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Cricket news - Archer at the frontier

Archer poses for a portrait in the Long Room at Lord's, where he is poised to make his Test debut.

"I ended up becoming a meme."

Back in the day, a domestic batsman could look foolish and at least know his dismay would be confined to the anecdotes of a few men and fewer mutts. Now though, with footage of every delivery, it's never been harder to sneak under the radar. Just ask Daniel Bell-Drummond.

In his third innings of the 2017 summer, the Kent opening batsman was going as well as could be expected in April: in the middle for three-quarters of an hour, 38 balls under his belt, three boundaries in the bank. Then it happened.

Still, more than two years on, Bell-Drummond is reminded of this misjudgement - leaving a delivery from Jofra Archer that took out his middle stump. Every now and again, across various social media platforms, he is a punchline.

"The tagline for one was 'when your coach tells you to leave everything'," Bell-Drummond tells Cricbuzz. "Then there's a picture of me with me with my middle stump knocked back. It's pretty funny."

The right-hander is not the only person to be done by Archer like this. Of his 131 first class wickets, 38 have been bowled and you've almost certainly seen a few of them. As above, a healthy batch have had stumps flying out of the ground through sharp moving deliveries catching top, middle and lower-order batsmen unaware. Viral fodder.

While it is limited overs cricket where Archer has built his brand, his ability has been crafted in first class cricket. In just over two years, he has made 28 first-class appearances and, between the first (a tour match v Pakistan in July 2016) and last (v Warwickshire last September) his ability and nous with the red ball has developed.

It was the late inswinger that first put batsmen on notice, especially after Bell-Drummond was caught out. Immediately his Kent dressing room, who had spent the majority of their analysis sessions focussing on Vernon Philander instead, sat up and took notice.

"It was the weirdest thing," recalls Bell-Drummond. "He was into his sixth or seventh over by then. He kept trying it (the inswinger), but it wasn't going because the lacquer hadn't come off the ball yet."

Bell-Drummond, though, knew Archer was trying to get the ball to go big as he had seen him effect a similar dismissal the summer before. "None had gone yet, though, and Hove is quick and bouncy so, if anything, I could leave on length. When I looked back, I wasn't expecting my middle stump to be gone."

The crucial thing with Archer's inswinger is it goes late and, as Bell-Drummond alludes to, the ball does not need to be fresh. Of course, Archer's extra pace adds a couple of extra considerations. Judging length is much harder because, at 90mph or above, you only get one chance to make a decision.

Also, right-handed batsmen in this country are traditionally taught to get forward with their front pad outside the line of off-stump. That's a lot harder to do when a quick has pushed you back. For that, there's Archer's bouncer, which, by all accounts, "comes out of nowhere" and is the swiftest of a swift set. Of course, it's a familiar delivery of his in limited overs repertoire, used to great effect during the World Cup.

This was, to a point in that 2017 season, Archer's lot in Championship cricket. He took seven wickets in that Kent first innings and returned 61 overall by the end of the summer. But there was a sense he was becoming more manageable. In the second innings of that same match, he didn't take any for 95 runs. Sam Northeast hit him out of Hove on his way to 173 not out.

Others who scored runs against him noticed he was bowling by numbers. If he sent down a magic ball, he would try and replicate it. That inswinger, for example, if survived, would invariably lead to one that did not go as much and offer either a half-volley to drill through the covers or do too much and provide a juicy one to clip off your pads.

"Someone with his pace and skills, you can get carried away and try too many things in one over," says Jon Lewis, who was Archer's bowling coach and landlord at Sussex at the time.

Lewis first came across Archer as an 18-year old who "sprayed it about". A winter away with minimal guidance saw Archer return with better aligned feet and a sleeker run-up. But across 2017 and into the 2018 season, Lewis impressed the values many youngsters capable of generating fast pace struggle with.

"I encouraged him to be really patient. The skill of repetition is basically the skill of bowling: can you hit a good area on the pitch as often as you possible can that the batsmen can't attack so they have to defend. It's a simple game when you look at it in those sort of terms."

Last season Archer played just eight matches yet still returned 42 wickets. An anticipated difficult second series did not come to fruition in part because of a few extra tricks and, crucially, restraint.

He always had the delivery that held its line to challenge the right-hander's outside edge. But through fine-tuning a near-perfect wrist, he was able to develop one to seam away, a biting leg-cutter and one which arcs away from the arm. The last one, though, may only come out as the series goes on and Archer has overs under his belt. Of all his tricks, it is last to come out of the bag because everything needs to be in harmony.

"What Archer's grounding in first-class cricket has given him is a real appreciation of seam," says Lewis. "All his movement comes late, especially his sharp swing, and that is what he has most in common with the best fast bowlers. That presentation and feel of the seam out of his fingers."

Perhaps an understated aspect of Archer's red ball work - in part because it will never make a highlights package - is how he approaches second, third and fourth spells. The efficiency of his action and run-up, combined with the whip of his shoulder gives him a robustness not all young quicks have.

For instance, Archer was often used by Sussex to hold teams down when they were establishing leads: to make run-scoring difficult, create chances out of nothing or even just ensure time was taken out of the game. He has a capacity to bowl within himself on slower pitches while still utilising what is on offer from these surfaces. Occasionally in these periods, he can crank himself back up to speed in a flash, especially when batsmen take liberties and go after him in these 80-to-85mph holding patterns.

He is no longer as hot-headed as he was when Northamptonshire and Ben Duckett scored 426 and 193 respectively off Archer and his fellow Sussex bowlers at the end of a gruelling 2017. They were successful at getting under his skin on that occasion but it sounds like that approach may be a thing of the past.

It was interesting Justin Langer felt wearing Archer into the ground could be exploited. Of course, no bowler likes being flogged, but Archer has never turned his nose up at the grind. Two seasons ago his 475.1 overs were the most of any pace bowler in the country, with only Division One spinners Jack Leach, Simon Harmer and Jeetan Patel sending down more. Last summer, he averaged 17 overs an innings for Sussex, second to Ollie Robinson's 18.

There remain rough edges. Lewis warns patience is still an area requiring the most work. So, too, sizing up batsmen of real worth.

All of Archer's first class work, including his 131 dismissals, have come in Division Two. Australia's card, led by Steve Smith, will provide a calibre of problems he has not yet solved.

His current county coach and former Test bowler Jason Gillespie shares some of Lewis' concerns.

"His biggest danger will be being impatient and wanting to take a wicket with every ball," says the former Australia quick with 259 Test scalps to his name. "He'll learn pretty quickly that he's got to hang in there.

"One of the greatest fast bowlers of all time Dale Steyn, it still takes him 43 balls to take a wicket. It's not about coming in bowling a bouncer, bowling a yorker, a slower ball, a short ball. It's about hanging in there."

Even on the cusp of his Test debut, this feels like something of a final frontier for Archer. Can this new-age cricketer crack the oldest format?

We'll find out soon enough.

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