Tymal Mills times his rise as Jofra Archer injury leaves hole in England's T20 World Cup plans

Left-armer has been on Eoin Morgan's radar and looks to be hitting his straps

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Tymal Mills celebrates a breakthrough at the death, London Spirit vs Southern Brave, Lord's, Men's Hundred, August 1, 2021

Tymal Mills impressed at the death against Southern Brave  •  Getty Images

Few players have dominated one phase of a T20 innings like Jofra Archer did in the 2020 IPL season in the UAE. While his Rajasthan Royals team-mates went around the park early in the innings, Archer took 10 Powerplay wickets in 14 games while conceding only 4.34 runs an over; England have struggled at times up front over the last two years, so Archer's form with the new ball was a huge positive ahead of this October's T20 World Cup.
So Thursday's news that Archer's persistent elbow injury will rule him out of the rest of the year was a crushing blow not only to their Ashes hopes, but to their chances of becoming the first team to hold both ODI and T20 World Cups simultaneously. First and foremost it is a crying shame for Archer himself, but the loss of their fastest and most skilled seamer has also left a gaping hole in England's side.
When Tymal Mills stood at the top of his mark at Emirates Old Trafford later the same day, there was a wider context than simply hoping to extend Southern Brave's winning run in the Hundred. Rain was falling throughout Manchester Originals' innings, helping the ball skid through off the pitch, and Mills took a deep breath before steaming in to bowl to Joe Clarke.
Clarke set himself deep in his crease, looking to swing through the leg side with eight balls remaining in a reduced Powerplay, and looked around to see his leg stump ripped out of its groove. Mills hit a good length at 86mph/138kph with the first ball he bowled, beat Clarke for pace, and let out a guttural roar while punching the air in celebration. This was not just a wicket - it was proof that he was a viable alternative to Archer in England's opening game this October.
There has been a similar context around Mills throughout the Hundred so far, after Eoin Morgan's unexpected name-check during a routine post-match press conference at the end of England's series against Sri Lanka in June. "He is an outstanding bowler and we've always been in communication with him, wanting him to get fit, play as much cricket as possible, and leave him alone until the World Cup comes," Morgan said. "He's a good example [of someone] that could present a really strong case throughout the Hundred."
Mills has struggled with injuries over the four years since his last England appearance - against India in 2017, immediately before his life-changing IPL deal - and Morgan's angle on him has stayed consistent throughout that period. "Due to his fitness background, we probably wouldn't consider him until a World Cup year," he said back in 2018, during the tri-series in Australia and New Zealand.
He managed to play seven out of Sussex's nine completed games in the Vitality Blast this summer, taking 11 wickets and conceding only 7.63 runs an over, but the nature of the competition is that plenty of impressive performances go unnoticed. "There are so many games that you can't play them all in front of the cameras and guys scoring hundreds, taking wickets, taking amazing catches - they're relegated to stationary cameras on a Twitter feed," Mills himself said earlier this year.
So at the start of the Hundred, there was pressure on. He bowled reasonably well with a low score to defend in the Brave's crushing defeat against Trent Rockets in the opening game, but conceded 32 runs from 20 balls in his next two appearances, and while he was hitting good speeds, he conceded plenty of boundaries when offering batters width.
But his past two appearances have been difficult to ignore. Against London Spirit at Lord's, he returned 1 for 15 from his four overs; while his team-mate Chris Jordan took the headlines, it was Mills who changed the game.
Josh Inglis, the set batter on 48, failed to read his changes of pace as Mills conceded a single run from his third set of five, and with 14 needed off the last 10 balls, he went for three while having Mohammad Nabi caught on the edge of the cover ring. With Morgan in the other dugout, it was a performance that did his place in England's pecking order the world of good.
Four nights later, he conceded nine runs from his 11 balls against the Originals; it was a tiny sample, of course, but his success stood in comparison to two other highly-rated seamers on his side in Jordan and George Garton, both of whom were expensive on the night.
In particular, Mills' unique method has come to the fore. He has hit 91mph/146kph in the tournament but his slower balls - particularly out the back of the hand - have often been clocked in the 65mph/105kph region, despite a similarly quick arm. Mills has used his yorker more regularly this year than in the past, but has continued to back his analysis that 'hard-length' balls into the pitch that cramp batters for room will be more successful in the long run. His record at the death remains the best in the world since the last World T20, and if he can prove he is potent in the Powerplay too during this tournament, he will start to resemble a complete package.
The result is that Mills has started to look less like a wildcard pick for this winter's World Cup but a man who is as well placed as anyone else in the country to fill Archer's boots. He turns 29 next week and is approaching the prime of his career: if England don't pick him now, when will they?

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98