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Jofra Archer makes successful return as England sink Pakistan in T20
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Jofra Archer makes successful return as England sink Pakistan in T20

On a day when Jos Buttler crackled with the bat and regular wickets derailed Pakistan’s run chase, the biggest plus for England at the start of their T20 World Cup buildup was an unscathed return for Jofra Archer, 62 weeks since his last cap.

It has been a tortured road back for Archer, a long-standing battle with elbow stress fractures leading him to question whether another setback could be overcome. Playing a full part on the field was the first box to be ticked and, as England defended their 183 for seven for a 23-run win and a 1-0 lead, the Sharpie could come out of the pot.

If there were nerves, they were not obvious. Rustiness was probably inevitable, with nets and club games unable to replicate the intensity of a full house at Edgbaston, and Archer’s first over taken for 15 runs amid an incendiary 21-ball 45 from Fakhar Zaman.

But come the end, the figures read two for 28 from four overs and, perhaps just as encouragingly, 90mph had been breached on the speed gun.

Buttler said of him: “I thought he was brilliant. You can see the emotion, taking wickets again. He’s not just going to be the Jofra Archer of old straight away, but it was a really positive performance. It’s absolutely about trying to get overs into Jofra but looking after him as well. I thought the whole bowling group was brilliant.”

Given the margin of victory, three days after his intended comeback was washed out in Leeds, Archer’s cameo with bat was also handy. Buttler had been at his clinical best up top, a 51-ball 84 taking his side to 144 for two in the 15th over before a collapse of five for 39 followed. Among this wobble came an unbeaten 12 from Archer, skewing his first ball for four before properly middling Mohammad Amir over long-on for six.

The acid test was always going to be with the ball, however, Archer offering a reminder of the wicket-to-wicket threat last seen at home in 2020 – and a year earlier with supporters in the stands. After a tricky first set of six he returned for the 12th over, the burly Azam Khan chipping to cover off the first ball to make it 91 for five; Imad Wasim later holed out during the final rites. Solid work, with the promise of more to follow.

Jos Buttler on his way to 84 from 51 balls.View image in fullscreen

Overall, and beyond the result, England could perhaps have taken a touch more out of this match six days before the flight to Barbados. Pakistan fought back well with the ball and in the field, Imad’s left‑arm darts picking up figures of two for 19. But a slightly ponderous start to the run chase, while corrected by Fakhar’s bristling emergence at No 4, exposed a possible lack of firepower lower down.

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The fall of Fakhar in the 13th over to make it 100 for six was the clincher. The former naval officer had stepped out on deck at 14 for two and in a murderous mood, sending the largely pro-Pakistan crowd into delirium. But when attempting to smoke a fourth six off Liam Livingstone, he was undone by a smart bit of extra width from the all-rounder.

This was a reminder of Buttler’s options with the ball, Livingstone the sixth man used and all six among the wickets here. Given the likelihood of spin playing a big role in the Caribbean next month, two wickets for Moeen Ali – including the glossy Babar Azam lbw for 32 – and Adil Rashid looking smooth after a 15-week break augurs well. Chris Jordan, it almost goes without saying, held a couple of sublime swirling catches.

Perhaps the biggest curio was Babar opting to bowl at a ground where all seven previous T20 internationals had been won by the side batting first. England’s strategy is slightly easier to comprehend, the aggression of Phil Salt (13 from nine) and Will Jacks (37 from 23) allowing Buttler the breathing space to construct an innings.

If the form witnessed from Buttler here rolls over into the T20 World Cup – he looks in a far better place than in India last winter – captains will think twice before sticking England in. That said, while Buttler purred in 360-degree fashion – not least one audacious reverse-sweep six off the slightly bereft Shadab Khan – the middle-order collapse that followed the end of Jonny Bairstow’s stop-start 21 was suboptimal.

Still, given the significance of Archer’s return and all 10 wickets claimed by his attack, the reasons to grumble were far outweighed by the upside.

Source: theguardian.com