Ashes warning? Archer's back, with wickets

Four overs is a very small sample size, but when it is Jofra Archer bowling them English cricket is very keen to read a lot into them, even the return of the Ashes.

That might seem an exaggeration, but there was no denying the excitement as the fast bowler returned to action at Newlands on Tuesday after 541 days on the sidelines with a three-wicket haul.

Test skipper Ben Stokes summed up the enthusiasm when he tweeted: 'BUZZING BUZZING BUZZING to see @JofraArcher back on the field'.

The new South African T20 league is a very different scenario from the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston in six months time. That his England teammate Jos Buttler ramped Archer for a boundary underlined that.

But it is a start, and having not played a senior match since taking 0-20 off three overs in a T20 for his county, Sussex, in July 2021, that Archer is finally bowling again is highly encouraging for England.

"England have been excellent in the last 12 months, but add Jofra Archer in and it leads to exciting times. What we saw in his first over was, 'wow, he's back'," former England seamer Darren Gough, who once took an Ashes hat-trick at the SCG, said.

Since Archer's last match, he has undergone two elbow operations and suffered a stress fracture of the back.

His rehabilitation stepped up with a practice outing for England Lions in November but this was his first competitive outing, for Mumbai Indians Cape Town against Paarl Royals.

The 27-year-old's first over was a wicket maiden, Wihan Lubbe caught at mid-off off. His second, thanks to Buttler, went for 13.

Returning at the death Archer bowled two more overs dismissing David Miller and, with a slower ball, Ferisco Adams.

"Amazing, amazing. After having that long gap that comeback is absolutely delightful to watch," MI Cape Town captain Rashid Khan said.

"It's so great, he's back in full rhythm. It was super great to watch, especially being on the field with him and not against him."

Archer is expected to play one more match for Cape Town before joining up with Buttler's ODI side for a three-match series against South Africa later this month.

England will manage his workload carefully with this year's Ashes very much the target.

With 42 wickets at 31 apiece Archer's Test record isn't, in truth, that impressive. But the effect his raw pace has belies those numbers.

With five Tests in less than seven weeks England clearly would not risk Archer playing them all, but if they can rotate him and the equally rapid Mark Wood they could have real pace option in each Test.

Further encouragement for England was provided in the same match by Olly Stone, another quick capable of bowling at 145km/h who has suffered back injury. Stone, who will join Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Matthew Potts and Ollie Robinson on next month's tour of New Zealand, clean bowled Dane Vilas and Buttler as he collected 2-31 in the eight-wicket win.

- with PA