Diamonds on the soles of Jofra Archer’s shoes in Kimberley

image-ldo7up8oArcher made his international comeback against South Africa

After a stuttering start and with the series already lost, England finally delivered a win at the Diamond Oval in Kimberley. Their ODI form has certainly been sluggish. Since the gentle June stroll in the woods of Amstelveen against the Netherlands, five straight defeats and only two wins in their last eleven was definitely a cause for measured concern. 

 Mitigating factors are of course, the sharper focus on the shorter T20I format netting a WT20 win, not to mention key absentees with the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and of course Ben Stokes either rested, unavailable or retired (perhaps temporarily in the case of Stokes) for the three game South Africa series.

With three international formats, something will always have to give based on short term priorities. England were readily forgiven for an abject showing against Australia after the WT20 win, which was the ultimate ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ series and barely registered on the public consciousness. 

 Nonetheless at the start of a World Cup year, there was a much stronger feeling of relevance and importance for this series in South Africa for both teams. English cricket fans, already concerned by the downgrading of the domestic 50 over competition, will have been wanting to see some positive signs in the format. South Africa for their part, have yet to guarantee automatic qualification for the Finals. 

Kimberley has quite a history, not all of it spotless it must be said. In South Africa if you think of diamonds, you think of Kimberley, the discovery of the ‘Eureka Diamond’, the subsequent "Diamond rush" of the late 1800s and the home of DeBeers. Perhaps less known, is that in 1882, Kimberley was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere and the second in the world after Philadelphia to integrate electric street lights into its infrastructure.

After the double disappointments of Bloemfontein, England shone magnificently in Kimberley and no one glittered brighter than the jewel of their attack, Jofra Archer. For almost two years a succession of injuries had frustrated the quicksilver Archer, reduced to dog sitting rather than wicket hunting, but he was dazzling as the brightest diamond on Wednesday, not just in taking six wickets, but also for the manner in which they came. 

The old deceptively fluid, easy approach to the wicket preceded the unleashing of genuinely quick and well targeted deliveries, not just hitting 90 mph plus, but varied enough in length, direction and pace to constantly trouble South Africa’s batters. England had failed to defend 342 in Bloemfontein, as Bavuma led from the front with a ton and arch finisher David Miller alongside Marco Jansen accelerated the South African chase to perfection. In Kimberley however, inspired by the resurgent Archer, England finished the job with the best part of seven overs to spare.

It was Archer’s second spell that really did the damage. With South Africa 156 for 3 at the half way stage, the game was poised for another successful South African chase, but he quickly hurried Aiden Markram into a poorly judged pull before striking perhaps the decisive blow with a back of a length 90 mile an hour delivery that fizzed through to take Miller’s edge. Despite the best efforts of Heinrich Klassen and Wayne Parnell, both of who also fell to Archer, it was the dismissal of the talismanic Miller that proved pivotal. 

In the first of the two Bloemfontein encounters, England slid to a tame defeat, failing to chase a sub 300 South African total. The second at Bloemfontein, served up a thriller where thanks to the efforts of the ever more impressive Harry Brook, captain Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali, England set a defendable 342 total, that they then then failed disappointingly to defend. Chris Woakes and Reece Topley both somewhat rusty and toothless.  

A dead rubber Kimberley may have been, but the post-match delight and relief for England were palpable. In the town where Big Hole is the world’s most famous diamond mine, England looked as though they were set upon digging their own big hole as they fell to 14 for 3. The superb efforts of Jos Buttler and Dawid Malan, from slow start to plundering acceleration, ensured they did not fall into it. 

More negatively, Jason Roy was already on watch and despite his ton in the first of the series, two subsequent failures will intensify that scrutiny. He will, however travel to Bangladesh in March for the ODIs there. Ben Duckett’s series aggregate 23 runs for the three games won’t inspire confidence and he will travel to Bangladesh for the T20s alone. 

Overall though, England gave the impression of a side easing their way through the gears as this series progressed and the ultimate scoreline means little against the need to gain momentum for the World Cup. South Africa still have work to do to qualify, but England will be delighted to finish on such a high. And nothing will delight them more than a fit, firing and effective Jofra Archer. 

"It's not usual but in our days, we see those things happen” is a very rough translation of the words of Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanying Paul Simon. Kimberly was England’s day, and it was Jofra Archer who lit it up with “Diamonds on the soles of his shoes”.

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