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Jofra Archer leads returning England heroes hoping to impress in Barbados
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Jofra Archer leads returning England heroes hoping to impress in Barbados

It will be a pretty magical moment for Jofra Archer when he walks on to the Kensington Oval on Tuesday, with his friends, family and, if the dream he outlined a couple of weeks ago comes to pass, perhaps even his beloved bulldogs looking on. Jos ­Buttler’s England begin their T20 World Cup defence – Scotland first up – and their chances of a repeat have only increased with the fast bowler’s homecoming in this tournament.

Those recent warm-ups against Pakistan in the UK were a just pair of boxes being ticked, truth be told. A precious asset of beguiling pace and skill, Archer was advised by Rob Key not to set any targets during that most recent 14-month absence with an elbow stress fracture. But thoughts of a first international on the island where it all began were his sustenance; the tropical sunshine at the end of a particularly dark tunnel.

Cricket is baked into the soil in ­Barbados, some even positing that the porous coral rock underfoot is why it has produced 100 international players over the years. Not one but two of this remarkable crop will be decked out in the red of England today, Archer joined by his best friend and mentor when crossing the Atlantic back in the day, Chris Jordan.

“Jofra is obviously a really cool, calm and collected guy but I’m sure there’s some emotion around that as well,” Buttler said, a day before this Group B clash in Bridgetown. “He’ll be desperate to perform well. We know what he’s capable of but we just need to allow him to be for a bit and not expect too much.”

Phil Salt, Buttler’s incendiary opening ­partner, makes it a third connection to the island; very much considered an adopted Bajan by the locals given the six years of his youth spent living here. Salt played junior club cricket alongside Hayley Matthews, the West Indies women’s captain too good to ignore, and, aged 13, was also sat in the Hall & Griffith Stand when Paul Collingwood’s side won the T20 in 2010.

“That was pretty special,” Salt said. “Every kid in the ground thought that ‘is going to be me one day’ but you never believe it. Colly came past the stand with the trophy afterwards and said ‘here you are, touch it while you can’ and that always sticks with me when I think about that day. To be here now in an England shirt is incredible.”

Barbados can be a distracting place for touring cricketers, the senses almost instinctively becalmed upon arrival as holidaymakers bake on the beaches and enjoy the sultry ­evenings. But even though some squad members enjoyed a boat trip out into its azure blue waters on Monday, English minds really should be sharp and alert from the get‑go, with a record to set straight after that blowout in India last winter.

The England captain, Jos Buttler, walks alongside fast bowler Jofra Archer.View image in fullscreen

Buttler was certainly keen to move on, as his players underwent their final drills before the big push. “I am focused on this World Cup,” he replied when asked about it. A simple question about any Caribbean-specific advice from England’s new consultant coach, Keiron Pollard, was also met with a sarcastic: “He said it’s windy.” Given they apparently needed a local expert to tell them not to bowl first in a Mumbai heatwave, hopefully the Trinidadian’s input is a bit more fleshed out in private.

In fairness, there has been a lot of talking during the buildup to this one and, thanks to rain in Leeds and Cardiff before departure, too little cricket. Unlike his Test equivalent, Ben Stokes, Buttler is not one to give a team or even clues as to its makeup in advance, replying: “I don’t need to sit here and tell you,” when asked by the BBC. But from the two T20s England did play back home, the side appears settled, confident and the final call may be a second outright quick in Mark Wood or Reece Topley’s left-arm swing.

The pitch will be the same one used for the low-scoring Oman versus Namibia match on Sunday night that was eventually settled by a super over and so a case could be made for either direction. There was a bit of inconsistent bounce that might make Wood a particularly awkward proposi­tion, equally Namibia’s Ruben ­Trumpelmann, a left-armer with a similar build to the giant Topley, got the white Kookaburra to swing.

Namibia’s eventual victory was under lights, however, and ­England’s first meeting with Scotland since they lost a one-off ODI in 2018 starts at 10.30am. Either way, Buttler’s men are heavy favourites but associate upsets cannot be ruled out in cricket’s most fickle format. Richie Berrington’s side went unbeaten in qualifying, shocked Bangladesh and West Indies in their last two T20 World Cups, and in George Munsey have a 360-degree opener who hits a long ball. Mark Watt, the thrifty left-arm spinner who likes to keep tactical notes in his pocket, will be in the game unless this used pitch is rolled flat.

Kensington Oval has undergone a revamp in preparation for the tournament, a US$25m grant from the Barbados government used to update the facilities, upgrade the floodlights and construct an Old Trafford-style party stand. It may not be until England play Australia here on Saturday night that all the shiny new seats are filled but through Archer, Jordan and even a sprinkling of Salt, any locals who take a break from the working week will have skin in the game.

Source: theguardian.com