Roy may be dropped but he won't be discarded
Jason Roy cut a lonely figure at England's net session ahead of the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan, with his ODI career set be stalled as the team face their biggest one-day match since the resurgence began two years ago.
Roy has scored 68 runs in his last nine ODI innings since making 52 against West Indies in Antigua and did not bat on Tuesday, spending most of the session fetching balls from the boundary, for a considerable time stood alongside coach Trevor Bayliss. Eoin Morgan would not offer absolute confirmation at his press conference, but said "we're getting to the business end of the tournament and we need to produce results." Jonny Bairstow is primed to take his position.
There were signs before the final group match against Australia that, with England already qualified, it would be a final chance for Roy when Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach, said he saw no need to change the team "before the semi-final". Then, after he had fallen second ball for 4 to Mitchell Starc, Morgan hinted he was wavering, despite previously giving Roy his full backing after the one-day series against South Africa.
"I back all my players," Morgan said in Cardiff. "I see the best in them, and I believe in them a huge amount, and every one of the selectors does, every one of the back room staff does, and the players, obviously. Getting to this stage of the tournament we need results and if that means somebody misses out, it's unfortunate, but for the team's sake, we need to get results. We want to win this tournament. You know collectively as a group we're very good together and we have the support around us to back up any decision that's made."
Bairstow is set to open the batting for the first time in international cricket although he has performed that role for Yorkshire in the Royal London Cup this season, which included making 174 against Durham. In theory it wouldn't have to be Bairstow to open, but any other option - such as promoting Moeen Ali - would involve further tinkering to a settled side.
Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, insisted he wasn't playing mind games when he said his team had been very wary about facing Roy and made mention of the difference between domestic and international level. Bairstow will be tested by a lively Pakistan pace attack, which includes the left-arm pair of Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan alongside the impressive Hasan Ali who has produced some unplayable deliveries in the tournament. He may also be tested by early spin from left-armer Imad Wasim.
"We had a discussion on the bus this morning. I was particularly worried that Roy hadn't fired yet because I think he's very close to something quite good. So if he's not playing, that wouldn't be too bad," Arthur said.
"Bairstow is a great player, and he came off the canvas against us last year [at Headingley]. He wasn't supposed to play a half an hour before the game, got roped in for Buttler, and got Man of the Match. So that was an incredible performance. The only thing I will say, I know that Bairstow has opened at county level, he's never done it internationally, and I think that's a different ball game."
For England, it wasn't just Roy's lack of runs but also signs during this tournament that his mindset was struggling. He twice fell trying to manufacture shots - a scoop to short fine-leg against Bangladesh then walking across his stumps to Adam Milne - and made a desperate call for a review when pinned lbw by Starc at Edgbaston.
There is a risk that England have backed themselves into a corner, although their show of faith in Roy was understandable. It does mean that a player who hasn't batted for two weeks will be opening in a knockout match but Roy's returns had become so slim that they will hardly be worse off for runs.
Bairstow's record when being parachuted into the team is also impressive, right back to his debut in Cardiff during the 2011 series against India when he hit an unbeaten 41 off 21 balls to win the match. After that he only played six more matches before having two-and-a-half years out of the side, but has since become England's one-day supersub
In 2015 he produced a series-clinching 83 not out against New Zealand at Chester-le-Street; there was the game mentioned by Arthur last season when he came into the side for the fourth ODI at Headingley and scored 61; on the tour of India early this year he was recalled for the final match of the series and made 56 batting at No.3; this season he made an unbeaten 72 against Ireland at Lord's when England were missing IPL-based players and followed that with 51 against South Africa when England had been 20 for 6.
"I think his best attribute, certainly in white-ball cricket over the last year and a half, has been his relentless attitude to score runs regardless of the situation," Morgan said. "When you have guys sitting on the sideline, they can get a little bit upset, and that can affect their performance when the actual chance comes along, but that doesn't seem to affect Jonny.
"One innings he did play for us which won us a series was against New Zealand and that sort of sums him up. He came from playing in Yorkshire to coming straight into the squad, having played no part in the series, and came in and produced a match-winning knock."
Morgan also had some words of comfort for Roy, with the belief that the group of players he currently has will take the team towards the 2019 World Cup. Roy himself could have a chance to get back on the bike fairly quickly with the T20 matches against South Africa at the end of the month, although that won't match a Champions Trophy semi-final.
"We have kept the same policy for two years now. If somebody does get left out, they're not going to be far from our plans," Morgan said. "They're certainly going to be in the same group of players gearing towards the 2019 World Cup.
"Certainly, in white-ball cricket, we have a group that I don't see us venturing that far out of, maybe three, four more players, towards that World Cup because we need to get experience under the guys' belts."
Wednesday is another stepping stone towards the 2019 World Cup. England have played some breathtaking 50-over cricket over the last two years but nothing will have carried the pressure of a global semi-final. Victory in Cardiff will give them a final for their efforts, but Roy's tournament has ended before the knockouts.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo