Joe Root, England’s captain, has backed Jofra Archer to learn his lessons quickly after a chastening first taste of overseas Test cricket, and believes that England will travel to South Africa for next month’s four-Test series all the better prepared for the challenge after two hard-fought Tests in New Zealand.
Archer endured a frustrating series, in what was his first experience of first-class cricket outside of England, let alone at the highest level. With his speeds noticeably down as he struggled to get to grips with the Kookaburra ball, he picked up two wickets across 82 overs in the two matches. His fortunes were epitomised on the final day in Hamilton, where Joe Denly dropped a sitter at midwicket to deny him the prize scalp of New Zealand’s captain, Kane Williamson.
Off the field he was distracted too, following an incident of racial abuse at Mount Maunganui that has led NZC to lodge an official complaint with the police. But speaking at the end of the series, Root reiterated that Archer, 24, is still very new to international cricket, and will continue to be an incredible asset to England if he carries on developing as he has done so far this year.
“I think he’s found that Test cricket is hard, and you’ve got to keep backing up those performances over and over again,” Root told Sky Sports. “You can sometimes bowl extremely well and get no reward.
“And he’s young,” Root added. “He’s right at the start of his career, and as I said at the start of the trip, there are big expectations on him. He’s still got a lot of learning to do, but one thing I know for sure is that he’s a fantastic talent and there’s no doubt he’s going to contribute massively for England in Test cricket.
“But he has to keep wanting to learn, and to stay nice and resilient mentally and physically as well, because these conditions can wear you down. I expect him to bounce back quite strongly from something like this, because he’s a fast learner. He’s proven that when he’s played domestic cricket around the world, in all these big franchise tournaments. Hopefully we’ll see see him back at his best soon.”
England’s selectors will name their squad for the South Africa tour over the weekend, and Root said that in spite of the series scoreline in New Zealand, they could take heart from the manner in which the side bounced back from their innings defeat in the first Test, and from the lessons they took from New Zealand’s star peformers – not least the Man of the Series, Neil Wagner, who claimed back-to-back five-fors on the unresponsive decks.
“I think we learned a lot about the group,” said Root. “Obviously the ideal scenario is perform extremely well, and come away with a 2-0 series win, so it’s not worked out how we would have liked, but [for South Africa] we’ve now seen what it can be like if the surfaces do get like this with the Kookaburra ball. And like we did at Mount Maunganui, we have to learn very quickly and take that forward into those four games.
“You’ve got to learn from the opposition as well,” he added. “You look at someone like Neil Wagner – he’s got a big heart, a big engine, and keeps running. And that’s what you want, you want guys who, time and time again, want to be putting themselves in that position, to keep wanting to create chances and keep trying to change the game.”
Wholesale changes for the tour of South Africa are unlikely, although James Anderson will doubtless return to the fray if he can prove his fitness after missing the bulk of the Ashes with a long-term calf injury. He is currently on a training camp in Potchefstroom with other potential selections, including Mark Wood and Jonny Bairstow, whose omission from the New Zealand tour left Ollie Pope with the wicketkeeping duties at Hamilton after Jos Buttler suffered a back strain on the eve of the match.
Pope performed creditably in difficult circumstances, making a career-best 75 in England’s only innings, although he did drop a straightforward chance off Williamson on the final morning of the Test.
“Look, we didn’t expect Jos to go down as late as he did, but it does happen,” said Root. “And we knew that that could happen when we picked the squad. And, bar one mistake today, Ollie made a very good account of himself. He showed great maturity with the way he batted throughout his innings and proved why he got given that opportunity.”
“Jonny is out in South Africa practising,” Root added. “He’s obviously not played red-ball cricket or been given an opportunity to prove himself, in terms of match time, so he’s doing some work with a couple of coaches and face those [bowlers], and make sure he’s match-hardened if he’s to be selected.”
One key decision will be the availability of Moeen Ali, who requested time away from red-ball cricket after a tough home summer, and who hinted to ESPNcricinfo last week that he is not yet sure he’s ready for a return to the Test arena. But, with England opting for an all-seam attack in Hamilton amid doubts about Jack Leach’s penetration with the ball, his prowess as a spin-bowling allrounder is still highly valued by his captain.
“I need to sit down and speak to Ed [Smith, selector], and to Moeen, and find out exactly what the situation is with Mo,” said Root. “One thing is for sure, we know how talented he is. We know what he has produced in Test cricket over his career. It’s very easy to look at small sample sizes that have happened more recently, but he’s a he’s a fine, fine player and I’m sure at some point, he’ll be back in and raring to go. But once those conversations have happened, I’ll give you a little bit more.”