Dobell: Jofra Archer key to England becoming a stronger, better-balanced side

Jofra Archer appeals for the wicket of Carlos Braithwaite Getty Images

Heading into the World Cup, it was England's batting that was perceived as their strength. It was a reasonable assumption, too, based on a succession of vast scores that had taken them to the No. 1 world ranking.

The reputation of their bowling attack was more modest. It looked sound, certainly, but appeared to lack the potential match-winners that studded that batting line-up. It sometimes seemed England were resigned to conceding vast scores, but confident their batsmen could score one more.

Now? Well, they have two bowlers in the top five wicket-takers in the World Cup. Their two opening bowlers have delivered the two fastest deliveries of the tournament. And they have two men in the top five of the bowling averages (with a minimum of eight wickets) and four men in the top 14 economy rates (with a minimum of 28 overs). Irrespective of the results - we'll come on to that - you could make a case arguing they are a stronger, better-balanced side.

Key to that improvement has been the emergence of Jofra Archer. Coming from a nation (Barbados) that has an incredible record of developing fast bowlers to a nation (England) with an incredible record of breaking them, his qualification has been received like a starving man coming upon an all you can eat restaurant. His arrival has not only given England's attack a cutting edge they have lacked for a long time but his partnership with Mark Wood, every bit as quick but shorter and therefore presenting different challenges, has given England a partnership to savour. They have, between them, 27 wickets in this tournament. Wood with 12 (at an average of 16.91 and an economy-rate of 4.75) and Archer with 15 (at an average of 17.93 and an economy-rate of 4.90). Nobody has more than him.

Underlining his potency and consistency, Archer has claimed three-wicket hauls in five of the six matches England have played in the tournament. He is dangerous with the new ball, dangerous when he comes back in mid-innings and as good as they have at the death. It is a fine effort for a man new to international cricket.

Tuesday offers another 'first' for Archer. He has yet to play against Australia in international cricket and he didn't bowl in the warm-up game against them in Southampton. This will be, then, a first serious introduction to the oldest rivalry in the international game.

Not that he is a stranger to many of the opposition. He has played with or against many of them in various T20 leagues and hopes that, despite his inexperience at international level, he can provide some tactical insight to his team. Notably, he and Ben Stokes played alongside Steve Smith at Rajasthan Royals. And while Archer describes Smith as a friend, it is clear that relationship will be shelved until the game is over.

"He's a really good guy," Archer says of Smith. "Cricket is cricket and I guess there is time to be friends after the game. But until the game is over, there will be nothing friendly about it.

"I didn't bowl at him much in the nets during the IPL. A lot of the guys probably don't want to face me in the nets. They like the side-arm and the throws.

"But when you play with people, you pick up on things you won't normally notice when you're just playing against them. So hopefully me and Stokes can get together - I think we might bowl together at some point - as we probably know what to do when he's in.

"We're pretty up for the game. The guys weren't too down about the last game. The guys were a bit more surprised than anything. We know that anything can happen on the day and Sri Lanka bowled really well. We just have to try to make wrong things right."

ALSO READ: Langer backs Australia's under-fire batting gameplans

So, with the bowling attack now offering similar match-winning potential to the batting line-up, why is it that England's progress is in jeopardy? Well, if this was South Africa we were talking about, you can guarantee the 'choke' word would have cropped up by now. And there was something about the nervous fielding at The Oval - a key ingredient in the defeat against Pakistan - and the nervous run-chase at Headingley - a key ingredient in the defeat against Sri Lanka - that supported such a theory. It might be remembered that England suffered an attack of stage fright in the Champions Trophy semi-final of 2017 and, perhaps, in the final of 2013, too.

Maybe that's not surprising. A huge amount has been invested in this England side: they have been charged, among other things, with inspiring a new generation of supporters to the game and reviving the sport in this country. To do that, they are expected not just to win, but to win with style and a smile. All of a sudden, the burden of expectation and hope from a nation that has never won this trophy - and which may well never have another realistic chance - is starting to weigh heavily. In that context, it's hardly surprising Jason Roy has been sent for a second scan on his hamstring. England are very keen to have him back for Sunday's match against India.

While Archer admits semi-final qualification has become "tighter than we would have liked" he has chosen to interpret England's current situation as a positive. As he sees it - as the entire camp see it - they no longer have a chance to dwell or dither: they simply have to seize the moment and fling themselves into every match with the positivity and confidence that took them to No. 1 in the rankings. It's less than a year since they defeated Australia 5-0 in an ODI series, after all, though this Australia looks substantially stronger.

"I think this is a chance to really see where our game is," Archer said. "They're at the top of the table and more than likely to go through. So if we get through, we should be OK to pretty much win anything. If we could beat them now and then have to play them again we'll be OK.

"We just need to keep playing the cricket we've been playing for the last couple of years and we'll be fine. There is no need to try and change anything after one loss."

He's probably right. And while this Australia team looks much improved from the one whitewashed last year, England didn't have Archer in the side then. This looks set to be a high-quality encounter with plenty of context. It is, in short, exactly what the World Cup should be about.