If T20 is a close relative of 50-over cricket then Chris Jordan must surely have placed himself in contention for a place in England’s World Cup squad, following the kind of athletic bowling and fielding performance gifted few players of his, or any, generation.
Jordan bowled only three overs in England’s T20 win over the West Indies in St Lucia on Tuesday – surely a counting error on the part of his captain Eoin Morgan. And yet it was enough to remind us all of what a fine all-round cricketer he is.
His 2-16 off 18 balls, which included the wicket of Chris Gayle, cheaply for once, was the pick of England’s quicker bowlers. His piece de resistance, though, was the caught and bowled to get rid of Dwayne Bravo, his speed of reaction and the change of direction required to bring off the catch being the breathtaking response of a fabulous athlete.
Barbados-born Jordan, now 30, forsook the chance to play for West Indies after going to school in England, where he first signed to play for Surrey before joining Sussex. For what he offers there are probably two places in the
15-man World Cup squad, which needs to be named by May 22. As such, he will be up against Chris Woakes (30), Liam Plunkett (33) and 23-year old Jofra Archer, the last a younger version of himself, being a Bajan qualified for England, as well as fast bowler and hard-hitting batsman, who plays for Sussex.
Jordan made his 50-over debut for England in 2013 and played 31 matches before suddenly being dropped three years ago, though he did continue to be selected for England’s T20 team.
By this stage he’d gained a reputation as a bowler who could nail the yorker to order, a valuable resource at any stage of an opponent’s innings in T20 cricket. In the 50-over game, though, the vogue was to hit a hard length over off-stump, especially in the middle overs where Jordan would begin his first spell. For this skill, the selectors felt Plunkett to be the better man.
Jordan was also saddled with being old-school in his attempts to rack up dot balls instead of wickets. In St Lucia the other day, 10 of his 18 balls were dots, the highest percentage in the team. Dot balls can build pressure which leads to wickets, but their pursuit can also make some bowlers predictable – something the powers-that-be felt to be the case, somewhat misguidedly in my opinion, with Jordan.
He is, along with Ben Stokes, England’s best all-round fielder, a skill still undervalued when comparing the relative value of players to the side. If West Indies had not dropped four catches and gifted England 10 runs in the field the other night, they would have won the T20 match in St Lucia. Top notch fielding can turn games and few are better, in any position, than Jordan, who like Plunkett can also give it a bash with the bat in the lower order.
That said, his other rivals, Woakes and Archer, are probably more talented batsmen though both have question marks over their other skills. Since suffering a series of injuries, Woakes has lost a yard of pace in his bowling, which makes him less effective abroad than at home. At the moment, Woakes is having his right knee injected with his own blood in a bid to get rid of the tendinitis there, but it sounds a desperate measure.
Normally, the fact that the 2019 World Cup is in England during June and July would offer him succour even at a reduced pace, yet the pitches will be prepared by the ICC to their specifications and not by groundsmen with the home team in mind.
Woakes can therefore not count on the type of surfaces usually found in the shires at that time of year, the ICC’s desire being to produce drier, less grassy surfaces (remember the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final at Cardiff which England lost on a dry dusty pitch) for their blue riband event.
Archer wasn’t scheduled to become a British resident until 2022. But his residency has been fast-tracked after the ECB shortened its qualification period for those born abroad from seven to four years. Recommended to Sussex by Jordan, something of an irony now both are competing for a World Cup berth, Archer has wowed supporters at the county with his fine all-round performances in Championship and T20 cricket.
Less impressive, though, is his 50-over career where over three years he has played just 14 games. In that time his economy rate with the ball has risen from 4.66 in 2016 to 5.79 in 2018 while his highest score during that time is a modest 45.
Such an unexceptional output suggests he is still a rookie in that format especially when compared to his T20 portfolio of 81 games played for various teams like Sussex Sharks, Hobart Hurricanes, Quetta Gladiators, Rajasthan Royals and Khulna Titans. Interestingly, his T20 economy rate with the ball is worse for Sussex and better when playing abroad, the opposite to Woakes.
His talent is undeniable for those who have seen him yet England’s desire to get him involved as soon as possible will be something of a gamble. To start with there are just six 50-over international matches before England have to name their final 15-man squad, though a provisional squad must be named by April 22, before those games take place.
If injuries are not an issue, Archer would probably need to be named in that first squad and then to play just about every match in place of one of the more established bowlers in order to get his bearings. With preparation time precious that would be a risk.
Another factor England would need to consider about him, because nearly all our sporting teams have not done it well, is how to best manage the fast-tracking process. Being made a special case can bring added pressure on a player, especially when the media overplay it which they are bound to do.
I remember when Graeme Hick was going to come into the England team after a lengthy period of qualification and destroy all-comers. Unsurprisingly, given the massive expectations heaped upon him, it didn’t happen.
Archer is already a fine player with the potential to become a great one, but is now the time to intervene on that natural arc by picking him for a World Cup in a format in which he has yet to excel? There is no doubting that he probably has more natural talent than the other players mentioned here but something like a World Cup is likely to turn on the calmness of a wise head.
And, in that, the other three, Jordan included, have him covered.