England seamers facing pressure with Jofra Archer waiting in the wings
Last Updated: 19/02/19 5:24am
England go into their five-match series with Windies as the No 1 ODI side in the world and have won their last nine bilateral series in the 50-over format.
It is no surprise then that, as the home nation, they are favourites to win this summer's World Cup.
England's success over the last few years has been achieved by putting faith in a group of players, sticking with them and getting them all working towards one ultimate goal.
There has been none of the chopping and changing of years gone by. In fact, the squad has been something of a closed shop.
Only eight players have been given debuts since the start of 2016 and, of those eight, only Tom Curran would be expected to be named in the World Cup squad when it is announced in April.
I think Jofra Archer will be in the World Cup squad. The only problem with Archer is that you don’t know what he’s like in a high-pressure situation, say World Cup semi-final with Kohli and Dhoni at the crease. You should always look to improve your squad and I think Archer would improve this squad.
So the possibility that England could be ready to bring in an outsider so late in the day seems to fly in the face of what they have done to put themselves in this position.
All the more surprising is that the player in question has played only 14 List A matches, averages over 30 with the ball and just 24 with the bat - and, at the time of writing, does not actually qualify to play for England.
When looking at those statistics it is easy to wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to Jofra Archer. Of course, you don't have to look far beyond the stats for it all to become clear.
Archer is an incredibly skilful bowler - in both red and white-ball cricket - who regularly tops 90mph, is a fine bowler up front and at the death, is a powerful lower-order batsman, a gun fielder, has starred in T20 leagues across the globe and will be eligible to play for England from late March.
Put it that way and it suddenly makes sense. There is little doubt that the Barbados-born Archer will play for England - and almost certainly within the next 12 months.
However, England's seamers have one final series, coincidentally in the Caribbean, to prove to the selectors that there is no need to parachute in the Sussex quick in time for the World Cup.
England have taken five fast bowlers to the West Indies and the likelihood is only three of them will play in any one match, especially with Ben Stokes available as a fourth seam option.
Fitness permitting, the five selected for this series would almost certainly be the quintet to make the 15-man squad for the World Cup should Archer be discounted.
With Archer in the equation though, perhaps only Chris Woakes, consistently impressive with the new ball and late in the innings in the past couple of years, could still be confident that his place in the squad.
That leaves Mark Wood, David Willey, Liam Plunkett and Tom Curran - all of whom have made telling contributions to the ODI side in the recent times - vying with Archer for the four remaining spots.
But while Archer begins training with Sussex ahead of the start of the county season, Wood, Willey, Plunkett and Curran can prove that his services are not required come the World Cup.
England's emergence as a force in white-ball cricket has been built on the strength, and depth, of their batting line-up, given the freedom by Eoin Morgan to go out and express themselves in a way that has allowed them to break the ODI world record total twice in the past three years.
For a long while, their bowling was considered their weakness but more recently that has changed. The bowling unit as a whole has improved, their skills have been honed and over the past 18 months they can claim to have led the team to victory as often as the batsmen.
Crucially, the England attack offers great variety. Each of the quick bowlers in the squad offers something the others don't.
"If it’s a 50-50 call I think they would stick with those that have got them to where they are, they might think with Archer that it’s not a 50-50 call and that he is so talented he has to be in."
Woakes is the go-to new-ball bowler but rather than searching for swing, hits back of a length and nips the ball around off the seam before switching to a mixture of yorkers and slower balls later in the innings.
At the other end the new ball has tended to go to either Willey or Wood. Willey is England's only left-arm option and if there is any swing on offer with the new ball, he'll find it.
Where he has fallen short in the past is in remaining effective once the ball has stopped swinging and prior to the last 12 months, he rarely completed his 10-over allocation - a factor that undoubtedly played a part in him losing his place in the XI for the 2017 Champions Trophy.
He has certainly improved in that area since then but enough to be trusted at the death in a crucial World Cup game? Time will tell.
The inverse is true of Curran. The Surrey seamer comes into his own when closing out an innings, possessing a superbly-disguised slower ball and a good yorker, and seems to thrive under pressure. His trouble is that he is highly unlikely to be given the new ball and has proven significantly less potent during the middle overs.
That, though, is where Plunkett excels. From a wiry swing bowler early in his career, Plunkett has become England's enforcer in 50-over cricket - hitting the deck hard and making things happen during the middle overs. It is an often-overlooked role but it has been crucial in enabling England to minimise the damage the opposition can do in the final 10 overs.
Different bowlers, specialising in areas where others might struggle. It's almost as if it were planned.
On the face of it then, the man most at risk is Wood. If so, he certainly chose a good time to remind England what he is capable of with his searing spell in St Lucia last week.
Whether that is enough though, given Archer can bowl just as quickly, arguably even a little quicker, and has a greater array of deliveries at his disposal as well as offering more with the bat, is for the selectors to determine.
That Wood is a fantastic man to have around the team will work in his favour, but should Archer be picked, no matter who he replaces, team spirit will not have been the driving factor.
The temptation to call-up a player as talented as Archer will always be hard to resist and while it might be viewed as harsh on the player to miss out, Ed Smith has shown with Test side that he is willing to make bold calls and take risks.
Over the next five games, it is up to the England pace attack to do enough to persuade him that, for the time being, Archer is not a risk worth taking.
Watch the first one-day international between Windies and England from 2.30pm, Wednesday on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event.