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Jofra Archer proves natural born thriller after visceral Steven Smith duel

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So, Justin Langer, about that tactic of getting bowlers into their fourth spells, then… On the eve of his Test debut, in what had otherwise been another horizontally laidback press appearance, Jofra Archer had suddenly fired in a verbal bouncer that was every bit as out of the blue as the languidly launched missiles that exploded on the Lord’s Test.

Responding to Langer’s pre-match “curiosity” about how his body and mind would hold up in a format notorious for grinding down quick bowlers, Archer’s answer dripped with red-ball nous and Test-match readiness, not to mention a confidence that no ordinary Test debutant could have summoned at such will.

ALSO READ: Madness of Test cricket sets up compelling finish

“I’ve played a lot more red-ball than I have white-ball. I do think it’s my preferred format,” he said. “I’ve bowled 50 overs in one game already for Sussex and I’m usually the one bowling the most overs anyway. I think Justin Langer has another thing coming.”

And sure enough, Archer could hardly have predicted more accurately the day’s astonishing scenes had his thoughts been recycled from one of his four-year-old Tweets.

Archer was already 25 overs into his work for the innings, and armed with a ragged old ball that was four overs from completing its 80-over lifespan, when we finally discovered what a silken, effortless, natural-born quick bowler can achieve when he decides the time is ripe to bend that back, and go from effortless to effort-full.

Comparisons are odious when the action is as raw and visceral as Archer made it. The historian David Frith, who witnessed Frank Tyson in his pomp in 1954-55 as well as every great West Indian fast bowler from Wes Hall to Ian Bishop, rightly pointed out that Archer is his own man, with his own methods, and moreover he was bowling within his own context.

The pitch, the conditions, the emotions, the opponents – all of these differ from one great spell to the next, meaning that Harold Larwood at Adelaide in 1932-33, or Jeff Thomson at Brisbane in 1974-75, or Allan Donald at Trent Bridge, or Michael Holding at The Oval, can only really stand as testament to their own brilliance, bullet-points in Test cricket’s extraordinary history, or bullet-holes if you prefer.

But what we witnessed, in the context of the recent Ashes rivalry, was a passage of play as savage, compelling and potentially series-turning as that moment when Mitchell Johnson first slipped his handbrake at Brisbane in 2013-14. In a searing eight-over spell at the end of a 29-over innings, Archer reminded us that there’s a world of difference between run-of-the-mill quick bowling and furious, rip-snortingly rapid head-hunting.

“I’ve got massive admiration for Jofra,” said a mildly chastened Langer, who insisted that his point about Archer’s stamina had been misconstrued. “He’s an unbelievable athlete, an incredibly skillful bowler.

“To bowl 30 overs, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jofra Archer, or Pat Cummins, or Josh Hazlewood, or James Anderson, or [Kagiso] Rabada. It’s hard work. And that was my point before the game. His endurance was outstanding today, his skill and his pace. What an athlete, what a great player to have to promote Test cricket.”

“The catalyst for Archer’s onslaught was his return to the Pavilion End, the traditional hunting ground of the senior strike bowler”

All throughout his maiden Test innings, Archer had been lurking in Australia’s peripheral vision. Pacing, probing, sizing up the pitch, his opponents, and perhaps most of all, his command of a red Dukes ball, the like of which he has barely used in 11 months.

“I don’t think Jofra bowled as quick as he can out there,” said Stuart Broad at the close of day three.

I think it’s fair to say we have seen him do so now…

The catalyst for his onslaught was his return to the Pavilion End, the traditional hunting ground of the senior strike bowler, with its slope back down into the right-hander designed to create doubt in that channel outside off, the very channel in which Steven Smith has been so imperious throughout this series.

Within six balls, Archer had breached Australia’s first line of defence, as Tim Paine – watchful throughout his second-fiddle innings – was caught in two minds (and then at short leg) by the one that nipped back off the seam. And like every fast bowler that’s ever been born, the thrill of a wicket was all that Archer needed to tip his game into overdrive.

In Archer’s next full over with Smith in his sights, he began to purr through his gears – 93mph, 94mph, 94mph – as smooth through his acceleration as a Porsche on the Autobahn. And suddenly Smith found that his extra split-second was no longer there, that his peerless ability to sight the ball on the back foot and point to it mockingly as he left it on the front was redundant.

And then, the first morale-denting strike. A vicious lifter into the forearm, as Smith curled into a defensive ball straight from the hand, unsettled by the line and no longer able to compute the length as the ball chased him like a rogue bludger before leaving him shaking his left arm in agony.

For a time it seemed he might have to retire there and then, his grip compromised, his invincible aura torn, but to his immense credit he popped a couple of pills, accepted some tight binding and took his guard once more. But it was clear that the passive aggression with which he had dominated England for three innings was not coming back – at least not here, not now. This was fight-or-flight mode, and again to his credit, Smith chose the former.

Consecutive bouncers, consecutive hooks – like KP against Lee at The Oval in 2005, but without the soaring upshot, as the first skimmed out of Jonny Bairstow’s reach for four before the second plugged behind square for the single. And then, a scorcher, sizzling into the gloves at a scarcely believable 96.1mph … handbrake not so much slipped as torn clean out of its socket.

But the coup de grace was still to come. Another bouncer, another less-than-confident hook for four … and then the sucker punch. An exquisitely awful moment of pure sporting theatre, as Smith was slammed on the side of the neck by another ugly, incredible, spiteful snorter, and felled in the same instant.

The reaction around Lord’s was stunned bewilderment … much like Archer’s as well, who initially turned on his heel, his objective for the delivery achieved, before realising he needed to join the loose melee that had formed around the stricken Smith, who did at least – in removing his own helmet while spread-eagled on the deck – telegraph the fact that he had not been laid out cold.

An uncomfortable hush descended as the physios of both teams rushed out to attend to Smith, punctuated by a few boos from the witless few who still believe he deserves to be judged for his actions in Cape Town rather than his incredible feats both here and at Edgbaston.

And though he left the field without assistance, it was still a surprise to see him returning to the middle, to yawn into a succession of devil-may-care fours that inched him within touching distance of his third century in as many innings.

It wasn’t the same batsman who had left the crease some 45 minutes earlier, however. For starters he ended up being pinned lbw, offering no shot as Chris Woakes curled one back into off stump – the holy grail dismissal that England had begun to believe was a myth in this series.

“It took a serious spell of fast bowling from Jofra to get Steve out of his bubble, because so far in the series he has been incredible,” Woakes said. “I’m sure it was incredible to watch because it was incredible to be a part of it on the field and thankfully, having seen Steve on the balcony, it looks like he’s okay which is obviously good news.”

Smith’s return to the middle, Langer joked, had come about because he had protested he wouldn’t be able to get himself onto the honours board if he stayed sitting in the dressing-room. And though he failed in that objective, the drama had been so absolute that, for once in this series, his extraction from the crease counted for less than the fact that he had returned to it at all.



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‘World Cup or IPL?’ – Quinton de Kock clarifies

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During the World Cup earlier this year, Quinton de Kock created a mild furore by saying the atmosphere during his IPL 2019 win with Mumbai Indians was more emotionally intense than the one during South Africa’s semi-final defeat in the World Cup in 2015. Blasphemy, cried those who support international cricket over leagues, national flags over similar-looking jerseys. Blown out of proportion, said those who had heard the question, which related to emotional atmosphere at a ground and not the value of a tournament or a match.

A couple of months later, on the eve of South Africa’s T20I against India in Mohali, de Kock was given an opportunity to clarify what he meant.

“What must I say?” It is the biggest thing I have won so far. I haven’t won a World Cup,” de Kock said as a matter of fact. “So obviously once I win a World Cup, if I do, that will be the biggest ever thing I have done in my career. So far it is an IPL. I had played for a couple of teams but had never made the play-offs before. I played for Mumbai, we made the final and we won. So obviously it is a big achievement for any cricketer. There are so many things that cricketers these days want to be part of. They want to win IPL finals. They want to be part of World Cup finals and win them. Personally it’s different for everyone. Everyone has their opinions. My opinion is mine. Their opinion is theirs. For me that’s the biggest thing I have achieved so far.”

The IPL final could not be accused of being dull. Played in front of a raucous crowd, the match involved a successful defence of eight runs in the final over. De Kock was in the thick of him: taking a catch, effecting a run-out, but also conceding four byes off a Jasprit Bumrah hand grenade. The World Cup semi-final was a similarly close affair, but New Zealand beat South Africa in that heart-breaking finish. As a wicketkeeper, de Kock was in the thick of it again, taking a superlative catch to send back Ross Taylor but missing the run-out of Grant Elliott, who eventually took New Zealand home.



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Recent Match Report – India A vs South Africa A 2nd unofficial Test 2019

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Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi and Senuran Muthusamy, three bowlers who could line-up together in the XI for South Africa’s first Test against India in Visakhapatnam, had to go through the grind on the first day of South Africa A’s second four-day fixture against India A in Mysuru. They managed just one wicket between them in 35 overs as the Indians got to a healthy 233 for 3 in 74 overs before bad light forced early stumps.

Shubman Gill, who is unlikely to feature in that Test but is part of the India squad, provided yet another reminder of why he’s rated so highly. Opening the innings, he struck a 137-ball 92, courtesy 12 fours and a six, before becoming the third Indian wicket to fall. Karun Nair, the man with whom Gill forged a 135-run third-wicket stand, continued his good form from the Duleep Trophy to remain unbeaten on 78. His first-class scores for the season before this one read: 20, 90, 166* and 99.

ALSO READ: Shubman Gill interview: ‘Mindset, not game should change.’

When play ended for the day, Nair was batting alongside India A captain Wriddhiman Saha, unbeaten on 36. Rishabh Pant’s Test position isn’t yet under scrutiny, but with a potentially tough examination coming up against South Africa, Saha, who has been named the second wicket-keeper in the Test squad, will have an opportunity to further press his credentials.

Abhimanyu Easwaran, who opened alongside Gill, and Priyank Panchal, who came in at No.3 with Gill opening, scored 5 and 6 respectively. Abhimanyu, coming off a match-winning 153 in the Duleep Trophy final that potentially set him in line for a Test call-up, was the first to go lbw to Ngidi in the sixth over. Panchal followed 11 overs later when he was out to Wiaan Mulder’s medium pace.

From there, Gill and Nair drove home the advantage before Gill fell eight short of his fifth first-class century, shortly before the tea interval. In his 15-match first class career, the 21-year-old now has two centuries and two double-centuries, the last of which was an unbeaten 204 against West Indies A in a second innings, which lifted India A from the pits of 14 for 3 to set up a declaration and eventually push for victory.



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Match Preview – Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe, Bangladesh Twenty20 Tri-Series 2019, 4th Match

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Big Picture

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been no match for Afghanistan in the T20I tri-series so far, so the game on Wednesday is one neither side can afford to slip up in. Both have not produced noteworthy moments so far, with both sets of senior players going through a rough time, though Bangladesh hold the advantage of having won the first encounter between the two.

The hosts’ problems against Afghanistan have resulted in wholesale changes in their squad for the remaining league matches, although only Soumya Sarkar’s axing was courtesy his performance or lack thereof; Mahedi Hasan, Abu Hider and Yeasin Arafat were all dropped without playing a game.

Bangladesh must arrest the top-order slides that marred their first two matches. Seniors Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah have not made important contributions, neither have the likes of Liton Das and Sabbir Rahman. Among the bowlers, only Mohammad Saifuddin has stood out with wickets.

Zimbabwe have plenty to gain if they can manage to beat the under-fire home side. Much like in the case of Bangladesh, their senior batsmen – Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine – must be desperate for decent contributions. On the bowling front, Neville Madziva has at times shown some skills with his slower bouncers and Kyle Jarvis has at times tested with pace and bounce, but Masakadza will probably rely on his spinners to slow things down.

It will be interesting to see if both team managements feel some of their younger players can be tried out in their top orders. For Zimbabwe, that could mean breaking up the Taylor-Masakadza opening pairing, but one of them can add a handy bit of meat and experience down the order.

Form guide

Bangladesh: LWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Zimbabwe: LLWLT

In the spotlight

Since his breakthrough 94 against West Indies in the World Cup, Liton Das hasn’t crossed 33 in eight innings across formats, culminating in a duck against Afghanistan in the previous game. Some of Bangladesh’s batting woes will go away if he finds form.

Ryan Burl has been something akin to Zimbabwe’s surprise package in this tri-series, having made a rapid, unbeaten fifty against Bangladesh in the first game, and a run-a-ball 25 against Afghanistan. His side would hope for consistency from him in the rest of the series.

Team news

With Soumya Sarkar axed from the squad, Bangladesh may look to hand a T20I debut to Mohammad Naim, the lanky opener who has impressed recently in domestic cricket. If they are willing to be a little adventurous, legspin-bowling allrounder Aminul Islam could be a possible replacement for Sabbir Rahman.

Bangladesh (probable): 1 Mohammad Naim, 2 Liton Das, 3 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Sabbir Rahman, 7 Mosaddek Hossain, 8 Afif Hossain, 9 Mohammad Saifuddin, 10 Taijul Islam, 11 Mustafizur Rahman

Zimbabwe can try out Chris Mpofu and Richmond Mutumbami who are yet to play on this tour. Tony Munyonga, the 20-year-old allrounder should get another opportunity as he neither batted nor bowled in his debut against Bangladesh on September 13.

Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Brendan Taylor (wk), 2 Hamilton Masakadza (capt), 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Sean Williams, 5 Tinotenda Mutombodzi, 6 Ryan Burl, 7 Regis Chakabva, 8 Neville Madziva, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Ainsley Ndlovu, Tendai Chatara

Pitch and conditions

Sides batting first have averaged 138 runs in night games at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, but the totals vary wildly: from Netherlands’ 39 all out to South Africa’s 196 for 5.

There is a slight possibility of a shower in the evening.

Stats and trivia

  • Asghar Afghan is now the second Afghanistan player to appear in 50 consecutive T20Is for his country. Mohammad Shahzad tops the overall list with 58 appearances in a row.

  • Mustafizur Rahman is one wicket short of becoming the second Bangladesh bowler to take 50 T20I wickets. Shakib Al Hasan is the overall leader with 90 wickets.

  • Sabbir Rahman is 55 short of becoming the fifth batsman to reach 1,000 T20I runs for Bangladesh.

Quotes

“We know they [Bangladesh] are under pressure, but we have to get the basics right.”
Zimbabwe allrounder Sean Williams on whether this is his side’s best chance to push Bangladesh



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