Ben Stokes has called on the England team to rally round Jofra Archer and ensure he “doesn’t feel like he’s by himself” despite his enforced period of isolation, as the ECB prepares to hold a disciplinary hearing into the unsanctioned trip to Brighton that threatened the integrity of its bio-secure summer arrangements.
Archer had to be withdrawn from England’s squad on the morning of the match at Emirates Old Trafford after it transpired that he had taken a detour from the Ageas Bowl in the wake of the first Test, during which he stopped off at his home, in violation of the strict protocols surrounding a series that is taking place in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite insisting that his stop-over had lasted only about an hour, Archer admitted to having had contact with at least one other individual, and speaking at the close of the first day’s play, Ashley Giles, England’s team director, said that his actions “could have been a disaster” that might have cost English cricket “tens of millions of pounds”.
Archer spent his first day in isolation with the curtains to his hotel room drawn, and did not appear to venture out on to his balcony on the second day either, despite the ECB requesting photographers and broadcasters to refrain from showing any images of him.
He will not be permitted any face-to-face contact with the rest of the squad for the duration of the match, and is expected to be reintegrated to the wider team bubble on Wednesday, the day after its scheduled end.
However, Stokes himself is no stranger to high-profile errors of judgement – most especially the circumstances surrounding his arrest in Bristol in September 2017 – and without directly referring to his own mental state in the aftermath of that incident, he called on the team to stand by their man in good times as well as bad.
“For us as players, and as the England cricket group, this is a time where our way of operation really needs to come through,” Stokes said. “We really need to there to support Jofra right now, because obviously he’s a big talking point, and he is by himself because of everything else going on at the moment.”
“But it’s about making sure that he doesn’t feel like he’s by himself,” he added. “The worst thing that we can do right now, as a team, is to just leave him and say ‘see you in five, six days’ time.
“Times like these for people are very, very tough. You can feel like you are all by yourself, but I don’t think anybody is going to allow that to happen. Jofra is a massive part of this group, as everybody is. If it was anybody else like Jofra, it would be exactly the same way of handling as a team.”
Stokes, who had played alongside Archer for Rajasthan Royals before his remarkable arrival in the England team last May, has struck up a significant rapport with his team-mate. He was famously on hand to offer some priceless advice prior to the World Cup final Super Over at Lord’s 12 months ago, telling Archer, “whatever happens here will not define your career”.
It was a reference to his own experience in England’s previous appearance in a global final, when Stokes’ final four balls of the World T20 in Kolkata had been struck for six. But Archer duly closed out England’s victory that day with a nerveless display, and Stokes intimated that England needed to bear that achievement in mind while casting judgment on this episode.
“It’s all good being there for people when things are going well and smoothly,” Stokes said, “but what really comes through is how you operate with someone when they need you the most.”