Jofra Archer: The bouncer and beyondhttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/jofra-archer-the-bouncer-steve-smith-and-beyond-5925435/

Jofra Archer: The bouncer and beyond

The secret ingredients aren’t the parts but it’s the well-oiled smoothness inherent in the whole that does the trick.

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Steve Smith is hit on the neck with a ball bowled by Jofra Archer. (Reuters)

Fluid, lithe, loose-limbed, and a malleable wrist makes Jofra Archer a phenomenal sensation. The entire package creates an illusion, a kind of deceit: the short run-up and its languorous fluidity make it seem as if he is bowling within himself; he doesn’t sprint, he doesn’t explode through the crease, he doesn’t squeeze out any last-instant extra effort from the shoulder, he doesn’t leap prior to release — the secret ingredients aren’t the parts but it’s the well-oiled smoothness inherent in the whole that does the trick. SRIRAM VEERA explains.

Read | Jofra Archer says all players ‘skipped a heartbeat’ as Steve Smith collapsed

1: The run-up

Often, he just springs into that run-up. Unlike most bowlers, he doesn’t amble to the marker and then accelerate into a sprint. It’s as if the gun has been fired, and he is a touch late off the blocks. Subsequently, there is no visible acceleration; the way he starts is the way he ends. Seamless, in control, and aerodynamic – it helps him in keeping the head still as he comes up near the crease.

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2: The release

Because of the control and ease in his run-up, he is so well-balanced as he reaches the umpire that he can get himself all upright, at times gets on his toes almost at release – you can’t think of many bowlers who can do that because of the effort spent in the run-up and the jump, they usually land hard on their heels, but Archer can appear as if he is gliding through.

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3: The bowling arm

Usually, it’s the fingers and the wrist or the shoulder effort that we notice at release, but with Jofra, his entire loose-limbed arm comes into the action. It allows him to propel the ball that much quicker and smoother.

4: The wrists and the bouncer

The wrist-cock is also done so effortlessly that he is able to adjust the lengths without any visible signs. It’s partly why the batsmen seem a touch late in responding to changes in length. Even his bouncers, even though they must be expecting it from him, catch them unawares. The traditional cues from a bowler about to bowl a bouncer are absent: no out-of-ordinary shoulder thrust, no quick(er) arm release, the head doesn’t drop a fraction early like it happens with other bowler’s bouncers. Such is the absence of violence in his run-up to the release that the batsmen seems surprised by the end result.

Smith trapped by the bouncers

* Smith’s technique of walking across and opening up his stance, with shoulders facing the bowler on occasions, allowed him to take out most potent bowling options but he now faces the sternest test of them all – Archer’s bouncers. Archer’s bouncers are different than others in two aspects: he hurls them from very close to the stumps and so there is no visible angle for the batsmen to work with or wriggle out of – its in the stump-to-stump line. Secondly, it jags in even as it rears up which cramps up batsmen. The combination has proven suffocating.

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Archer, in an ironical twist of fate, struck Steve Smith’s concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne with a bouncer as well in the 2nd innings. (Reuters)

* If the ball comes in at an angle – from wider of the crease, moving from off to leg, or in a left-armer’s case from leg to off, batsmen have it easier to sway away. But the stump-to-stump almost straight trajectory of the line doesn’t allow that wriggle room. Furthermore, since the ball cuts into them, the square-cut or upper-cut is out of the picture. Even swaying away becomes difficult as the ball keeps honing in towards the head like a missile. How far can a batsman arch back?

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Steve Smith (Source: Reuters)

* In theory, Smith’s walk to the off should help him get on to the other side of the ball, and let the ball pass to the left of him. But since it’s so difficult to pick the bouncer, as it’s almost in a straight line before it cuts in, Smith’s open-shouldered position leaves him vulnerable, provides a big target to aim at. It’s not that an open stance always leads to problem against bouncers. Some, like Mohinder Amarnath, developed an open stance to tackle bouncers after they had problems with a side-on stance. After being hit by the likes of Imran Khan and West Indies fast bowlers, Amarnath developed that open stance technique as it allowed him to get a better look at the ball, but the difference was that he would not be walking across the stumps and getting trapped.

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Australia’s Steve Smith lays on the floor after being hit by a ball from England’s Jofra Archer Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

* Traditionally, batsmen have a simple rule about leaving the bouncer: if it’s on the off side of them, they sway; if it’s on the body moving towards the leg-side, they duck. The way Smith moves across the stumps leaves him little room to do either – the swaying is easier if the batsmen adopt a side-on stance and the ducking is easier when the batsmen are relatively still. Smith’s best option is to move further away to the off but any predetermination or misreading of length would open him to lbw threats. And so he stood there, and got nailed.

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