England will be watching closely when Jofra Archer makes his long-awaited competitive return to action playing for MI Cape Town in the South Africa T20 cricket league on Tuesday.
The fast bowler has not played a competitive match for nearly 18 months after struggling with a troublesome elbow injury and then a stress fracture to his back.
However, he is set to line up for MI Cape Town against the Paarl Royals on Tuesday afternoon when the inaugural SA20 gets under way and, as long as he comes through fine, is also then in line to play against the Durban Super Giants on Friday in the franchise's second clash of the tournament.
|What:||MI Cape Town v Paarl Royals, SA20|
|Where:||Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town, South Africa|
|When:||15:30, Tuesday 10th January 2023|
|How to watch:||Sky Sports Mix|
|Odds:||MI Cape Town 4/5, Paarl Royals|
England are carefully managing Archer's return to action and he's poised to play in South Africa after he bowled nine overs for the England Lions against the senior team before the Pakistan Test series in November.
The 27-year-old didn't take a wicket in that Abu Dhabi outing but showed plenty of encouraging signs, striking Zak Crawley on the helmet with a bouncer in the first over of the match, while he also ran out Crawley in the 27th over.
With a summer Ashes series to come and the ODI World Cup in India later this year, 2023 is another huge year for England and the managing director of men's cricket, Rob Key, and Test skipper Ben Stokes will hope Archer can play a big part.
Key, speaking in November, confirmed England were being cautious about the paceman's return after such a long time out but he will be part of the upcoming three-match ODI series against South Africa, which starts on 27th January, if everything goes to plan.
"Our plan for him is he will play two games in the South African franchise [competition], which will be his first competitive cricket," Key said.
"If he gets through that, we will pick him for the South Africa ODI series, so he will go from four overs to 10 overs."
Archer has already been named in the 14-strong squad for the 50-over series against the Proteas, which starts with two games at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein on 27th and 29th January, before concluding at The Oval in Kimberley on 1st February.
Following the South Africa trip, England's Test side are then due to play New Zealand in a two-game series in February and it's unclear at this stage if Archer will be considered for that or the one-day and T20 fixtures that are scheduled against Bangladesh that follow on in March.
The main target could be the Ashes, which starts at Edgbaston on 16th June, as England know a fully-fit Archer is a great weapon to have in their bowling armoury for the five-Test series as they look to regain the little urn after the 4-0 series defeat Down Under last winter.
Then the ODI World Cup will be on the agenda with England officials keeping their fingers crossed Archer's injury problems will firmly be a thing of the past when that competition starts in October. England are 3/1 to Win Outright, while hosts India are .
His priority will be initially proving his fitness this week for MI Cape Town, though, in the new six-team T20 event, which also features plenty of his England colleagues with Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone and Olly Stone all part of the MI Cape Town squad.
Jos Buttler, Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan are in the Paarl Royals squad, Adil Rashid and Phil Salt will play for Pretoria Capitals, while Reece Topley is in the Durban's Super Giants' set up.
World stars like Faf du Plessis and Aiden Markram are also in South Africa for the event with the former captaining the Joburg Super Kings and the latter leading the Sunrisers Eastern Cape.