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Match Analysis

Jofra Archer's smooth comeback gives England a 'different level mood'

Chris Jordan hails his friend's resilience in battling back from long-term elbow injury

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jofra Archer is all smiles after claiming his comeback wicket, England vs Pakistan, 2nd T20I, Edgbaston, May 25, 2024

Jofra Archer's comeback wicket gave his friend and team-mate Chris Jordan "goosebumps"  •  Getty Images

Jos Buttler had repeatedly tried to play down expectations ahead of Jofra Archer's comeback from an elbow injury but it will be hard for England's fans not to get carried away. After 14 months away from international cricket, Archer's smile told the story at Edgbaston: he finished with 2 for 28 from his four overs, closing out a 23-run win.
Googling Archer's name throws up the prompt 'Will Jofra Archer return?' and there have been times during his latest lay-off where it has seemed unlikely - not least at last year's ODI World Cup, when his time as a travelling reserve ended less than a week after he had arrived in Mumbai due to yet another setback. He admitted on Saturday that constant rehabilitation left him feeling like "a hamster on the wheel" and hinted last month that "another stop-start year" would leave him questioning his future in the game.
In that context, Archer could hardly have asked for more on his return against Pakistan on Saturday: two wickets across his four one-over spells; a top speed of 92mph/148kph; and a four-ball cameo of 12 not out, featuring a sweet straight six off Mohammad Amir. There was even an FA Cup final victory at Wembley for his beloved Manchester United, giving him bragging rights over the City-supporting Phil Salt.
For Chris Jordan - his fellow Bajan, friend and mentor - Archer's first wicket was enough to make his hairs stand on end. After an expensive opening over, which cost 15 runs at the end of the Powerplay, Archer struck with the first ball of his second: Azam Khan, Pakistan's keeper-batter, chipped a fullish ball clocked at 90mph/145kph to short cover.
"It gives goosebumps to see him take that wicket," Jordan said. "He probably didn't take it with the best possible delivery, but he'll take it. He's phenomenal: to be out of international cricket for so long and to touch 90mph and just look like he never left is awesome. And he will keep getting better with games."
Archer can appear unflappable on the field but his team-mates noticed some nerves on Saturday. "In the last six months, I feel like I've seen a shift in his vibe and his mindset - everything," Jordan said. "He seemed really happy stepping on the field today; he might not have looked it, but I bet he was quite nervous… for England fans and everyone who is a fan of him, it's great to have him back out there."
It is always a tough ask to bowl the final over of the Powerplay when the ball has stopped swinging, and Archer did little wrong in his first set of six despite conceding 15 runs. There were no looseners, his first ball clocked at 86mph/139kph; and if he overpitched slightly when Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman hit him for fours, Fakhar's deft scoop for six was a clever shot rather than a bad ball.
Perhaps Archer could have turned to his variations earlier, but they were unfurled later in his spell to good effect: Fakhar ducked under an 87mph/140kph bumper, Iftikhar Ahmed couldn't get his legcutters or his back-of-the-hander away, while Shaheen Afridi had to dig a yorker out. Imad Wasim thought he had squeezed a low full toss away for four, but instead picked out Liam Livingstone who held onto a tumbling catch at deep point.
Matthew Mott said on Wednesday that England have a clear idea of their best XI for the the T20 World Cup: with Sam Curran struggling to disguise his disappointment at being left out during a guest appearance on Sky's commentary, the side that featured at Edgbaston could well be the one that starts the tournament against Scotland in Barbados on June 4.
This was a first chance to see England's three likely starting seamers - Archer, Jordan and Reece Topley - in action together, with Moeen Ali, Will Jacks, Liam Livingstone and Adil Rashid also providing four spin options. The quicks have clear roles: Topley will primarily bowl with the new ball; Archer at both ends of the innings; and Jordan mainly towards the end.
"We know how good [Archer] is, how he can change a game in a minute," Jordan said. "Every batsman that came out, they were thinking about the bouncer straightaway. That, in itself, adds a different dynamic to the bowling attack, and some good variety as well: I'm a bit shorter, skiddier; Toppers is tall, left-arm; Jofra's tall, right-arm; Sam's a bit different as well. We've got a good mix of guys."
As the series moves onto Cardiff on Tuesday and The Oval on Thursday, the focus will simply be on Archer continuing to build up his match practice, his return giving England's players what Jordan called "a different-level mood". Five years ago, Archer's late inclusion to England's ODI squad made all the difference to the World Cup campaign that followed; now, the defending T20 champions are hoping for a repeat.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98