Joe Root has admitted he is still learning how best to handle Jofra Archer and cautioned against expecting too much of England’s newest fast-bowling talent, after a debut series in which Archer collected 22 wickets from four Tests while showcasing both searing pace and impressive control.
Archer helped set up victory at The Oval with a first-innings 6 for 62, as England came from behind to secure a rare drawn Ashes series. Although he finished wicketless in the second innings, his high-intensity duel with Australia centurion Matthew Wade, who was peppered with short balls during a spell in which Archer’s pace topped 95mph, was an arresting spectacle that helped lift the crowd as England pursued a breakthrough on the fourth evening.
His rise to becoming an integral part of England’s planning has been almost as rapid as his bowling. Having delivered the Super Over that led to England claiming their maiden World Cup at Lord’s in mid-July, Archer went on to make a memorable Test debut on the same ground, landing a concussive blow on Australia’s leading batsman, Steven Smith, before claiming six-wicket hauls in each of England’s victories.
There have already been concerns about his workload, however. He bowled 44 overs in his first Test outing and sent down 156 across the series – behind only Pat Cummins, Stuart Broad (who both played a Test more) and Josh Hazlewood, among pace bowlers.
“He’s come in and been fantastic,” Root said. “Four Test matches, two six-fors. He has a way of having a huge impact on the game, you saw his spell here, it just changed the whole atmosphere of the ground, was incredible really. For someone right at the beginning of his career to have such a gift is entertaining, it’s great to be able to captain that and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of his journey.
“When I faced him in the nets against the red ball, it was clear he was going to be something special. [But] we’ve got to be careful of expecting too much of him. He’s a young guy at the start of his career, playing in three formats, and he’s still learning. I’m still learning how to get the best out of him as captain.
“But one thing you can expect is he’s going to entertain and make things happen. At times he’s not going to bowl at 90mph, but he’ll go at two-and-a-half an over and create chances. I think making sure we don’t expect him to average 12 is something really important, while also knowing he’s got that ability to turn a game.”
Archer’s stamina has been as notable as his speeds – his contest with Wade, which often saw Archer end his followthrough a few yards from the batsman, lasted for eight adrenalin-fuelled overs after tea – but Trevor Bayliss, England’s outgoing head coach, suggested it would be wise to allow him to deliver “thunderbolts” more sparingly as his career develops.
“I think maybe in Test cricket, I know Joe had relied on him to go with some longer spells this series, but I think looking forward it might be a case that he comes in a little bit shorter spells,” he said. “Four or five overs. Come on, bowl a few thunderbolts, and have a rest and then come back on a little bit later.”
Winning the final Test saw Root avoid a second consecutive series defeat against Australia as captain, and allowed him to look forward with a greater degree of confidence than had seemed likely after last week’s loss at Old Trafford, which extinguished English hopes of reclaiming the urn.
“It looks a hell of a lot better than 3-1, that’s for sure,” he said of scoreline. “I think it’s probably a fair result over the whole series. People might disagree with that, but you look at Lord’s and things could have been very different after that game. You can look at ifs and buts – if Jimmy [Anderson] was still playing things might have been slightly different.
“We didn’t do enough to win it back but we’ve certainly put in a performance this week, which meant a huge amount. To level this series I think it was really important for us as a side, and we’ll take a lot from it moving into the winter.”
Root laughingly described Smith as “a pain”, after his series tally of 774 runs proved the difference between the sides, and also took some satisfaction in his final dismissal (though it would be hard to call England’s tactic of positioning a leg slip a success). “It was nice to see a plan come together finally, even though it was what we started with at Edgbaston right at the start of things. Finally one went to hand.”
He added that a demanding summer, in which England had narrowly failed to win back the Ashes alongside lifting a first World Cup, should be viewed as “a huge success” for the English game and an opportunity to nurture interest in the years to come.
“That World Cup was incredible, for it to finish how it did and across the board there were some fantastic contests. To be backed up by such an evenly matched Ashes series, again we were blessed with brilliant support throughout but the cricket itself was gripping – quite hard to be involved in at times, especially when you were on the wrong end of it. But what a summer of cricket it’s been, I think a huge success for English cricket and we’ve got a great opportunity now to spring the game forward in this country.”