Sussex v Kent, Specsavers Championship Div Two, Hove, 1st day April 14, 2017

Archer's seven hits the mark for Sussex

Sussex 11 for 1 trail Kent 304 (Dickson 68, Stevens 68, Archer 7-67) by 293 runs
Scorecard

Daniel Bell-Drummond lost his middle stump attempting to leave against Jofra Archer © Getty Images

It is just a day into Sussex's Championship campaign and, if the supporters are to be believed, player of the year, young player of the year and bowling performance of the year have been wrapped up. Jofra Archer, with figures of 7 for 67 - his first five-wicket haul in first-class cricket - bowled with the skill beyond his 22 years and seven matches.

On a surface that rewarded patience from both sides, he outbowled the world-class Vernon Philander (who went wicketless) and created havoc at will. Last month, he set himself a target of 70 wickets across all three formats in 2017. He's already a tenth of the way there. "Just 63 more to go," he said, with all the chutzpah of a man ready to tick them off in good time.

His rise has been a remarkable one. But it is a rise that fans of Sussex and cricket should cherish. Because, at the beginning of 2016, aged 20, Archer was close to retiring from the game. Two years after a stress fracture of the back, he was in still experiencing great discomfort. In agony after a handful of overs, he wondered if he could have a career that took more than it gave him. Luckily, for all of us - though maybe not Kent - he kept with it.

"It's been really frustrating, to be honest. In 2014, I played two games in the Sussex twos and I did really well. Then my back just gave out. The most frustrating thing was that CJ [Chris Jordan] kept telling me that if I played five more games, I probably would have gotten a contract."

Over the next two years, his back showed little sign of progress. Then he thought about packing it in. "Honestly, I almost called it quits. It was just too painful. I probably could only bowl one spell in a day. I couldn't really come back into an attack: my back would stiffen up a lot. Luckily my parents kept pushing me."

A programme of core work in England and Barbados, coupled with regular physiotherapy helped him get stronger and take the strain away from his back. Watching him bowl, you do wonder where the strain comes from. His action is like no other: velvet strides to the crease that shine the grass beneath his feet, before a gather with all the grace of Gene Kelly skipping over a puddle takes him into delivery. Think of the equivalent of the Moonwalk but going forward, and you're barely halfway there.

The first wicket of the day was box office. Daniel Bell-Drummond, confident enough to leave after seeing what Archer had offered him, left a ball that started wide but ended up poleaxing his middle stump. Last season, a similar set-up and finish that saw a Leicestershire batsman lose off and middle went viral. This one is likely to do similar numbers. "It's already all over Twitter at the moment," he laughed.

"It's my stock ball, really. I try and set batsmen up with the outswinger: it's not my strongest ball but, I bowl it a couple of times just to let the batsman know that I have it."

It has taken time for him to develop that ball: hard work combined with the need to "trust" his wrist. Jordan, too, overcame similar back and technical issues to get where he is today - an international cricketer currently plying his trade in the IPL - and it is not lazy to wonder if Archer will glide the same path, given how much the former has relied on the latter already.

Jordan originally came across Archer around five years ago while he was still spending his winters playing first-class cricket for Barbados. Brisk in the nets and capable if unspectacular with the bat, Archer immediately impressed and Jordan kept tabs on his progression. When he found out that Archer had a British passport through his father, Jordan advised him to seek opportunities in the UK.

In 2014, he signed for Middleton Cricket Club as their overseas player, while Jordan managed to wangle him some 2nd XI games. The stress-fracture stopped him bowling but he used the time to bring his batting up to speed, averaging over 50 across 13 club games. It was only in 2015, when he was bowling again, albeit off a short run-up (and still quick), that the county realised just how good he could be.

Reluctant to commit to any deal because of the nature of the injury, Sussex encouraged Archer take it easy over the winter to ensure he was fully fit and return to England the following year. Rather than return to Middleton, he emailed Horsham, who have strong ties with Sussex through opening batsman Chris Nash, whose elder brother Mark is involved with the running of the club. Not long after that email was received, Mark fielded a call from former West Indies and Sussex quick Corey Collymore, Archer's mentor in Barbados, who gave a glowing reference.

As it turned out, he only managed a handful of games for Horsham after a four-for in a tour game with Pakistan led to Sussex hogging him for the remainder of 2016. He took 35 wickets in all competitions - 23 in Championship cricket - along with handy runs down the order, including 73 during a 140-run partnership with Jordan against Essex. At the beginning of August, with counties circling for his signature, Sussex gave him an 18-month deal. In December, they reinforced that with a two-year extension.

Kent had ambled their way to 152 for 6 in the 58th over - Archer removing Will Gidman and Adam Rouse in consecutive balls - with opener Sean Dickson's 68 from 179 balls the only score of note. But a dropped catch at first slip off the bowling of Ajmal Shahzad allowed Darren Stevens a life on 6. By the time the new ball came around after 80 overs, Kent had added more than 100, as Stevens and Wayne Parnell freed their arms and liberated the innings. Their partnership was eventually brought to a halt by Shahzad before Archer stepped in to mop up the tail.

The loss of Chris Nash under lights - lbw to Matt Coles - perhaps took the edge off for Sussex. Archer, however, is hopeful of a lead. And who are we to disagree?

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Josiah on April 15, 2017, 21:45 GMT

    sad to see west Indian players leave to play for another country. produce ya own players why don't ya?

  •   cricfan69564930 on April 15, 2017, 11:27 GMT

    anyone know how fast Jofra has been clocked bowling ???

  • james on April 14, 2017, 20:31 GMT

    Good to see some young blood for Sussex. After the last two seasons was very concerned to see so few promising cricketers around for sussex under the age of 30 but his game they not only have Archer (future international?) but Rawlins and Finch. Hopefully all three will serve Sussex well for years to come.

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