OPINION | Archer injury sign of ICC issue
As Jofra Archer curled over the Lord’s turf, slapping the ground in euphoric delight after rescuing his nation from the mire in a Super Over, the thought that he would be the root cause of a discussion about bowler workload would have been far from his mind. The Barbados born 23-year-old had secured England their first ever World Cup, a culmination of four years of hard work for the one-day side, and had the prospect of an Ashes debut in the near future. The cricketing world was his oyster, so we all thought.
Five months later, Archer had stirred every emotion of cricket fans and players alike. Elation, frustration, pain and glory.
His ability to bowl so quickly with seemingly remarkable ease bought hope to a nation typically blessed with typically 'medium'-suffixed fast bowlers, but his inability to provide pace at will teased and his perceived apathetic body language and clothing choices were bemoaned.
Since his diagnosis of an elbow injury that will keep him sidelined until the English summer, we have forgiven a young man with a bright future and instead looked for a scapegoat in this crisis of fast bowler mismanagement. The truth is, it’s not really Joe Root or England cricket to blame for the injury to cricket’s emerging star, but international cricket itself. A packed, hectic schedule where every match matters in the pursuit of ranking points.
There are scarce opportunities for international sides to rest players given the frequency and importance of matches. Chris Silverwood has suggested recently that he may rotate Archer and Mark Wood, but to do so will be to England's detriment. Teams are measured against series victories for which the number of constituent matches is short. To rest a key bowler for any match in a series, regardless of the format, markedly reduces the chances of victory. Yet to consistently select the bowler increases the chance of injury.
English cricket has been blessed, and somewhat lulled, by the fact that James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been near enough incombustible until recently, but they haven't been subject to the white ball calendar. Archer, in contrast, bowled more than any other bowler across formats in 2019, despite not making his debut until May, but that is due to his representation in all three sides. Wood, a recent returner from injury, is the only other genuine quick in the England squad team who does the same.
It is international sides like England, with talented "cross code" bowlers, that are being punished. They are forced to choose between resting players in important matches, or risking injury. Meanwhile sides who roll out new bowling units for each format are unaffected - how is this justified?
It is reasonable to expect a flurry of these so called cross-code bowlers in the coming years. Whilst the conversation regarding the relevance of Test cricket endures, millennial cricketers with aspirations of playing all formats will be put to the sword, and the bowler's national team will either lose out, or the player will experience the same fate of Archer, all thanks to the apparent need for non-stop cricket.
ICC must choose welfare over money, and relent on the need for endless fixtures. For Mark Wood, the only fit bowler capable of bowling 90mph in England's squad, the schedule already looks capable of grinding him down. A two month tour of South Africa will turn straight into a Sri Lankan spring before a West Indian visit, a T20 World Cup and an Indian Christmas. We've heard the stories of his injury woes before, and it won't be long before they are retold.