It was only fitting that Jofra Archer’s stunning comeback would occur in Kimberley, the South African city where diamonds have been mined for over a century.
For almost two years injuries had deprived the 27-year-old, England’s most prized possession, of the chance to shine on the stage he had made his own.
But after a period of dog-sitting rather than wicket-taking, Archer dazzled again in Wednesday’s third one-day international against South Africa.
He took six wickets – the first time he took five or more wickets in the format – bowling with the pace that brought back all the memories of his first season for England.
The stumps were splattered, just like at the 2019 World Cup. Aiden Markram was surprised and hit by a fearsome bouncer, like Australia’s Steve Smith was four years ago on that epic Ashes Day at Lord’s.
“He’s like gold dust,” former England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports. “He is so valuable to English cricket and world cricket.”
This is the day Archer really came back…
A first five-wicket transport – how it went
- 11.4 passing: After being introduced in the round of 16, Archer knocks out Rassie van der Dussen, who cuts the ball back. AS 60-2.
- 11.5 overs: Archer hits new hitter Markram’s shoulder with a bouncer at 92 mph. AS 60-2
- 25.4 overs: Archer is called up on offense with Markram and Reeza Hendricks doing well. Four balls in the spell, Markram tries to fire the fast thrower but is caught by an over edge. SA 158-4.
- 27.1 passing: In his next over, Archer beats the dangerous David Miller for pace with the southpaw notching a 90mph delivery to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. SA 175-5.
- 27.2 passing: Almost two out of two. Marco Jansen points his first ball to a slide but Moeen Ali can’t take a hard, low grip. SA 175-5
- 39.4 overruns: Archer is brought back to bowling again with Heinrich Klaasen leading South Africa to victory with 80 balls from 62. Archer caught him square leg deep with a slower ball bouncer. SA 278-7.
- 41.1 overs: Archer has five! He circles the wicket towards Wayne Parnell and throws the southpaw as he steps back. SA 281-9.
- 43.1 passing: And that’s six. Archer beats number 11 Tabraiz Shamsi to seal the victory for England on 59 points. SA 287 at full speed.
“The road has been long”
Archer’s joy – he punched the air and roared with delight – was clear when he beat Parnell to seal his first five-wicket carry in the ODIs.
It was only his second international match in a much-anticipated comeback after 17 months out of injury. Before the first ODI on Friday, when he returned his most expensive ODI figures, it had been 22 months without an appearance for England.
The first sign of Archer’s injury problems came during the India tour in early 2021. Soon after, an elbow complaint became serious enough to require surgery and before long a second operation was required. .
Then, when he was groomed to return in May 2022, it was revealed that Archer had suffered a stress fracture in his back. That would exclude him from another campaign.
Unable to bowl or even run for a time, Archer spent most of his time on his native island of Barbados. He distracted himself by buying five new dogs – American bullies named Ace, Onyx, Ghost, Nova, Luna – to add to his French Mastiff, Sheeba.
But England, perhaps still knowing the rare talent at its disposal, wanted him never to be too far away.
When the white ball team traveled to the Caribbean in January 2022, Archer was a guest on net. He was there again two months later when the Test team returned.
It was clear that Archer was being kept nearby.
Now that those months of rehabilitation are behind him, Archer has twice turned in a game that turned to South Africa. Once the victory was over, his teammates stepped back to allow him to lead the team from the field.
“It’s good to be back. It’s been a long road,” he said.
“It’s a small tick but I want to see how I’m doing in April, June, July and September.
“To be back after several weeks, months, it’s a bit surreal. It’s only the first series, there’s plenty of time to make adjustments.”
“He’s really back”
With an Ashes series to come against Australia in June and July, and England’s 50 World Cup defense from India in October, Archer’s return has caused a jolt of excitement for fans. England at the end of an otherwise disappointing series won 2-1 by South Africa.
As Archer took his fifth wicket, former England striker and TV commentator Kevin Pietersen said: “He’s really back, back with a vengeance”.
The coming months will see Archer return to the Indian Premier League with Mumbai Indians where he said he will play extra overs in net to develop his fitness for the Ashes.
“The back and the elbow are absolutely critical so there would have been doubt about his return,” former England captain Michael Atherton told Sky Sports.
“He still has some way to go to show he can do it in all formats and then cope with an ever more demanding schedule, but it was a wonderful day for him.”
The Aussies have just arrived in India for a tantalizing four-test series, which kicks off next week. Archer’s performance is unlikely to have gone unnoticed.
For now, however, the rest of us can just rejoice that one of England’s most exciting players is back and performing.
“What I took today was not just his class and his wicket-taking potential, but what I missed was just the effortless grace he has,” said added Hussain.
Long may this continue.
‘The most exciting England bowler since Flintoff’ – how social media reacted
Gary’s Goldfish: @JofraArcher You may never read this, but I’m glad you seem to have recovered from your massive injury issues and are performing so beautifully again. Thank you very much for your efforts and the entertainment you provided.
Mark Burt: Archer showing how game-changing he is. A warm-up performance, the next world class. Phenomenal.
Aaron Campbell: Bright! England’s most exciting bowler since Flintoff. Keep fit man!
Melanie Couldrey: So good to see @JofraArcher back bowling like this. Magnificent.
Kevin Ticehurst: This is the real Jof, which we are witnessing here. He is back!!!