Australia v Bangladesh, Champions Trophy, Group A June 10, 2017

Roy the sad exception as confidence courses through England's game

England have been at pains to provide public support to Roy in recent days. Quite right, too. There is no point pursuing a continuity of selection policy and then undermining it with whispers in the media
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Such have been the indignities suffered by England in limited-overs cricket - not least at the hands of Australia - that days like this can never be taken for granted.

To see Ben Stokes, arguably the best limited-overs allrounder England have ever had, produce a century of composure and class (including strokes so good they convinced Virat Kohli to take to Twitter to praise them). To see Eoin Morgan help him steer England from the rocks of 35 for 3 to the riches of 194 in the 32nd over. To see Adil Rashid befuddle Australian batsmen with his legspin, as a certain Australian leggie used to torture Englishmen. To see Mark Wood bowl with a potency his Australian counterparts could not, and to hear the Hollies Stand roar it all on (at one stage they made a beeping noise every time Aaron Finch, who bore the brunt of their humour, walked backwards to simulate the noise of a heavy-load lorry reversing)… this was a good day for England cricket.

England have now won 11 of their most recent 12 ODIs, including all three in this tournament. They have scored 25 centuries in 47 ODIs since the last World Cup; a stat in stark contrast to the 22 in 88 ODIs between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. They have a bowling line-up that dismisses batsmen while others struggle to contain them. They are clearly the team to beat.

The batting form of Morgan and Stokes is particularly pleasing. Stokes, who has now scored three centuries in his last 13 ODIs, was immense in this game. It wasn't just his power (though one hooked six off Pat Cummins and another driven off Adam Zampa will linger long in the memory) and it wasn't just his timing - though a couple of pushes down the ground sped to the boundary with barely a hint of persuasion. Rather, it was his calm in between the boundaries. Sixty-one of the 109 deliveries he faced were dot balls. He knew he could take his time. He knew he could wait. He knows he belongs at this level now. He is oozing confidence.

Stokes rattled Australia here in a way you very rarely see an Australian team rattled. Their fielding wilted. Their heads dropped. They knew they were beaten long before the rain came. It was similar to the way he rattled South Africa during that double-hundred in Cape Town. Not many players can do that and he's going to make many more bowlers suffer over the next few years. He bowled at the death, too, though he's clearly feeling his way back after knee trouble. As one wag on Twitter put it, he may be the most important red-head in England since Elizabeth I.

Ben Stokes's century sealed Australia's elimination © Getty Images

But England have won nothing yet. And as they look ahead to the semi-finals, they must confront the areas where they could do better. And nowhere is that more obvious than at the top of the order.

Jason Roy is the designated driver on the night the drinks are on the bar. He has now failed to pass 20 in his last nine ODI innings and, in that period, has suffered six single-figure dismissals. Leaving him out might be considered a mercy killing. In a side missing the safety-net of Chris Woakes at No. 8, his continued poor form might be considered an accident waiting to happen, and it will not have gone unnoticed by England that, had Matthew Wade taken a relatively simple chance offered by Eoin Morgan on 12, they would have been in deep trouble.

England have been at pains to provide public support to Roy in recent days. Quite right, too. There is no point pursuing a continuity of selection policy and then undermining it with whispers in the media.

But there was a hint ahead of this match that England's patience was wearing thin. Asked about Roy's continued selection, England's assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, replied he "didn't see any point in making changes before the semi-final". There was no need to add that caveat. It is relevant.

It was a caveat repeated by Morgan in the post-match press conference when he accepted that England would "revisit" the selection ahead of the semi-final. "We'll take a couple of days to have a look at what our best team is for the semi-final," he said. "We revisit it every game. Everybody's position. Whether it can be changed around and we can we do anything better."

While Jonny Bairstow is probably next in line at this stage, the fact that he has never opened in an ODI might cause the selectors to think long and hard before making the change. He has, though, taken to opening for Yorkshire in 50-over cricket and smashed a career-best 174 a month ago. Other options would be to move Moeen Ali up to open - he has scored two ODI centuries in the top three, after all - or move Joe Root one place up the order. He has been coming in against the new ball anyway. Sam Billings, who has opened in ODI cricket, is another possible option though it seems unlikely Bairstow can be denied at this stage.

Jason Roy's form concerns deepened as he fell second-ball for 4 © Getty Images

Dropping a player is a delicate business. If they struggle with the timing or the manner of the decision, it can knock them off course for months or years. Think of Graeme Hick or Mark Rampakash in the 1990s or even Gary Ballance a couple of summers ago.

But it needn't. Moeen Ali was dropped - perhaps 'left out' would be a more accurate description - from the Ireland ODIs and responded with a man-of-the-match performance against South Africa at Leeds. And Adil Rashid was left out of the side for the first game of this tournament and has responded with some of the most mature bowling of his career. While the Roy situation is slightly different - he would be left out due to poor form more than a tactical change dependent on conditions - it need not be too destructive. In his case, it might even be considered a kindness - his dismissal, missing a straight one, was not encouraging; the subsequent review the act of a desperate man - though the outrageously good catch he pulled off at deep midwicket does hint at a deep reservoir of self-confidence.

Rashid played a huge role in this victory. Where once he started his limited-overs spells with an off-break - a safe but unthreatening way of easing into the game - here he was confident enough to give the ball flight and run through his variations. Only Steve Smith could pick his googly with the others timid for fear that it could come at any moment. It rendered his legbreak and slider ever more effective and made him a potent force in those middle overs in which other teams are struggling to take wickets. With Wood equally threatening, England have an edge in that crucial area that might differentiate them from every other team in the competition.

Speaking after the game, Rashid put his confidence down to a couple of good training sessions coming into the game and the faith he feels his captain and coaches have in him. All of which reflects well on the environment around the team at present.

But Rashid also mentioned another crucial breakthrough. After years of being told he had to bowl quicker, he has now accepted the pace he bowls and, perhaps more importantly, everyone else has accepted it, too. That has allowed him to relax and focus on what he is good at doing. It's proving a huge asset to England on a tournament played on flat wickets and with unresponsive balls.

So that's the conundrum the management have to contend with when deciding what to do with Roy. If they feel the confidence of this team is strong enough to withstand some disruption, it is probably time to make the change. Bairstow simply looks likely to score more runs than Roy and, sooner or later, England are going to need that contribution.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jeff on June 11, 2017, 13:07 GMT

    Biggest worry is not Roy, it's Ball. Total passenger in this line up. Bring in Bairstow for Ball, and we still have a full 5 bowlers plus Root.

  • sreedev on June 11, 2017, 12:06 GMT

    I just don't get the fascination of these writers for Woakes at No.8. I feel this England line-up is far too strong, mature and settled to miss his batting at 8 or any other position. I just cannot understand this writer's lack of confidence in their top 7. Even if there is a collapse I'd think No 5,6,7 will and should take stock and consolidate rather than rely on No.8. On the other hand if a bowling side has got through to 8 for next to nothing, then 8,9

  • Chris on June 11, 2017, 9:19 GMT

    Root, Stokes, Buttler, Morgan and Bairstow should be our middle strength so while their places might be shuffled around, none of them should open. Four bowlers close out the innings so there's room for just one opening option. Ali therefore needs to open and probably with Hales, even though he's still running hot and cold. Either that or bring in an entirely new opener but say goodbye to Roy - he's just not with it at all. Simple maths then - Bairstow to replace Roy = a fair chance of a likely 50 more runs.

  •   Stephen Scott on June 11, 2017, 9:00 GMT

    If Bairstow can open the batting, then I believe, he would be the best option to replace Roy. And you don't want to tinker with the batting line up too much, especially as everyone else is doing well, in their current positions. And L.Livingston & D.Malan would of been handy additions to this squad & especially as they can both bowl spin too.

  • Phil Davies on June 11, 2017, 8:36 GMT

    Very simple - yjb cones in to open. Doesnt matter thst its not his position. He's unlikely to do worse than Roy and niwbis not the time to disrupt the order.

  • viswanath on June 11, 2017, 7:36 GMT

    In the middle of the tournament , changing the batsman position , involves high risk. Let root continue to bat at 3. And butler at 6. Either bairstow must open the innings or else they must continue with Jason roy. They dont have other choice at all.

  • Sam on June 11, 2017, 6:26 GMT

    I don't think Ali as an opener is a good option. Also not think Buttler should open. Buttler opened for MI and was hot and cold. Both Moeen & Buttler are scoring runs in the middle order & don't think it will be wise to tinker them. No Root as opener. He opened before but didn't have much success. Billings is inconsistent. Although, Bairstow hasn't opened before, I think he can be a stop gap option opening. But always remember Roy is your man. He is out of form at the wrong time. If he finds form in domestic cricket, he's a match winner. Remember, his knock against SOU in WT20 2016.

  • master2701641 on June 11, 2017, 6:08 GMT

    Makes Buttler open the innings! Bairstow can be the pinch hitter at the slog overs instead of him

  • lakmal5010585 on June 11, 2017, 4:33 GMT

    ali get into open & jb replace for middle order.

  • David on June 11, 2017, 3:10 GMT

    Anything at this point will be an upgrade from Roy. Let Root open, he basically does it anyway because he is usually in after a couple of deliveries. What's the difference? It could've been disastrous for England had Wade taken that catch off Morgan because of yet another lack of partnership by the openers. I feel like it is a really thin line England is walking. The problem is only ignored because the middle order has been really good!

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