(Reuters) - When Jofra Archer returned for his second spell and took two wickets in two balls to leave West Indies reeling on Friday, the collective sighs of regret from Caribbean fans inside Southampton’s Rose Bowl were almost audible.
West Indies dangerman Nicholas Pooran was doing his best to see his side to a defendable total and had reached 63 when paceman Archer got a lifting 90mph delivery to brush the glove before being caught by Jos Buttler.
Next ball and Archer had Sheldon Cottrell plumb lbw for a duck and suddenly the Barbados-born 24-year-old was on a World Cup hat-trick not even the most inventive scriptwriter would have dared to pen a few months back.
It did not happen as Oshane Thomas survived the last ball of the over but minutes later Archer removed Carlos Brathwaite to become the first English bowler to take three three-wicket hauls in World Cup history.
He had gone wicket-less in his opening five overs when West Indies opener Chris Gayle dished out some punishment to the young upstart with a flurry of boundaries.
But he ended with figures of three for 30 as West Indies were all out for 212, offering further proof, if it were needed, that West Indies have allowed a genuine game-changer to slip through their grasp.
“He is a pleasure to captain. He loves the challenge and to overcome it,” England captain Eoin Morgan said of Archer after his three-wicket burst on Friday.
In a parallel universe Archer would have walked out of the West Indies dressing room on Friday wearing burgundy not light blue and would have had Morgan in his sights.
That he did not can be traced back to the day he was left out of the West Indies squad for the 2014 Under 19 World Cup despite having already shone for the age-group side.
“At the beginning, he really, really wanted to play for the West Indies. After being disappointed, his heart’s desire changed and it became just a matter of playing international cricket,” former team mate Zachary McCaskie told The Times.
Impetuous perhaps, but Archer was a man in a hurry and he recognised that a move to England could help him to earn more money and provide the platform for his talents to shine.
After impressing with county side Sussex as a quick bowler and aggressive batsman, he was signed in 2018 by Indian Premier League (IPL) outfit Rajasthan Royals for 800,000 pounds.
There he was team mates with England all rounder Ben Stokes and Buttler, although at the time his hopes of realising his ambition of playing for England seemed a long way off under the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) eligibility rules.
The door was still open to play for West Indies but for Archer there was no going back and when, last November, the ECB reduced the residency rule from seven years to three, Archer suddenly came into contention for the World Cup.
Despite his inexperience at international level, the clamour to include Archer in the squad grew louder day by day.
Once in, he has not disappointed which is probably no surprise at all to those who used to watch a teenaged Archer skittle opposition with his effortless pace and whack sixes into the cemetery bordering Bridgetown’s Wildey Cricket Club.
It certainly has not surprised former coaches Corey Yearwood who recalls a “bony” 16-year-old Archer roughing up West Indies test player Shane Shillingford in a net session.
“Shane said to me afterwards: ‘It is unbelievable that his small frame could bowl that pace. This guy is going to play for the West Indies’,” Yearwood told The Times.
Sadly for West Indies, whose World Cup hopes are hanging by a thread after Friday’s thumping eight-wicket defeat, that never materialised. Instead, Archer has already taken nine wickets in the tournament for England — one less than tournament leader Mohammad Amir of Pakistan.
Worryingly for England’s future opponents, Archer appears to just be warming up.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon