Sunday 18 August 2019 9:39 pm

Australia still lead but Jofra Archer has redressed the balance of the Ashes at Lord's

They may not have levelled the series, but England’s performance at Lord’s has gone a long way to redressing the balance of the Ashes. 

Ultimately they were undone by the weather, which denied them the time to wrap up a win at the end of another enthralling Test. Considering the nature of their previous failings, rain is a nice problem to have.

It was a dramatic final day, with Ben Stokes hitting an unbeaten 115 to allow England to declare on 258-5 and give their bowlers 48 overs in which to try and dismiss Australia.

Read more: Why England can’t rely on the Dukes ball to swing them to Ashes win

Jofra Archer and Jack Leach both claimed three wickets, but the visitors held firm to prompt handshakes with the score on 154-6 and leave Australia with a 1-0 lead after two Tests. If England are to reclaim the Ashes they will have to win at least two of the final three games.

It looks like a big ask. And yet after the events of the last five days there is now hope. There were some wobbles, particularly at 71-4 in the second innings, but importantly it feels like the positives now outweigh the negatives.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: England batsman Ben Stokes celebrates with Jonny Bairstow after reaching his century during day five of the 2nd Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground on August 18, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
England’s middle order scored important runs at Lord’s (Getty Images)

Stokes’s hundred was vital in the context of the game, but also more broadly in the series. England’s middle order, which has the potential to be a powerhouse, has been crumbling too often.

With Stokes top-scoring in style, Jonny Bairstow making 82 across both innings and Jos Buttler showing signs of his form returning in a patient 31, there are reasons for England fans to be cheerful.

However, as good as Stokes’s contribution was, it was the performance of one man who has tipped the scales in England’s favour. 

At home already

Over the long history of Test cricket other players may have had better debuts in pure statistical terms – runs scored or wickets taken – but not many will have managed a more memorable one. 

Having lit up the World Cup with 20 wickets and a nerve-shredding Super Over, Archer was already a national hero. After his Test debut he’s now ascended to new levels of adulation.

To say he was impressive doesn’t begin to cover it. Most cricket insiders were convinced Archer had what it takes to make the step up to Test level. They were right. 

He looks at home already, ambling in and seaming the ball both ways on a testing length, or winging down vicious 95mph bouncers which have world-class batsmen worried and spectators on the edge of their seats.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: Marnus Labuschagne of Australia falls the the ground after being struck on the helmet by a delivery from Jofra Archer of England during day five of the 2nd Specsavers Ashes Test between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground on August 18, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Archer hit Smith’s concussion replacement, Marnus Labuschagne, with a quick bouncer (Getty Images)

With no Archer in the side for the first Test at Edgbaston, Steve Smith looked practically infallible. It turns out everybody is fallible when facing someone with the natural ability and searing speed of Archer. 

Smith is hopeful he can recover from the concussion he sustained from a nasty blow on the neck, but even if he gets past safety protocols, the incident is sure to have had a psychological impact as well as a physical one.

Smith or no Smith, one thing is certain: if Archer is still fit and firing by Thursday – the 24-year-old joked on Twitter that he’d struggle to get out of bed tomorrow morning – then England have their X-factor bowler who provides a genuine point of difference.

With the third Test at Headingley, on a wicket which analytics platform CricViz rates as the fastest pitch in England since 2005, Australia’s batsmen can expect to deal with plenty more balls whizzing past their heads.

Main image credit: Getty Images