Jofra Archer says it will be “just another game” when England play West Indies on Friday. But how can it be?
For Archer, the motivation could not be clearer: a World Cup grudge match against the nation which snubbed him at Under-19 level, against the men who could have been his West Indies teammates. It’s a “here’s what you could have won” moment. And on this front, England have clearly won. As far as West Indies are concerned, the desire will be to show they have moved on – that, however good Archer is and may prove to be, they’re fine without him.
England coach Trevor Bayliss’s assessment is one shared generally: “Both sides of the argument would like to gain the upper-hand.” Except, well, there is no argument as such. Certainly not between Archer or the players that will take the field in maroon.
Invariably, the lament has been that Archer should not be playing for West Indies’ opponents on Friday. That his opportunity was instigated in part by another who they say *should* – Sussex and England teammate Chris Jordan – adds an extra degree of apoplexy to the jilted party.
Indeed, that apoplexy is shared by West Indies chief executive Jonny Grave. While accepting of Archer’s move and wishing him well, Grave had this to say back in November: “I hope no other West Indian cricketers follow that path and hope it doesn’t lead to counties doing their talent ID in the Caribbean, taking our players into the public school system and then on to offering them lucrative long-term county contracts and then possibly on to playing for England.” And this, fundamentally, is where Archer’s peers disagree.
Of Archer’s “U-19 Class of 2014” within the West Indies squad are Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Fabian Allen. Another squad member who hails from Barbados, Carlos Brathwaite, has actively championed Archer on social media since 2016. Perhaps the region’s most talismanic leaders in recent times, Darren Sammy, has regularly fought Archer’s case on and off the record.
It is important not to lose sight of the basic facts in Archer’s unique case. He felt hurt at being spurned for a spot in the U-19 West Indies squad for the 2014 World Cup – a team which lost at the quarterfinal stage – even when everyone involved knew he was good enough to be there. Even now, the reasons for his non-inclusion are something of a mystery. Nepotism is often sighted without reference to the beneficiary.
An offer to play club cricket in England in 2016 was forthcoming, but not without a British passport from his father and the backing of his family, including a supporting step-father. The move across the Atlantic was much smoother than it might have been.
Ask around and players and administrators involved in cricket in the Caribbean at the time will tell you Archer made the right decision. “Speak to anyone who is rational or thinks about it subjectively, they would have no difficulty with the choice he has made,” said one source who was working at the West Indies Cricket Board at the time of Archer’s about-turn.
The options available to a West Indian cricketer are skewed slightly by personal circumstance. While it is true for any professional athlete that their first and subsequent central contracts are as much about themselves as their families and others depending on them, the economics of the Caribbean exacerbate whatever conundrum there might be.
At the base level, opportunities for youngsters in the Caribbean are limited on a few fronts. Even parents with the best of intentions can be hamstrung by the cost of sending their kids to school on a regular basis through something as seemingly trivial as regular bus fares. Invariably, sport represents a shot at a scholarship.
“For many Caribbean youngsters, sports such as athletics and cricket are seen as a possible way out of whatever difficulties they are facing,” says Michael Hall,