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cricket news: Archer, Smith Headline Memorable Fourth Day At Lord's

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Steve Smith was hit twice in the same afternoon by the phenomenal Jofra Archer on the 4th day at Lord's today. The pictures below are extracted from the highlights published by the England & Wales Cricket Board. It was the headline contest on a memorable, rain-free 4th day of a Lord's Test which has otherwise been mauled by bad weather. The wicket has played slower than usual.

All Test cricket is made up of a contest between one batsman and one bowler. The average batsman and bowler in Test cricket are of the highest standard. But even among them, some stand out. Steve Smith has a better eye than most Test batsmen. It lets him use a technical approach which would be considered high risk for most batsmen. Smith's method against seam and swing bowling involves shuffling across his stumps and is based on his confidence that he cannot be beaten on his inside edge by most bowlers because they are not quick enough to do this. As the bowler is about the release the ball, Smith's back foot is planted outside off stump, and his head is positioned such that his eye is in line with off-stump. His front foot is still on middle and leg. The bat always comes down perfectly straight. This helps Smith's judgment outside off. As long as he does not play outside his eyes, he's defending his stumps. The picture below shows Smith's position as he was about the receive a ball from Stuart Broad yesterday.

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Jofra Archer is quick, effortless and precise as a fast bowler. He seems to have terrific endurance. Archer bowled 29 of England's 94 overs in the Australian 1st innings. He troubled every batsman he bowled to. He hit Smith twice and beat him often. But more than that, he forced a change in Smith's approach. Archer's extra pace meant that Smith could not shuffle across his stumps knowing that he could always catch up with the fast, full in-dipper designed to beat his inside edge. Archer's afternoon spell was especially quick. This sustained pace seemed to shrink Smith's shuffle. 

The picture below shows the delivery which hit Smith on the arm. Compare the position of Smith's feet here to their position above where he is shown facing Broad and Stokes. The front foot is not in front of middle and leg. Against Archer, Smith is as worried about being beaten on the outside edge as he is about being beaten on the inside edge. Archer's extra pace, allies with his high arm action and natural height means that he also gets steep bounce. This means that a ball which is short of a length on about off-stump which Smith would normally play off his hips to mid-wicket or square-leg cannot be addressed with a vertical bat without the batsman having to fend at it (the short leg fielder makes fending a risky proposition). If the batsman doesn't want to fend at the delivery, he has to try and evade it, or pull/hook it. Smith's shuffle makes evasion harder. For most batsmen, the way to evade a climbing delivery on off-stump would be to sway out of line and let the ball fly past the chest or the nose. For Smith, unless the bouncer is outside off stump, the only possible evasion is to let the ball fly over his left shoulder. This was the first of two occasions when Smith was caught in no man's land and had no option but to turn away from the delivery.

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The picture below is the first ball of the 77th over of Australia's innings. England had set a backward square-leg about 40 yards from the bat. Archer banged this ball in short of a length, and Smith managed to complete a pull shot which went just wide of that fielder to the boundary. The fact that it went so close to the fielder and the fact that he didn't control the shot well may have put a little bit of doubt in Smith's mind about playing the shot again. By now he'd faced most of Archer's quickest spell of the day.

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The picture below shows the very next ball. It was on a similar length and just as quick. While the previous ball was on middle stump and allowed Smith to go through with the shot, this one was on off-stump. Once Smith had decided not to play the shot, his only option was to try and get out of the way. He tried to do this but couldn't. Instead of whistling past his left ear, the ball slammed into Smith.

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It would be a mistake to think that Archer has the ability to move his bouncer with that much precision from middle stump to off stump. It is far more likely that Archer saw Smith's shot on the previous ball and thought that it was worth letting Smith have another one. The long-leg and the backward square-leg were positioned for the miscued hook, and the short-leg was waiting under the helmet if Smith fended at one. It was a classic ploy. What was remarkable was that it came from a bowler on Test debut.

It would also be a mistake to think that this is a significant problem for Smith. Its a line of attack he has left himself open to in his pursuit of other advantages. What is most likely is that Smith will work out a method of evading this line of attack against Archer's extra pace. Justin Langer has described Smith as the best problem-solver in the game. Archer presents a problem worthy of Smith. 

It worth considering the fact that all this happened on a pitch where outside edges have not always carried to slip cordon. A more even-paced wicket than this uncharacteristically slow wicket at Lord's may make Archer easier to deal with.

Fast bowling in Test cricket requires a unique combination of intelligence, power, endurance, and concentration. If Jofra Archer's debut demonstration of fast bowling is anything to go by, a new genius has emerged this week at Lord's. Not since Kagiso Rabada in 2015-16 has there been a more exciting arrival of a new fast bowler on the Test match scene. The thing about Archer (a fact he shares with Jasprit Bumrah) seems to be that he is genuinely quick without being a tearaway. Every ball he bowls is measured. As he bowls each ball, you can tell from his reaction at the end of his follow-through if he thinks he bowled the delivered well. Batsmen are often celebrated for their ability to play exactly one ball at a time. The idea behind this phrase is that some batsmen have the ability to forget what happened on the previous delivery when they face the current one. Archer, like Bumrah, seems to bowl exactly one delivery at a time. In the process, he managed to lay a siege to the best batsman in the world in his debut Test.

The weather has probably interfered fatally with this Test match already. Only 203 overs have been played in the first four days. Nevertheless, Archer, Smith, Broad, Cummins and the others have provided a compelling exhibition of Test Cricket.
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