Jofra Archer complained before this game that he would probably make the headlines if he put his left sock on first. On Saturday, amid a telling lack of interest in how he got dressed, he looked in a happier place, bowling with venom as he sought to relegate a difficult week to the footnotes.
The fact that he was out on the field at all was a victory both for England’s management of him in the aftermath of his infamous detour to Hove, and for his own attitude, which is flintier than some imagine.
Briefly, it had looked as if he wouldn’t play at all in a game England must win to regain the Wisden Trophy before it is replaced by silverware honouring Viv Richards and Ian Botham.
His column in the Daily Mail was full of discontent at what he regarded as the over-reaction to his breach of coronavirus protocol, and disgust at the racist abuse he had suffered on social media. From the outside, it looked as if now was the moment for England to cash in on their much-trumpeted strength in seam-bowling depth, remove Archer from the fray, and save him for the series against Pakistan.
But the column, it turned out, was an exercise in catharsis. Not long after it was brought to the ECB’s attention on Monday evening, Archer was telling the management he was ready to play. When he bowled like ‘lightning’, according to Joe Root, in the nets, he and coach Chris Silverwood had their answer.
Archer’s first deed in his comeback Test was to fence Kemar Roach to second slip as England collapsed on the second morning – a state of affairs remedied by a raucous half-century from Stuart Broad.
Then, after Broad had removed Kraigg Brathwaite in the second over of West Indies’ reply to England’s 369, Archer replaced James Anderson and was soon into his stride.
He quickly found the edge of Shai Hope’s bat, only for the ball to die en route to Ben Stokes at second slip after catching Hope’s thigh pad. Then, with the last ball of his fourth over, Archer bounced out John Campbell, having implemented the kind of plan that could yet make him a force in Australia in 18 months’ time.
The first five deliveries of the over were all on a good length, with the fifth – timed at 90mph – inducing a defensive lunge from Campbell that somehow ended up with the ball hitting the middle of the bat.
Up in the commentary box, Andrew Strauss showed why he captained England in 50 Tests: the next delivery, he warned, would be short. And so it was. But it came with a sting. Even in slow motion, Archer provides no clues that the bouncer is on its way. At 89mph, he is even less readable. Campbell couldn’t control a ball that reared at his ribs, and the edge looped to Rory Burns in the gully.
If the delivery lacked the menace of the firecracker that nearly decapitated Roston Chase in the first Test at the Ageas Bowl, it sent a message: as promised, Archer was indeed in the right frame of mind.
Mind you, until he began his spell, he might have wondered whether he had offended Manchester in a previous life. After all, it was here a year ago on the opening morning of the fourth Ashes Test that the whispers of discontent first circulated after he failed to reproduce the searing pace that had felled Steve Smith at Lord’s.
In the age of Black Lives Matter, it seems even clearer now that the language used at the time to explain his struggles on a blustery day was loaded with what might politely be called ‘unconscious bias’. Archer, they said, didn’t like the cold; he was unpredictable; he was an athlete, so why not bowl at 95mph at the click of the fingers?
His next Test in Manchester was then spent in self-isolation in his hotel room as his team-mates squared the series without him. When he ventured out to the nets wearing gloves and a mask, he did so as a figure of curiosity rather than a fast bowler hoping to regain his place.
In this game, though, he has been picked as a member of what Silverwood said would be England’s best attack, and he has been allowed to ease into the action as first change behind the old firm of Anderson and Broad.
His figures at stumps on Saturday – one for 55 off 13.1 overs – did not reflect the problems he posed, and he might easily have removed West Indies wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich, who got into a hopeless tangle against a ball that was less short than he was expecting and dropped just over the head of the backpedalling Burns.
Best of all, perhaps, after Jason Holder had collected three fours in a row off his bowling, two of them via edges to third man, Archer was able to laugh at the injustice. For both him and his team-mates, absence might just have made the heart grow a little fonder.