Steve Harmison advises England not to rush Jofra Archer’s return

By Sports Desk March 12, 2024

England should play the long game with Jofra Archer and prime him for India’s visit next year as well as the 2025/26 Ashes, according to former fast bowler Steve Harmison.

Archer’s last Test was more than three years ago, but he remains a much-coveted asset and England are hopeful he will be available for their T20 World Cup title defence in the Caribbean in June.

Harmison, though, believes the next two marquee five-Test series against India in the summer of 2025 then in Australia the following winter should take priority above all else where Archer is concerned.

“It’s slowly but surely with him,” Harmison told the PA news agency. “I’d build Jofra Archer up to play in 10 Test matches over the next two years – five against India and five against Australia or four each.

“I’d treat him like a prize racehorse. If England can keep him fit for the majority of those two series, I’d feel as though they have got a chance of winning.

“If he can play in Test matches in between and his body is holding up then everything after that is a bonus.”

Archer has had a succession of stress fractures in his bowling elbow and another in his back since his most recent red-ball appearance for England, while his last professional appearance was 10 months ago.

He joined England in Barbados before Christmas during their white-ball tour of the West Indies and took part in some bowling drills as part of his rehabilitation from the latest setback in his right elbow.

Just a couple of days afterwards, Archer, who was awarded a two-year central contract in October, blindsided England by playing for his old school side in the Barbados Cricket Association league.

But Harmison feels it could be better for everyone involved if the 28-year-old is allowed to get back to full fitness away from prying eyes.

“When I heard he was playing in that game in Barbados, I was over the moon, I just wish he had told (England’s managing director of men’s cricket) Rob Key first,” Harmison said.

“If he turns up for the T20 World Cup, fantastic, if he turns up for a Test match this summer, fantastic, but the most important thing for me is about his mental health and making sure he’s in a position to play cricket without thinking, ‘In however many weeks, I’m going to be injured again’.

“The more he does the bowling repetition and the muscle memory stuff under less scrutiny and less pressure, the better it will be for him coming back into top-level cricket.”

England have won three and lost six of their last 10 Tests against India and Australia and, in both series, there were instances where Ben Stokes’ side let promising positions slip.

After India sealed a 4-1 triumph in Dharamsala on Sunday, England head coach Brendon McCullum admitted they were too “timid” in passages and said their ‘Bazball’ style would be refined.

Harmison, who criticised England’s lack of a warm-up match before the series, expects them to rebound with six wins out of six against the West Indies and Sri Lanka this summer, but he insisted there must be lessons learned from what happened in India.

“They’ll win all six Test matches comfortably,” said Harmison, who played 123 times for England between 2002 and 2009. “It’s not a case of looking at just the summer, they’ve got to look beyond that.

“They’ve got to be smarter in identifying situations. We’ve got some cricket brains leading this team, but sometimes inside that dressing room, we might have individual characters who are happy to say, ‘That’s the way we play’, and that’s not good enough for me, it’s not acceptable.

“They have to be more accountable when they make mistakes. This is not the Dog and Duck, this is Test match cricket.

“Having the crutch of, ‘That’s the way we play, it’s Bazball’. No, Bazball is giving you the freedom to be the best version of yourself possible. You’ve still got to play the situation.”

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