On the field, at least, Jofra Archer appears to be having the time of his life right now. His already astronomical profile has soared yet further thanks to a series of outstanding displays with ball, and bat as well, for Rajasthan Royals, for whom he has been the stand-out competitor in this year’s IPL, with his haul of 17 wickets at an economy rate of 6.71, including eight in his first six overs of a match.
Rarely in his career has Archer bowled at a more consistent top speed, regularly in excess of 150kph – a trait perhaps aided by his decision to shelve his slower balls on the UAE’s unresponsive wickets and stick to raw pace – and his lower-order batting has touched new heights in the competition too, with 107 runs from 54 balls to date, including ten sixes.
Off the field, however, it’s a slightly different story, and it was a lugubrious Archer who faced the UK media on Wednesday, as he reflected on a year spent in the gilded cages of bio-secure bubbles in both England and now the UAE.
“You’re just counting days down,” he said. “I might actually get a calendar just to cross them down to feel like the days are going faster.”
Archer’s angst is understandable. No player spent longer in the bubble than his 87 days in the course of the English summer, a period which was broken up by two brief breaks between the West Indies and Pakistan Test series in August, and then during the Pakistan T20s in September.
He did of course take one further, unscheduled break when he left the bubble without permission to visit his home in Brighton after the summer’s first Test, but as a consequence of that, he then had to spend a full five days in isolation during the second Test at Emirates Old Trafford.
And compared to that experience, Archer admits that the Royals’ beach-fronted hotel for this year’s IPL is a step-up from the on-site facilities that England’s players endured this summer, in order to get their home fixtures completed.
“I guess, bubble-wise, it’s the best of a bad situation, so no complaints,” Archer said. “It’s a little bit better than being trapped at the cricket ground. Here it’s okay, but then the demands at IPL, if it’s not media, it’s meet-and-greets and whatever. You’re not at the ground but you still can’t get away from cricket. Even doing this [interview] now, you still can’t escape it.
“It’s okay. I guess we’ve got a few group games left, our last group game is the 1st [November] and then the play-offs are the 10th… it will be over soon anyway. You’re just counting days down till you’re free again.”
It might seem strange that Archer would wish the tournament away when he is in such a rich vein of form. And yet, the real difficulty this year, he says, has not been his off-field existence – regular games of Call of Duty have kept him amply occupied during his down time – rather, it’s the absence of a crowd to get behind his spectacular efforts.
“No crowds [takes away the enjoyment],” he said. “The bubble doesn’t. It’s a really nice hotel, we’ve got a beach and other activities. I think no crowds is probably sucking most of the excitement out of the game.”
At the age of 25, Archer knows that he is in the prime of his career, and therefore he will have to make sacrifices if he is to capitalise on it in the Covid-dominated climate. And yet, with his England team-mate Mark Wood acknowledging that he may have to consider a white-ball-only future, he is conscious that something may have to give in his workload, given how important he is to all three forms of the game.
“It just goes down to man-management,” Archer said. “You can definitely play all three [formats] but they can’t expect you to play every single game of all three … God… thinking about it that is a lot of overs actually!
“Bigger squads would definitely have to be taken into consideration or some guys would just have to play a few formats,” he added. “Being a person that plays all three formats, I’ve probably done the most bubble days out of anyone.
“If you’re going to play in all three formats, you can’t play all the games. You probably play two Test matches, miss the last one and take some time off and maybe come back for the second ODI or second T20.
“I don’t think it’s impossible but you need to be managed properly, and I think everyone at England has done a great job. But also Woody has just had a kid and the time he is spending now away from cricket is very, very precious.
“With times moving forward, especially being in a Covid bubble, I think he would probably back me in saying you are going to need to have your family with you. Especially in these bubbles. It helps you stay sane. I reckon about four days, five days in, you start to get a little bit of cabin fever. You need your family to take some of that pressure off you.”