod to his own history with the Jamaican defence force.
England coach Trevor Bayliss suggested this week that he was no fan of the celebration, but Holder was unable to offer any respite.
“I’m sure Sheldon is looking to salute,” he said.
“I don’t think it will change, that’s just Sheldon. I guess Trevor will just have learn to accept it.”
Should Wood miss out Moeen Ali is the likeliest replacement having been dropped in Cardiff last time out, but Tom Curran has a chance of his first World Cup cap should conditions not require a second spinner.
“I’m not worried, I’m quite positive about it,” Morgan said of Wood.