Who will get Archer’s great talent?

Jofra Archer is a young, talented Barbadian fast bowling all-rounder, whose exploits for Sussex in the just concluded English County Championship have led to a debate about his likely international leaning.

In a 13-match campaign – his first full season – the 22-year-old Archer scored 638 runs (ave: 45.57) and took 61 wickets at 25.29 runs each, resulting in Sussex giving him a three-year contract. He was Sussex’s leading wicket-taker in the first-class season and their third highest run-scorer.

Jofra Archer

And without beating around the bush, interest in whether he wants to represent West Indies or England has heightened significantly.

Though he has never played first-class or one-day cricket for Barbados, Archer, who made his first-class debut in 2016 for Sussex against Pakistan and impressed with four for 49 in the first innings, is still desirous of representing Barbados Pride in the regional four-day and Super50 Championships.

As it stands, however, his commitments to the growing global Twenty20 leagues will put such ambitions on hold. Frankly, based on his achievements for Sussex, he should be representing West Indies ‘A’ against Sri Lanka ‘A’ in the current series in Jamaica.

Born in Barbados to an English father, Frank Archer and a Barbadian mother, Joelle Waithe, Jofra was educated at Hilda Skeene Primary School and Christ Church Foundation, where he made his mark as a cricketer. He was also a decent athlete.

It was at Foundation that I followed his career closely, as well as when he played for Barbados Youth and the national and West Indies Under-19 teams.

Archer was originally a spinner and a member of the champion Foundation Under-13 team before turning to pace bowling.

He is sure to argue that 2013 was a big year for him and the school as they captured three titles. He played a key role in helping Foundation to win the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Intermediate division three-day Championship, as he stood out with both bat and ball in the Final against Isolation Cavaliers, whose side included former Barbados and West Indies opening batsman Dale Richards, at the Pickwick Club ground, Foursquare Oval. Archer scored an attacking 86 at No. 9, and took five for 50 as Foundation gained first innings lead and were duly promoted to the First Division.

The Church Hill boys also retained the Schools’ Under-19 trophy and grabbed the Goddard Enterprises Schools’ title.

Archer also impressed for Barbados Youth in the Elite Division Championship that season. In six matches, he scored 249 runs and was second in the overall batting averages with 62.25. He took 19 wickets at 17.36 runs each, which put him ninth in the overall bowling averages.

It was, therefore, hardly a surprise that he was named the Most Improved Youth Cricketer by the BCA for the 2013 domestic season.

As I was preparing to head to the St. Catherine Club at Bayfield in St. Philip last week Tuesday for the second day’s play of the Barbados Pride four-day practice match, I got a call from Seibert Straughan, head of the Foundation School Physical Education department.

Seibert simply told me to ‘hold on’ and the next voice was that of Jofra’s. He had arrived in the island from London the previous day and was at his alma mater, mingling with some of his friends and former teachers.

After offering him congratulations on his feat for Sussex, we agreed to meet at Bayfield the same day for an interview, fittingly so, as he also wanted to take in some of the action and check a few of his old Foundation schoolmates who were playing in the match – batsmen Zachary McCaskie and Aaron Jones, wicket-keeper/batsman Carlos Maynard and left-arm fast bowler Jerome Jones.

Co-incidentally, all four, like Archer, now represent Massy United Insurance Wildey. In fact, the Foundation side in that Final against Isolation Cavaliers boasted of five Barbados Under-19 team players at the time – Archer, Aaron Jones, Maynard, Jerome Jones, who also played for the West Indies Under-19 team and top order batsman Lee-Germon Gaskin.

The captain of the side was leg-spinning all-rounder Joshua Drakes, who also became a Barbados Under-19 team player.

Among the spectators at that Final was Foundation’s most illustrious cricketer, Joel “Big Bird” Garner, who was then the president of the BCA and a director of the West Indies Cricket Board (now renamed Cricket West Indies (CWI).

And Garner, such an outstanding fast bowler, did have some advice for the Foundation team at crucial stages of the match.

Garner relinquished the BCA presidency a few months ago after being at the helm for ten years. He is currently the West Indies team manager and would no doubt be happy to see Archer in the regional team.

But has any top official of the BCA or CWI engaged Archer in a frank discussion about his international future?

Now, as it turned out, rain badly affected play in the Barbados Pride practice match at Bayfield, allowing just 12.1 overs on the second day (October 3), while not a ball was bowled the following day. So Archer and I sat upstairs the Pavilion (the Thelston Payne Balcony if you please) to talk cricket.

In his quiet, unassuming manner, he spoke with confidence about his career. Instantly, I told myself his views must be respected, especially as they pertained to which country he wants to represent internationally.

It is no secret that he has a very high regard for another Barbados-born player, Christopher Jordan, his Sussex teammate and close friend, who was instrumental in getting him to play for the club.

The 29-year-old Jordan represented Barbados in the regional first-class Championship in 2012 and 2013 before playing for England in all versions of the game – Test, One-Day and Twenty20 Internationals. Their friendship is so tight that Archer has described Jordan as being “like family”.

“Christopher is like family. Getting to play in England was the beginning but it stretches much further. It is just not cricket related. We also play football together,” Archer said in the interview.

Archer has a very hectic schedule around the corner, which embraces the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) where he is to represent Khulna Titans along with two other West Indians in Barbadian all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite, who is the West Indies T20 captain and the Jamaican wicket-keeper/batsman Chadwick Walton.

He has to be in Bangladesh by October 26 and after the Tournament ends December 12, he is also hoping to play more T20 cricket in New Zealand.

Co-incidentally, the 2017-18 regional domestic season starts on October 26 with the Digicel four-day Championship and stretches down to January 21 followed by the 50-over Tournament, slated to begin January 29.

“If scheduling permits, I would love the opportunity to play for Barbados. Ideally, I would have wanted to make my first-class debut for Barbados. It didn’t work out but I am still keen to play for Barbados. I haven’t ruled it out,” Archer told me.

Pressed about whether he was desirous of playing for West Indies or England, Archer responded: “I think my style of bowling suits the English conditions. Having the opportunity to play for Sussex, I just think that I am a better fit in England.”

Interestingly, Archer reckons there is a balance with his bowling and batting.

“I see my bowling and batting as equal. I am bowling about 88 miles an hour,” he asserted.

So did he see his showing for Sussex as very special?

“It just happened very quickly. I started with seven wickets in the game against Kent at Hove and every game since I made an impact. There is a lot of support both on and off the field. The coaching and management staff have been excellent.

“I think I bowled the most overs in England in the red ball and played every game in the T20 and 50-over. I think I was well managed to play the whole season and come out without being injured.”

There is no doubt that the authorities at Sussex are very impressed with Archer.

“He has achieved everything we could have expected and more,” said the Sussex director of cricket, Keith Greenfield.

“We look forward to e bright future developing Jofra both on and off the field while helping him achieve his international ambitions and ultimately winning trophies with us.”

Archer was quoted on the Sussex website as saying: “I’m very excited to be included in the long-term plans of the club. Recently a couple of the other young players have signed new contracts so it’s great to be part of the club’s exciting future.”

Though he has not played for Wildey since his return home, Archer is still keeping active on the field. Only last night, he turned out for Barbados Fire Service in the annual Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) T20 Tournament at Rices in his home parish of St. Philip. He played purely as a batsman in a side, which included McCaskie and another of his friends from Foundation, Dayne Doughty.

Now after his wonderful season with Sussex, Jofra Archer’s career will be followed very closely. West Indies or England?

Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email:keithfholder@gmail.com

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