“You can’t just give up. Until you see Jofra (Archer) walk out for England, West Indies need to keep trying, prodding and persuading with the hope that one day he’ll turn the corner.” Not many in the Caribbean would disagree with Roddy Estwick.
The only issue, of course, is that England are waiting with open arms for him too. And Archer “dreams of playing Tests for England”. Even the fact that he’ll have to wait another four years to do so — till he completes his seven-year residency period for qualification — doesn’t seem to deter him. Earlier this year when asked during an interview with The Times about whether he’d ever change his mind, “No, I’m fine, thanks,” is how the 22-year-old Barbados-born all-rounder had responded.
The reason why two international cricket teams were desperate to acquire the youngster was evident at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium on Sunday night. Turning up for Rajasthan Royals, there was Archer, ambling in off his 18-step run-up, bowling at nearly 150 kph, turning the match on its head with perfect yorkers.
When Estwick, former West Indies bowling coach and now consultant with the ‘A’ team, says he’s “hoping in all hope” that Archer returns home, he does so with good reason. He, after all, was witness to the Jofra Archer phenomenon before anyone else in the world. Archer used to bowl leg-spin then but gave it up for pace when he graduated to the Barbados under-19 set-up. The two hit it off immediately and have ever since shared a very close mentor-pupil relationship that involves weekly phone calls even now.
“His action was always easy on the eye, using less energy in the run-up and beautifully high and over the top which helps him generate bounce and pace in the air. He had a lovely out-swinger and a strong wrist position, always behind the ball,” Estwick says.
A stress fracture on the back when he was around 18 and the subsequent remedial work, incidentally, is what led to the sudden explosion of pace in Archer’s bowling. Estwick recalls having had to slightly alter the teenager’s foot landing but his action largely remained unhindered with the extra muscle following the strength training which allowed him to sustain and maintain pace more consistently.
“He’s very mechanical in his action and has a supple body, which means if the mechanics are working fine, he’ll always generate tremendous pace,” explains Estwick. And then there are the wily variations. Archer bowled a bouncer at nearly 145 kph to Kieron Pollard and followed it up with another one at 120 kph.
Popular in the dressing room
Estwick, who bowled alongside Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall for his island in the 1980s, also recalls Archer as a popular member of the dressing room and an excitable boy who just couldn’t “stand in one place”- traces of which are still very evident.
“We were playing Bangladesh in an under-19 series in Guyana. He would finish practice, and head off to play tennis and then I’d find him playing pool or going for a swim. I would finally have to step in and say ‘we have a game tomorrow, you need rest’. But he won’t rest at all,” says Estwick with a chuckle.
There was also the time when Archer was undergoing remedial work post the stress fracture, and Estwick would hear about him “bowling at rapid pace” in the evening at St Peter, at the other end of the island, in a Keith Boyce Memorial Tournament.
“I’m thinking ‘we’re only doing remedial work and he’s taking off and playing cricket without my knowledge’,” Estwick quips.
Estwick isn’t at all surprised that Archer would end up as the “Star Man” in his first outing itself in the IPL. “He’s a performer and would have known the whole of the West Indies was watching yesterday. He wants to send a message to everyone,” the veteran coach says.
For someone who Estwick insists is naturally built to get over failures quickly, the only two times he’s seen Archer down is when he was injured and the time he wasn’t picked for the under-19 World Cup -the snub responsible for his grudge with West Indies cricket.
“I was the coach back then but it was a selection issue. He and Alzarri Joseph both missed out because we had two fast bowlers from the previous edition (2012) available and wanted to go with that experience. Jofra was disappointed,” recalls Estwick, who was Chris Jordan’s school coach and still laments about the gut-wrenching loss he was to West Indies cricket when he shifted allegiance to England.
Estwick admits that he doesn’t “agree” with some of the things that Archer has said with regards to West Indies cricket but hasn’t given up on his longstanding pupil returning home.
“Sussex have been really good to him. Hampshire were outstanding for Gordon Greenidge, but he made a choice to play for West Indies. So that’s a great precedent,” he says. For good measure, Estwick reveals slipping in his wish of wanting to see the prodigious talent donning Windies colours “judiciously without overloading the circuit” during their routine phone conversations.
“It’s all about timing. Now he’s saying what England want to hear. In a year, he might decide he can’t wait four years for the big stage and decide to play for West Indies. It’s a World Cup year too, and who doesn’t want to play in one.”