King Jofra: England hope Johnson effect takes hold
Rival skippers discuss the performance of England’s debutant at Lord’s and what it could mean for the rest of the series
Andrew Ramsey at Lord's
19 August 2019, 10:01 AM AEST
Australia's drought-breaking Ashes whitewash of 2013-14 was built on a decisive couple of days in the opening Test at the Gabba, when Mitchell Johnson let loose hellfire at the tourists and sent the England dressing room into a collective cold sweat.
There was a feeling among some who witnessed that campaign, from which Australia emphatically regained the urn for the first time in four attempts, that the impact Jofra Archer wielded upon the Lord's Test last week might prove similarly pivotal in deciding the 2019 battle.
Certainly, if Australia's best-performed batter Steve Smith is sidelined from the third match that starts at Headingley on Thursday, then there exists a reasonable argument that Archer might already have landed the crucial blow.
It was Archer's dual strike, firstly to Smith's unprotected left forearm and then, sickeningly, to the left side of the former Australia captain's neck, that led to Smith being withdrawn from the final day of the second Test due to the delayed effects of concussion.
Smith underwent another precautionary scan to his neck on Sunday, and while that cleared him of any structural damage his condition will continue to be assessed and his availability for the third Test remains unclear.
His enforced absence would have been even more significant if Australia had not held on gamely for a draw at Lord's, as an Archer-led England surged towards victory in the encroaching dusk.
As it stands, they will make the four-hour coach journey up the M1 motorway to Leeds on Monday still holding the 1-0 series lead they earned at Edgbaston.
But just as Johnson caused upheaval among England five years ago, with their former batting star Kevin Pietersen later revealing the hostile quick left him feeling "petrified" and unable to face food, England's current skipper Joe Root (who was also part of that electric summer) cautiously believes he might just be holding a similar weapon.
"Potentially," Root said when asked if Archer might mirror the Johnson effect, following the 24-year-old's maiden Test in which he claimed 5-91 from 44 overs and struck several Australia players fearful blows.
"One thing it will do is make them (Australia) think quite clearly about where they're going to combat him, and how he's going to come at them.
"It's always nice when you're stood at slip and you're not batting against it.
“He has come in and had a massive impact and added a different dynamic to our bowling group.
"He has given Australia something different to think about, so it is really impressive to see someone come in on Test debut and really shake up things and live up to the hype.
"Even some of the hype that he put on himself.
"It makes for a very interesting last three games."
It was not only Archer's raw pace that became the Test's talking point, particularly after his duel with Smith on Saturday afternoon and then further amplified when he smashed a short ball into the helmet grille of Marnus Labuschagne (concussion substitute for Smith) a day later.
Just as readily discussed was the Barbadian-born quick's ability to generate such steepling bounce when landing the ball on a length that left many Australia batters unsure as to whether they should choose to play the delivery, or take evasive action.
When someone of Archer's pace and accuracy is operating at full throttle – around 150kph, which was his average speed throughout the weekend – that split-second of indecision can be costly, as Smith, Labuschagne and others found out.
In the final hour of Sunday's tense draw, Australia captain Tim Paine copped a ball from his Hobart Hurricanes KFC Big Bash League teammate that flew from just short of a length and whistled past the batter's nose as he leaned back to evade its path.
The ball then continued to climb and soared beyond the outstretched arm of keeper, Jonny Bairstow.
"Guys bowling at that pace take time to get used to, and Jofra bowls from quite a height," Paine said after the match.
"He gets steep bounce (and) I think the reason a lot of guys were hit in this game was because the pitch was actually a little bit two-paced as well.
"It was very difficult to decide whether to pull or duck because you might duck some (and) they didn’t get up, or you’d try and stand up and pull, and it took off.
"That just made it all the more challenging.
"I thought Jofra bowled really well in this game, particularly in the first innings.
"I think we faced 100 odd overs (142 for the match), so there were periods where I thought we batted really well, and played Jofra well.
"At times. he’s very difficult to start your innings against because of the pace and the bounce that he gets.
"But I think the guys who got in showed that it is do-able.
"Guys have been around bowling 145, 150 (kph) for a long time – it's a challenge, but that’s why we’re playing Test cricket."
Root agreed that the Lord's pitch, which was initially judged to be dry but spent considerable time under covers during the first three days and again on Sunday morning due to London's incessant summer rain, played its part in the preponderance of short-pitched bowling, and the physical toll it extracted.
He said the inconsistency in pace and bounce often made it tough to "get underneath the ball", which explained why a number of players were hit when seemingly caught in two minds.
Several England batters were struck on the helmet by bouncers during their team's first innings last Thursday, and even after Smith and Labuschagne were struck over the weekend, Matthew Wade (another of Archer's Hobart teammates) had a ball skim the back of his helmet during Sunday's hectic final hour.
However, Root also cited Archer's unusually relaxed approach to the bowling crease, his high arm action and the remarkable speed he generates from minimal outward effort as other reasons why a number of Australia batters – and doubtless other opponents in years to come – were struck by the ball or fortuitously escaped with narrow misses.
“He makes things happen when not many others in world cricket can," Root said.
"He has such a unique action and way of bowling, and natural pace which is always going to be in the game on any surface.
"When you've got that, and the skill of the other guys around him, it makes for a tasty combination.
"I think because of the nature of it (Archer's action), at times it can feel a little bit two-paced.
"And you add the ability to crank it up every now and then, go up and down the gears which can make it quite difficult.
"It just such a natural skill, and it's worked brilliantly for him during his short international career so far.
"Hopefully it can continue."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval