Roy rules the roost in making Test case
Surrey 384 for 8 (Roy 110, Burns 88, Foakes 53*) v Middlesex
Three weeks ago, Lord's played host to Pakistan toppling England in one of the great Test matches of recent years. Now the legions of seats, which had been so enthralled by Misbah-ul-Haq's press-ups and Yasir Shah's legspin, lay mostly vacant, even with Middlesex eyeing up their first title since 1993.
Yet there was much to admire in the opening day of the London Derby, and much of the best of it came from the bat of Jason Roy. A little after tea, as the clouds were beginning to dominate the sky above Lord's, Roy unfurled consecutive off-drives against Toby Roland-Jones. The first went a little to mid-off's right, the second a little to his left. Both were pristine shots that went all along the ground for four. Any of the thousands of batsmen who have played first-class cricket at Lord's would have been proud to claim them as their own.
The same was true of this entire innings: 110 runs, made at a sprightly rate but without recourse to slogging, that served as a magnificent riposte to those that imagine him merely a brawny limited-overs specialist. Roy has the technique and range of shots to be so much more, all of which makes his recent run of first-class innings - single-figure scores in six of his previous seven innings, including a pair of ducks in his last two - all the more infuriating.
"I've found it hard to switch between the three formats this year, but I know I'm not the only one," Roy said. "Your mindset's completely different. I've tried to keep my movements the same and that's the hardest thing."
After all the changes, it is to the continuity in his method that Roy credits his success. Last Friday night he made a rollicking 120 not out in a T20 game against Kent at a sold-out Oval. On Monday, only incessant rain denied him the chance to convert his unbeaten 93 against Glamorgan in the one-day cup into another century. After such success, a duck against Middlesex in the one-day cup on Tuesday notwithstanding, it made no sense to reinvent his game for red-ball cricket. Had the rain just come a few minutes later against Glamorgan, Roy would have made a trio of centuries in three different formats in a week, believed to be an unprecedented achievement in professional cricket.
"My method is now very similar - it never used to be," he said. "It was tough going in with a different mindset and different way of batting: it was pretty silly. I just went in and treated it like a 50-over game and got myself in. You're allowed a bit more time in Championship cricket so if they bowled a maiden at me I wasn't under pressure. That was the only difference.
"I almost enjoy it more in the longer format because I'm not under that pressure to score at six, seven, eight, nine an over: I can just bat. Maybe putting myself under too much pressure, expecting myself to score a million runs is something that I've tried to deal with."
Even if this was only Roy's first first-class century of the summer, and just the seventh of his career, England are excited by the prospect of his transferring his penchant for limited overs destruction into the Test arena.
Trevor Bayliss has said he could envisage Roy soon playing Tests. "He's spoken to me and told me to score as many runs as I can. Obviously volume of runs speaks louder than anything. Unfortunately I haven't got the volume that I'd have liked but this is a start."
Indeed it is. And to all those who enjoyed a dreamy flick to square leg off Tim Murtagh, immediately followed by a gun-barrel straight drive, both for four - like a salsa dancer, Roy's best work was done in pairs - the possibilities in England whites seemed tantalising. England are hardly short of middle-order aggressors but Roy in this vein loses nothing by comparison to Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler or Ben Stokes.
If his first-class returns in 2016 remain underwhelming - 440 runs at 31.42 apiece do not immediately speak of a Test player - he might soon be a test case for whether Bayliss is willing, as he claims, to pick players for Test cricket largely on their ODI form. His last 11 ODI innings have included three exuberant hundreds.
Yet there was much more to Surrey's resolve than Roy. Rory Burns displayed skill to withstand Murtagh with the new ball, and then gave notice of his own expanded game. The compactness he is always associated with was all on display, but the drives, cuts and nudges to the leg side were timed so serenely that his pace lost little by comparison with Roy.
And Ben Foakes, unobtrusive and playing unusually straight - three drives passed only a few inches to the umpire's right before reaching the ropes - ensured that Surrey ended the day not shy of 400, a commendable effort on a pitch with more life than for some of Middlesex's early season games here.
Earlier this week, Surrey knocked Middlesex out of the Royal London One-Day Cup at Lord's. Now, with Middlesex at the summit of the Championship, Roy has left Surrey bent on another act of sabotage.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts