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Cricket news - Jofra comparisons spur on Wood, Plunkett
Quite often, a player's stock rises most when they are out of a team rather than when they are in it and that's certainly been the case with Jofra Archer. Ever since the ECB changed their rules around residency last year, there has been so much anticipation for when Barbados-born Archer pulls on the three lions of England that it's difficult to see how he could possibly live up to the billing. A shoe-in for the World Cup. The Ashes, too. A player capable of elevating England's play single-handedly.
Those players who are currently playing against West Indies have been operating under this added pressure. Whenever a fast-bowler has been put up in front of the media, questions about Archer have not been far away. What do they think of him? Do they fear for their place once he is eligible for England in March? Is there space for him in the squad?
In January, Eoin Morgan said England would be open-minded about picking the 23 year-old for the World Cup. The message was clear. They are not ruling it out. It would be surprising if England's incumbent fast-bowlers were not suffering from some form of paranoia.
Archer's soon-to-be eligibility has certainly raised the stakes for Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett, Tom Curran and David Willey in this series. Any sign of vulnerability, any indication of a drop off in intensity, any poor performance will be scrutinised in light of Archer's pending eligibility. Would he have done better? Would he have bowled quicker? Would England be better with him than without him?
This is understandable. The Sussex all-rounder is such a talent and has proved himself a star in the making in the IPL and the Big Bash. He's genuinely quick, he smashes the ball miles and he's brilliant in the field. He looks to have it all. On the basis of probability, he is likely to be a huge a success at the top level but he hasn't played a game of international cricket in his life. His possible impact is mere speculation. The jury is not so much out as not even in session yet.
However, Plunkett looks the one member of England's squad most vulnerable. He has played the enforcer role in ODI cricket for much of the last three years and he has done an excellent job. His modus operandi has been simple but effective: consistently bash out a back of a length with a variety of full pace deliveries, cutters and slower balls. It's not one trick pony stuff by any means. Plunkett is far too skilful and far too quick for that. But he has a role and he has done it to the tune of 53 wickets from his last 30 matches. But it is also a role that Archer was made for too.
Last year, Plunkett was less effective than he was in 2017 which is why there is talk now about his place. Partly that was because his 2017 was so good - averaging two wickets a game - that it would be hard for anyone to replicate, let alone a 33 year-old. Injuries limited his appearances too and there is also a thought that he has lost pace which is backed up by CricViz stats which show he has been generally down on speed over the past year.
Despite playing for the Melbourne Stars in the recent Big Bash, his performance in the first match of this series was rusty. He conceded 54 runs from six overs and bowled too many poor balls which went the distance. It was not an outing which quietened questions about his place. If anything, it raised them. And this close to a World Cup is not a good time to have your position cast in doubt.
The Surrey fast-bowler isn't the only one under pressure. All England's quicks are, because no matter how good their batsmen have been since the last World Cup, the feeling lingers that the bowlers can be vulnerable, particularly on good pitches. Collectively, they didn't bowl poorly in game one but they still went for 360 runs. Overall, England's attack is not as good as India's, their main challenger in the summer, and that is why, for now, Archer is talked up so fervently.
Yet Morgan is nothing if not consistent. Under his leadership, England have been planning for this World Cup for nearly four years. Although he has spoken about Archer, the indications are that it would take a lot for Morgan to move away from the players who have served him so well of late. Archer is an unknown quantity. Plunkett, Wood and Woakes are not and knee jerk reactions are not the captain's bag.
Nevertheless, England's bowlers had questions to answer after the first match in Barbados. They responded well enough here, on an admittedly more helpful surface, with better performance although 16 extras will not have pleased Morgan.
Wood bowled quickly during an excellent new ball spell, clocking 93.1mph, and found some welcome reverse swing later on. He was unlucky to end up with just one wicket but his ten overs, costing less than four runs an over, were a statement. Archer might be quick. Olly Stone might be quick when fit. But right now, Wood is just as quick and skilful as anyone.
Plunkett also responded to his poor showing on Wednesday with a much better effort, mixing up his deliveries smartly and hitting the pitch hard. His dismissal of John Campbell, caught at mid-on attempting a pull shot which hit high up on the bat, was vintage Plunkett and came at a vital time, just as West Indies openers were looking to cut loose. Adil Rashid was arguably the pick of the bowlers but, strangely, only bowled six overs in all.
Curran, selected in place of the rested Woakes, had a more difficult day. He dished up a number of full tosses late on in West Indies' innings which Shimron Hetmyer gorged upon and conceded 23 runs from his last two overs which was more or less the difference between the two sides. It was not a day which will have done his World Cup chances much good and Woakes will probably come back into the team in Grenada.
Despite the improvement in England's bowling display, and some fine fielding to back it up, Hetmyer's brilliant unbeaten century propelled West Indies to a decent total on a tricky surface. It was still a total the tourists' batsmen should have been able to knock off. Had they not collapsed from 228 for 4 to 263 all out inside eight overs, they would have done too.
We all know how good England's batting is normally, notwithstanding this defeat, but the bowlers needed a boost. Individually, they have been compared to Archer and, in many eyes, been found wanting while the team's collective quality with the ball has been called into question at various times of late.
Yet Plunkett and Wood particularly responded with a much improved performance here. It didn't contribute to a victory and it definitely wasn't perfect, but it was a timely reminder that in a game dominated by batsmen, England have some half decent bowlers in their squad already. Whether Jofra Archer joins them in time for the World Cup, however, remains to be seen.
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