Feature

Can Chris Jordan find redemption and a swansong at the World Cup?

After England's loss in last year's semi-final, he was cast as the villain. Now the death-overs specialist is back, fitter, for one last crack at a world title

"I really do genuinely enjoy being in [death-overs] situations, because when you do come out of the right side of those situations, it builds confidence"  •  David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

"I really do genuinely enjoy being in [death-overs] situations, because when you do come out of the right side of those situations, it builds confidence"  •  David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

"Don't apologise for bringing it up," Chris Jordan says. "It happened, it's a fact."
It felt appropriate to say sorry before dredging up bad memories from last year when Jordan stepped up to bowl the 17th over of the chase in England's T20 World Cup semi-final . New Zealand needed an unlikely 57 from 24 deliveries. Six legitimate balls and two wides later, that was a more manageable 34 off 18 . They eventually got home with an over to spare.
Jordan was crestfallen as he walked off the ground at the Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. "Nothing is guaranteed in T20 cricket," he says. "But we were in a decent position, and a couple of half-decent overs and we come out on the right end".
That night went as they usually do: a few drinks and a lot of reflection. Eventually, Jordan decided to check his phone and reply to several commiserating messages, before opening up social media. What he found was a torrent of racist abuse.
He had been racially abused before, but not to this extent. "It wasn't necessarily the fact it was racist abuse, it was the volume of it.
"A lot of nasty things were said. I got told stuff about my family, so many different things. Whatever you can think of from a racial point of view, it was said to me, it was sent to me."
Accounts were reported to the respective social media authorities, though the sheer number of them, coupled with the fact that it was unlikely any action would be taken, gave him a sense it was all a bit futile.
That being said, Jordan carries a degree of optimism. Conversations had over the past few years, particularly in his role as ambassador of the ACE programme - a charity started by former England and Surrey cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent in January 2020 to support diverse talent, from grassroots to elite - gives him a sense things are changing. Yet there is also an awareness of how these drives for inclusivity draw out the worst of society.
"It's a tough one, to put your finger on what exactly can be done, because ultimately people will hide behind profiles and feel like they can pull their keyboard out and tell you whatever they want to tell you, whenever they want to tell you.
"I personally believe the needle is moving ever so slightly. But everything has to start somewhere.
"By the time it fully shifts, I'm not even sure we might even be around. We can only do our bit in the present, with a hope you would have played even a small role in fully shifting the landscape."
It is a measure of Jordan's experience that he understood why he was being insulted, if not the scale and framing of the insults. Being a death bowler in T20 cricket is perhaps one of the most polarising roles in professional sport.
"It felt as though a lot of the blame was put solely on myself," he says. "Which is fine. When you bowl in those situations, more often than not, the game is on the line and it's you who determines which way the game swings."
At the pointy end, the best-laid plans can go awry, but also, poor execution of those plans can still bring glory. Jordan embodies the dichotomy inherent in the job; very few have toed the line between hero and villain as he has in his 14 years in the shortest format. Understandably, it is often forgotten he conceded just eight in the penultimate over of the 2016 T20 World Cup final before Carlos Brathwaite eviscerated Ben Stokes. Even when you do your job, neither acclaim or success is guaranteed.
Of the 13 bowlers to have sent down 25 or more overs in the last four overs of a T20I since the start of 2021, Jordan's economy rate, 10.65, is the fourth worst. Expanding that to all T20s in that same period, Jordan's 9.66 is the seventh-most expensive of 19 bowlers, though only Pakistan's Haris Rauf has bowled more than Jordan's 205 dot balls. At the time of writing, no one, domestically or internationally, has bowled more at the death in the last two years.
Given how unforgiving the role is, the question has to be asked: Why do it to yourself? Why assume all that pressure while others have the luxury of getting their four out of the way early?
"I take it back to life," Jordan says. "Nothing in life comes easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it, and everyone would want to do it. I pride myself on that, if you like.
"I really do genuinely enjoy being in those situations, because I think about the positives. When you do come out of the right side of those situations, it builds confidence."
If there is a thrill-seeker element to death bowling, it comes with a requirement to focus on the hazards. Jordan regularly debriefs his performances, judging himself primarily on execution, though occasionally focusing on outcome, particularly if he can identify external tweaks like adjusting the angle of certain fielders to turn fours into ones.
Having watched his final over in last year's semi-final, bowled exclusively to Jimmy Neesham, whose 27 off 11 allowed Daryl Mitchell (72 not out) to see New Zealand to their target of 167, he admits to being conflicted.
"When I look back on it, Neesham came out on top. But I still created two chances in that over that could have swung the game back the other way. Jonny [Bairstow] stepped on the rope, which ended up being a six, then another went up in the air where Livi [Liam Livingstone] misjudged it. But that's part of cricket. Although I felt he definitely won the first part of the over, I definitely won the second in terms of creating chances. Though certainly not outcome.
"It wasn't one of the better overs in my career, but I could have swung the game in our favour. Over a period of time, if it plays out like that, I feel like it could end up in my favour a high percentage of the time."
This T20 World Cup is likely to be Jordan's last, though he arrives at a neat juncture where learnings and body are sharp. He has fully recovered from a finger injury that cut his summer short. He showcased greater pace this season than in the previous two; CricViz data shows 37.9% of his deliveries were over 140kph compared to 25.3% in 2021 and 34.9 in 2022 overall.
That timeline is no coincidence. A nerve problem in his shoulder resulted in the wasting of his right bicep, which required surgery in the summer of 2020. Medical consultations that followed revealed he would only get back to full pace two years later. Jordan initially let that assessment slide before a moment of realisation during the second T20I against India at Edgbaston. He took 4 for 27, with the destructive duo of Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya among them.
"I only realised when the speed gun was coming up consistently," admits Jordan. "The surgeon said obviously there will be a little bit of improvement but I probably wouldn't see the best of it until after two years. And then it hit me that that was almost two years to the day, when it coincided with my speeds and consistency. I guess the surgeon was more or less bang on!"
Before that series, a one-on-one meeting with an England analyst revealed Jordan was bowling fewer yorkers. From 27.7% of his deliveries in 2021, that figure had nearly doubled to 50.4 this year.
He was surprised at that dip in 2021 because he prides himself on the delivery. At the same time, he admits it might have been the subconscious result of fearing he was becoming predictable and moving to hit length more.
Batters have become accustomed to scoring off yorkers with ramp shots or by sitting deeper in their crease, and tactics have shifted accordingly. England, for example, bowled the fewest yorkers of the Super 12 teams at the 2021 World Cup. However, from Jordan's perspective, they remain in vogue.
"I made a conscious effort to bowl a lot more [of them] and then game to game, player to player, I just tried to put the percentages in my favour: whether [those batters] had a higher strike rate on wider yorkers or straight yorkers. Being a little bit smarter in that way.
"I guess the more data that has come into the game, you end up having more bespoke plans for each player, which don't really revolve around yorkers. You find out that some players are actually really good at hitting them, and that's when you know the margin for error when you miss is smaller, so you might avoid it.
"I do feel it has gone out of the game as a go-to plan at the death, and captains and coaches are encouraging you to actually hold length a little longer, because you could get someone out in that fashion instead of trying to restrict them."
Jordan is 34, and given the next T20 World Cup is in 2024 and he has not played an ODI since February 2020, it is not unreasonable to think this World Cup could be his last appearances of note in an England shirt. Beyond three T20Is in early 2023 away to Bangladesh, international duty may be a thing of the past for Surrey's T20 captain, though he continues to be ever present on the franchise circuit.
England have a chance to make amends for 2021. A generation of cricketers who have lifted the team out of the white-ball doldrums have a shot at the perfect sign-off by holding both limited-overs world trophies concurrently. And for Jordan, it is an opportunity to right his wrong and add some personal glory to a dedicated career that might only truly get its flowers when he's no longer around.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo