The path that leads to cricketing stardom is changing
There were a few surprises in this year’s Indian Premier League auction.
Ben Stokes was once again the big-ticket item, joining the Rajasthan Royals for £1.4m, but his Test captain Joe Root – considered one of the best batsmen in the world – was unable to secure a contract.
Knowing quite what those with the rupees are looking for is mightily difficult.
Previous records at IPL, Test, or even first-class level don’t count for as much with these selectors.
They need box office performances as often as possible and they need them now.
The path a young cricketer takes from the academy to global superstar is changing.
Composure under pressure
15 years ago, the approach taken for a player to become world-renowned was very different. Let’s take England’s Ian Bell as an example.
In 2003, a 21-year-old Bell had an indifferent season for Warwickshire. He scored 779 runs at an average of 28.85 with only one century in 16 matches.
But his temperament at the crease and ability to maintain his composed technique under pressure forced the England selectors to take notice.
A year later, he was in the Test side and despite taking a few years to fully adapt, he eventually became one of the most elegant batsmen to play for England, winning 118 caps and scoring 7,727 runs at an average of 42.69.
While a mainstay in the England team, it was only during the 2013 home Ashes series against Australia that Bell established himself as one of the world’s best – at the time – as he scored 562 runs at 62.44 with three centuries.
Previous criticisms that the Warwickshire batsman rarely scored runs when those around him couldn’t were dismissed. A 3-0 series victory flattered the hosts, as other than Bell, no English batsman averaged more than 39.
Bell was deservedly awarded the Man of the Series and with it a well-earned place amongst those at the top of the game.
It took a long time for Bell to earn global recognition for his talents. While he was a part of the England team in all formats from 2004 onwards, it was not until several years after his debut that he was firmly at the heart of a well-oiled winning machine, this being Andy Flower’s side who reached No.1 in the world rankings.
But in today’s game there are players who are embarking on rather different routes to stardom.
Leaving his mark down under
One big story to come out of the IPL auction was the Rajasthan Royals purchase of young all-rounder Jofra Archer for £800,000.
But the Bajan’s route to T20 cricket’s biggest tournament does not follow the path of those of taken by his older team-mates.
He first received attention when bowling at Chris Jordan in a net session in Barbados, who subsequently recommended that his coaches at Sussex take a look at Archer.
After signing on a pay-as-you-play contract because of injury concerns the all-rounder flourished on the south coast, proving his fitness, and ability to transform games in equal measure.
The 22-year-old was awarded a full professional contract in 2016 and a fabulous 2017 followed. He averaged 45.57 with the bat – scoring 638 runs including five 50s. But it was his performance with the ball that made headlines: 61 wickets at 25.29 apiece was no fluke.
This is where the careers of Archer and Bell diverge. While a 22-year-old Bell would have headed to the nets for the winter to consolidate his county form and continue to push for Test recognition, Archer has spent this last winter playing for the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash – Australia’s franchise T20 competition.
And he has been sensational. Meaty blows at the end of the innings have been useful, but once again his bowling has been the headline act. Fifteen wickets at 21.53 launched his side to the final – where they were ultimately defeated by a stunning Jake Weatherald century. This combined with his electric fielding has got the cricket world chattering.
Then the Royals swooped in and Archer will now have the platform to perform on domestic cricket’s biggest stage.
Now the wait
The IPL has given the Sussex seamer the opportunity to gain worldwide recognition before he even sets foot on the international scene. Archer has expressed his desire to play for England but due to residency issues – having been born in Barbados – he will not be eligible until the winter of 2022.
But Archer could be a superstar long before then.
With no international commitments the all-rounder will be available to play in most of the global franchise tournaments, and while benefitting his bank account, he will also raise his profile significantly by playing with those at the top of the game.
Compliments from his esteemed peers have only enhanced his reputation with South Africa quick Dale Steyn saying: “This kid is going to be special!”
So when 2022 does arrive, if Archer builds on his explosive form, he will enter the international scene already a box office asset.
The way cricket was 15 years ago allowed Bell to develop whilst an international player, but today, with the volume of cricket played and increasing number of global tournaments and lengthy series, cricketers must be the real deal as soon as they get the call up.
And on current evidence Archer certainly is. From an England perspective, if only 2022 were sooner…