Manchester, United Kingdom: England will be able to recall Jofra Archer, described by skipper Joe Root as bowling “at the speed of light”, for the decisive third Test against the West Indies at Old Trafford on Friday after the pace spearhead suffered online racist abuse.
Archer was included in a 14-man squad named Thursday after missing England’s series-levelling win at the same ground following a breach of coronavirus protocols caused when he made an unauthorised trip home.
In a Daily Mail column published on Wednesday, the 25-year-old Barbados-born Archer admitted to an error of judgement but said he had not “committed a crime”.
He added some of the criticism he had faced on social media following the incident had been racist.
“I need to be 100 percent mentally right so that I can throw myself into my cricket this week,” Archer wrote.
But having reassured England captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood about his frame of mind, Archer could return for a match that will decide a three-Test campaign all square at 1-1.
“Jofra will be ready for it,” Root told reporters on Thursday. “He’s bowled the speed of light over the last couple of days in spicy nets so it wasn’t much fun for our batters.”
Turning to the abuse Archer had received on social media, Root said: “Obviously you can’t understand all of it, some of which is really disgusting, racial abuse and other things.
“But he needs to know he doesn’t have to deal with it on his own, he’s got good people around him who want him to be happy, to enjoy his cricket and life away from the sport.”
Meanwhile England have a worry over the bowling fitness of Ben Stokes following his starring role during their 113-run win last time out, when he rose to the top of the Test all-rounder rankings with scores of 176 and 78 not out, as well as taking three wickets.
But he pulled up during his final over, with Root saying Stokes had suffered a quad injury.
England have all six of their frontline pacemen available.
They could play four of them and pair veteran new-ball duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad for the first time this series if Stokes, now also the world’s number three ranked Test batsman, cannot bowl.
It would be tough on the consistent Chris Woakes were he to be dropped and spinner Dom Bess could make way as well if England decide Root’s occasional off-breaks offer sufficient variety.
West Indies, who hold the Wisden Trophy, could select off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall for his first match this series.
So far they’ve relied on the same pace quartet, backed up by batting all-rounder Roston Chase’s off-breaks.
But the 6ft 6in Cornwall, who weighs around 22 stone, may get his chance after taking 10 wickets in just his second Test against Afghanistan in November.
“If he does come in he is a wicket-taker and he has proven himself to be a match-winner,” said West Indies captain Jason Holder.
While concerns have been raised about how the West Indies fast bowlers will pull up, batting appears to be the biggest issue as they go in search of their first Test series victory in England for 32 years.
Shai Hope has long struggled to recapture the form that saw him score his only two hundreds when the West Indies defeated England at Headingley three years ago.
But Holder said: “I’m 100 percent behind Shai, we all know what he can produce.”
Whatever the outcome, there is no denying the debt of both gratitude and finance the England and Wales Cricket Board owes the West Indies in helping them reduce a potential loss of hundreds of millions of pounds by going ahead with the first major international cricket series since lockdown.
Holder’s focus, however, remained on the task at hand.
“We still have a really good opportunity to win this series and everybody’s upbeat for the occasion because we know what’s at stake.”