England paceman Jofra Archer discusses his Test future, injury and formative years as a spinner

Jofra Archer is back where it all began. Somewhere along the track that meanders down to the rocky coastline where he occasionally escapes to fish, a dog barks.

The tranquillity broken; rhythmic cracks of balls struck by bats are soon audible as five boys from the Barbados parish of Saint Philip return from a rain break to practise on the adjacent cricket pitch cultivated by Archer’s stepfather Patrick a decade ago.

‘It wasn’t as advanced as it is now. It was literally a mud wicket that we rolled out and if the rain fell there would be no training for at least two days, we’d have to wait for it to dry out. These days that isn’t the case because we’ve got concrete and matting. It’s come a long way,’ Archer tells Sportsmail.

England star Jofra Archer is still recovering after two operations on his right elbow

He is motivated and the infectious smile synonymous with the World Cup-winning summer of 2019 is back. This week he has trained alongside his England team-mates, after 10 months apart from them caused by an injured right elbow requiring two sets of surgery. 

It was only at three- quarter pace, but the 26-year-old arcing a delivery past Sam Billings’ outside edge in midweek has been one of the most pleasing sights of this tour.

‘I wasn’t really missing cricket until the guys got here, to be honest,’ he says. ‘But it feels good to be back in the routine. For a while, until I started bowling again, I felt like, “I can’t do this”.

‘But them coming out here has happened at the right time for me. With the Test team coming next month it will allow me to train with higher intensity as well. I couldn’t have written the script. Everything’s happened just for me, I reckon. That’s how it feels.

‘The hardest two pills I’ve had to swallow were not playing in the Twenty20 World Cup and the Ashes but other than that everything has been so good since.

‘Within myself I know I am not ready yet but having access to the doctors, the physio and removing the need to go back to England feels like a real plus. I feel like I am stealing time right now.

The 26-year-old is taking small steps on his road to recovery after a difficult spell

The 26-year-old is taking small steps on his road to recovery after a difficult spell

‘When the Test team comes here, I might even get to partake in training wholly and won’t feel like the physios are monitoring me all the time. The fun police won’t be out any more! Even now if I am throwing, I could turn round and see Ben Langley, the physio, watching me and saying with a look, “No more intensity”.

‘Right now, I can do everything but it’s small steps,’ he adds. ‘I have no idea when I will be playing matches, I am just trying to build up and it’s all about what I can tolerate at any given time. That’s all. I’ve had a few rehabs now and sometimes it can get to a level where you aggravate your hand, and you have to back off a little bit. Then, when you do come back a few days later, it’s able to handle some load through it.

‘I’ve waited long enough so it makes no sense rushing the last bit. I’ve got five months at my disposal, so it will be whenever I’m ready.’

The path for Archer’s competitive return is yet to be plotted. Voted the best player in the Indian Premier League in 2020, he is unlikely to head to the 2022 edition but equally the ECB medical team might consider thrusting him straight into first-class action at the start of the domestic season too much of a risk after such a lengthy lay-off.

Archer with pal Chris Jordan during a nets session at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown

Archer with pal Chris Jordan during a nets session at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown

Last year, he broke down during his one Championship outing for Sussex, an episode that led to the first of two operations. The second took place last month.

He remains intensely private about the detail, as is his prerogative, but reflects: ‘It will hopefully prevent it happening again. It was hard to have it at the very beginning because I wanted to try to let it heal itself. But after so long you do have to say, “It’s time to do something proactive”.’

Naturally, having surgery invites uncertainty. How will the body react? Will it be robust enough to withstand previous levels of strain? Will that intoxicating pace still be there?

Before the first operation, his mum Joelle flew to the UK to support him. She was meant to be in Hove for a month but stayed for six. Family, pets, Xbox. Archer has surrounded himself with things to take his mind off cricket over the past year. Sadly, though, the second period of recuperation coincided with heartache through the loss of one of his dogs, Blu, to sunstroke.

Animals have been in his life as long as he can remember. As a young boy he had a cat. Then, there were sheep. Neither do his childhood memories stretch to a time before he played cricket.

‘Growing up here, I didn’t think you had a choice, to be honest,’ he says. ‘Cricket was always about bonding not just exercise. Here, your mates do it and so you do it, and eventually you do it so regularly that you start to get good at it. It’s a way of life.’

The fast bowler has trained alongside his England team-mates after 10 months apart

The fast bowler has trained alongside his England team-mates after 10 months apart

This idyllic island has produced some fast-bowling greats: Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. But it almost didn’t produce Archer.

He takes up the story: ‘Because a lot of people here don’t have a strong wrist or the ability for their arms to hyperextend, anything that looks a bit odd, they just say, “You’re chucking it”. So, at the age of 13 I put the gloves on and kept wicket for a bit. Then, my cricket coach Bruce Cousins said to me, “You can’t throw leg-spin” so I bowled that for two years.

‘But you could be in the field for two hours before lunch and not have a sniff of bowling a ball, so I got a bit fed up with that.’

His break came at the age of 16 when playing for Christ Church Foundation School. Some of the team, including an opening bowler, missed the start of a match due to a transportation mix-up and the captain threw Archer the new ball.

‘The umpire told me he’d never seen me before, but I had such a nice action, this and that. Up until then, I only bowled fast when I played tape ball in the evenings,’ he recalls.

This explains how Archer snuck up on West Indies. When he went to his first Under 19 camp, hand-picked by Roddy Estwick — who doubled as a teacher at the rival Combermere School — he had not played any age-group cricket. ‘I got the vibe that the other guys were asking why I was there,’ he says.

The reasons were becoming apparent during his evening practices with stepfather Patrick. Recalling one, Archer says: ‘He bowled me four balls straight. From that time, I thought, “You know what, I better not bat no more”.’

Archer has been out for nearly a year and missed the Ashes and Twenty20 World Cup

 Archer has been out for nearly a year and missed the Ashes and Twenty20 World Cup

These days, Patrick coaches youngsters — many of whom play for the local Pickwick club, in the Archer Academy net outside his house.

There is an abundance of talent here. To the extent that Archer’s best friend — the left-armer Jerome Jones, who went to Under 19 World Cups with West Indies — is yet to make his first-class debut at 27.

‘I’ve always thought that any spinner that makes it out of India is amazing because he would’ve been up against at least 400 other spinners. It’s pretty much the same here with seamers. There’s always rivalry and always competition for your spot,’ Archer says.

Having focused on becoming a fast bowler rather than a striker, after Patrick advised him to choose between cricket and football 10 years ago — ‘I would’ve played for Barbados, definitely,’ he says, with confidence — it explains why, after his own Windies World Cup omission, he used his British passport to pursue a career with England.

Northamptonshire had offered him a chance, but, with close friend Chris Jordan’s help, he agreed to sign for Sussex.

The rest, as they say, is history. As for the future? Does he remain intent on playing Test cricket?

‘Yes, absolutely,’ he responds. ‘Watching the Ashes, I felt like I had let everyone down a little bit, when you see fast bowlers taking 90 per cent of the wickets — but you don’t get injured on purpose.

‘Of course, I want to be part of making this England team a success, but this past year has taught me that you can plan all you want, then something happens to change everything.’

Here’s hoping that the next change is one for the better.

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