Jofra Archer will sign off from England’s tour of South Africa after Tuesday’s final Twenty20 at Newlands and could see this rest period extended into February amid thoughts of allowing him to miss the two-Test series in Sri Lanka.
The 25-year-old fast bowler is one of three players to feature in the recent Indian Premier League and then take up the option to sit out the three-match ODI series that begins in Cape Town on Friday, with Ben Stokes and Sam Curran similarly flying home. But with the England management casting an eye towards a gruelling schedule in 2021 that culminates with a T20 World Cup in India and then the Ashes in Australia, further spells on the sidelines for the multi-format players are on the cards.
The second half of the winter features two Tests in Sri Lanka followed by four against India – plus up to eight white-ball internationals in India – and the initial part of this subcontinental epic is seemingly viewed as the lesser priority.
It means Mark Wood may be the go-to quick for reverse swing there, despite missing out on a Test contract, while there are understood to be plans to recall Jonny Bairstow given the doubts over Ollie Pope’s fitness following September’s shoulder surgery.
The pandemic means an extended squad will be taken to Sri Lanka and Bairstow, who can fill a number of positions in the top six and will now pull out of Australia’s Big Bash League, is set to be one of three wicketkeepers, alongside Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes.
Allowing IPL regulars such as Archer and Stokes to miss England games is a pragmatic response to the financial pull of the tournament – Sam Curran joining them here highlights how far his stock has risen, too – but there is cricketing merit. Eoin Morgan, the white-ball captain, expects the proposed five-match T20 series in India next March to be the last time he has his full complement of players before the squad for the World T20s in October is selected, given a packed home summer.
“This series and the next in India are the two where we might have a full-strength squad,” said Morgan after the four-wicket win in Paarl on Sunday that secured an unassailable 2-0 lead over the Proteas. “We need to iron out everyone’s role in the team and get everyone comfortable with these. Outside of these series we will be looking at building strength in depth.”
Morgan is himself adjusting to a new role at No 6 and his unbeaten 16-ball 24 was a promising sign that he can be the finisher in the side. Given his vast experience, cool temperament and six-hitting ability, it is a move that makes perfect sense.
The captain is planning another unchanged batting lineup for today’s final T20 at Newlands, meaning the out-of-sorts Jason Roy is once again being backed at opener despite a rather frenetic 14 at Boland Park and South Africa’s continuing ploy to target him early with the left-arm spin of George Linde.
England have never inflicted a clean sweep on South Africa in white-ball cricket and the only change will come if they believe the reused pitch requires either Wood’s extra pace or the spin of Moeen Ali. If so, Tom Curran appears likeliest to make way.
Morgan was deeply impressed with his bowling attack in Paarl, however, not least Archer’s tone-setting removal of Temba Bavuma in the powerplay with a 93mph rocket, and a two-wicket leg-spin clinic from Adil Rashid that included his 50th victim in T20 internationals.
Rashid has ruled himself out of a return to Test cricket – both Matt Parkison and Mason Crane are now viewed as candidates for the series in Sri Lanka and India – but in T20 cricket Morgan described him as “integral to our team and our future”.