MI await Jofra Archer’s long-awaited IPL return
The England fast bowler didn’t play IPL last year while recovering from injury, but will be vital in the absence of the injured Jasprit Bumrah.
It’s rare for a franchise to invest in a player knowing he is injured and not available for the season. But Jofra Archer is a cricket treasure -- a slick, mean fast bowling machine -- who had teams going all out for him at the 2022 IPL auction, despite missing out on a lot of cricket due to injuries. Mumbai Indians ultimately bagged him by shelling out ₹8 crore.
At the expense of a season wasted, where they suffered the ignominy of finishing last in the league table, the five-time champions have patiently waited for the England fast bowler to recover (from elbow surgery, followed by a lower-back stress fracture). Since 2021, in all, the Barbados-born player has spent nearly two years out of international cricket.
As the 27-year-old readies to don the MI jersey, the expectations are high. Among the most exciting current fast bowlers, he consistently clocks 150kph plus and has a mean bouncer. While bowling fast is an art, being effective as well takes expertise. Archer has the craft, moving the ball with control at high pace.
In 2020, the last time Archer played in IPL, he was the Most Valuable Player (20 wkts, 14 games, avg 18.25, S/R 16.70) despite Rajasthan Royals finishing at the bottom of the league.
MI’S PACE MANTRA
Finding the right environment at the new franchise is equally important for a player to settle down and deliver. When Archer looks at MI history what will stand out is how their success has been built around fast bowling riches -- Lasith Malinga, Mitchell Johnson, Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult the prime examples.
Among their initial signings, none clicked better than Malinga. He played a pivotal role in four of their five title wins. In nine seasons (2009-2019), he scalped 170 wickets in 122 matches. When the blue-and-gold outfit won their first title in 2013, Johnson and Malinga were a devastating pair. In 17 matches, Johnson took 24 wickets, taking 21.05 % of the team's wickets, and Malinga 20 wickets in 17 games. In the 2015 title run, Malinga was the top bowler in the league (24 wkts, 15 games).
The 2017 title was also delivered by MI’s lethal pace attack. Defending 129/8, they restricted Rising Pune Supergiant to 128/6 with Johnson (3/26), Bumrah (2/26) and Malinga (0/21) sharing 12 overs.
The reliance on pace has also got to do with conditions at their home venue, Wankhede Stadium. With bounce and carry, it offers value to genuine speedsters. Archer doesn’t need to look at the numbers. He was the best bowler in both the IPL games he played here, helping beat MI. In 2018, his first game here, he had 2/16, taking the wickets of Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav.
In the second game in 2019, Archer (3/39) took three top-order wickets – Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock and Kieron Pollard. Looking at how the India and Australia pacers dominated in the first ODI played two weeks ago will get Archer pumped up.
Bumrah took over as the spearhead from Malinga, playing the star role in the 2019 final along with the Sri Lanka slinger, and in 2020 with 27 wickets in 15 games.
MI’s long-term plan is to pair Archer and Bumrah, but the England fast bowler has straightaway been thrust into the lead role with Bumrah injured.
MI skipper Rohit Sharma and coach Mark Boucher don't want to put undue pressure on Jofra. “We all know the quality of Jofra,” Rohit said on the eve of the tournament.
Boucher said he would first see how Jofra shapes up in the practice game on Wednesday night. “One of the things about international players is that they need the freedom to move around a bit. All of them have been playing. Jofra is coming off a major injury, but he has been playing quite a bit of cricket lately, which is good. He’s in a good space. He’s ready to get up there and perform.”
Though it will take some time for Archer to recapture the form of 2019 World Cup when he led England to the title, in the few limited overs games he has played for England on his comeback, he has shown glimpses of hitting top gear.
In the third ODI against South Africa in February, he ran through their side with a six-wicket haul (9.1-1-40-6). Earlier in March, in the second T20I against Bangladesh at Mirpur, he produced another encouraging display with figures of 4-0-13-3, which included 14 dot balls.