It was fitting that Jofra Archer’s stunning return came in Kimberley, the South African city where diamonds have been mined for more than a century.
For almost two years injuries had denied the 27-year-old, England’s most precious commodity, the chance to shine on the stage he made his own.
But after a period of dog-sitting rather than wicket-taking, Archer dazzled once again in Wednesday’s third one-day international against South Africa.
He took six wickets – the first time he has taken five wickets or more in the format – bowling with the pace which brought back all of the memories of his debut season for England.
Stumps were splattered, just as they were in the 2019 World Cup. Aiden Markram was surprised and hit by a fearsome bouncer, like Australia’s Steve Smith was four years ago on that epic Ashes day at Lord’s.
“He is like gold dust,” former England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports. “He is so valuable for English cricket and world cricket.”
Archer’s delight – he punched the air and roared in celebration – was clear when he bowled Parnell to seal his first five-wicket haul in ODIs.
This was just his second international match in a much-anticipated comeback after 17 months out injured. Before the first ODI on Friday, when he returned his most expensive ODI figures, it had been 22 months without an appearance in England colours.
The first sign of Archer’s injury troubles came during the tour of India in early 2021. Soon after an elbow complaint became serious enough to require surgery and before long a second operation was needed.
Then, when he was primed to return in May 2022, it was revealed Archer had suffered a stress fracture of the back. It would rule him out of another campaign.
Unable to bowl, and for a while even run, Archer spent most of his time on the island of his birth, Barbados. He distracted himself by buying five new dogs – American bullies named Ace, Onyx, Ghost, Nova, Luna – to add to his French mastiff, Sheeba.
But England, perhaps again knowing the rare talent they had, were keen to ensure he was never too far away.
When the white-ball team visited the Caribbean in January 2022 Archer was invited to the nets. He was there again two months later when the Test side returned.
It was clear Archer was being kept close.
Now, those months of rehab are behind him, Archer twice turned a game that was turning towards South Africa. After the win was complete his team-mates stepped back to allow him to lead the side from the field.
“It is good being back. It has been a long road,” he said.
“This is a small tick but I want to see how I am in April, June, July and September.
“Being back after however many weeks, months it is kind of surreal. This is just the first series, there is loads of time to get the fine-tuning done.”
With an Ashes series to come against Australia in June and July, and England’s 50-over World Cup defence starting in India in October, Archer’s return has provided a jolt of excitement to England fans at the end of an otherwise disappointing series, won 2-1 by South Africa.
As Archer took his fifth wicket former England batter and TV commentator Kevin Pietersen said: “He really is back, back with a vengeance”.
The coming months will see Archer return to the Indian Premier League with Mumbai Indians where he has said he will bowl extra overs in the nets to build his fitness for the Ashes.
“Back and elbow are absolutely critical so there would have been some doubt there about whether he would get back,” former England captain Michael Atherton said on Sky Sports.
“He’s got some way to go yet to show he can do it across formats and then cope with an ever-demanding schedule but it was a wonderful day for him.”
The Australians have just arrived in India for a mouth-watering four-Test series, which starts next week. Archer’s performance is still unlikely to have gone unnoticed.
For now, though, the rest of us can just take joy in the fact one of England’s most exciting players is back and performing.
“What I took today, was not just his class and wicket-taking potential, but what I’ve missed is just the effortless grace he has,” Hussain added.
Long may that continue. (BBC)