Jason Roy, the natural

Having found the consistency to match his obvious talent, he will be pivotal if England are to fulfil their potential this summer

Jo Harman
Jason Roy watches a hook shot sail off his bat, England v Australia, 1st ODI, Ageas Bowl, September 3, 2015

Roy's effortless power and dazzling strokeplay have captured the imagination  •  Getty Images

Jason Roy played a shot during England's recent ODI series in the Caribbean which exemplified just what a special talent he is, easing into a fullish delivery from Jason Holder and lofting the West Indies captain straight back over his head and into the stands at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
The power generated from little more than a punch was remarkable in itself, and the held pose had echoes of Kevin Pietersen's showmanship, but it was the effortlessness of the stroke that really marked it out. Nothing could have looked simpler, or more natural. To Jason Roy, these things come easy.
"I could see he was a highly skilled player, who enjoyed pace on the ball, with really quick hands, and he hit the ball hard," says Michael Di Venuto, the former Australia batting coach who's now in charge at Surrey, on his first impressions of Roy. "Since coming here I've seen that Jason is an exceptionally skilled cricketer. He has very, very high skill level and having worked with Australia's best I can say that skill is right up there with those guys as well. Some of the stuff I've seen him do on a cricket field for Surrey is pretty impressive. He's just a natural talent, a natural ball-striker with a terrific eye, and he reacts really well out in the middle, especially in the short format of the game."
"The first time I saw Jason, I think he was 14, and he got selected to play in the first team at Reigate Priory [...] Already at that age he hit the ball as hard as any of the men. He had something special about him"
Chris Murtagh, former Surrey batsman and club team-mate of Roy's
The swagger, strokeplay and South African twang - Roy moved from Durban to England at the age of ten - inevitably lead to comparisons with Pietersen but while his sometime Surrey teammate was several years into his professional career before his batting blossomed, Roy's boundless potential has long been evident.
"The first time I saw Jason, I think he was 14, and he got selected to play in the first team at Reigate Priory," says Chris Murtagh, the former Surrey batsman and club team-mate of Roy's. "I just remember seeing a young lad with a bold, bright haircut and thinking straight away that this guy had something about him. Then he went out to bat, I think he only made 18 or 20, but you could tell there was something different about this kid who wasn't afraid to take on the bowlers. Already at that age he hit the ball as hard as any of the men. He had something special about him.
"Early on you knew he was in the frame to play for Surrey. In terms of England, I think we appreciated that when Jason contributed in a match it was so defining that teams would want someone like that in their side. Once he started being consistent and got to know his game I think England were always going to come calling.
"That's not to say it was plain sailing all the way because he had some ups and downs in the early part of his career. I think even he would admit that going from playing age-group to senior cricket was a bit of an eye-opener for him. A few of the teams we played against got stuck into him a little bit and I think that was a bit of a different experience for him. In the long run that proved to be a good experience."
Murtagh recalls a National T20 quarter-final in 2009 in which Reigate were set near-enough 200 against a Henley side featuring several Berkshire minor counties players. Roy, 18 at the time, hit 138 not out, seeing his team home with four overs to spare. "He smashed it everywhere," says Murtagh. "It was clear that club cricket was way below his standard."
Roy had made his T20 debut for Surrey the previous summer but it was in 2010 that he first made a real impression, hitting an unbeaten 101 from 63 deliveries against Kent in just his third match for the county and then 74 versus Somerset a week later.
The next few seasons were marked with flashes of brilliance but little more than that, until a stellar 2014 T20 Blast campaign, in which he scored nine fifties in 16 innings to finish as the tournament's leading run-scorer, led to an international debut against India. After an iffy start he has established himself as an automatic pick in England's limited-overs sides, a player perfectly in step with the team's daring, free-spirited approach.
Given his aggressive mindset, Roy's consistency in ODI cricket over the last 12 months has been hugely impressive. Only once in his last 17 innings has he been out in single figures, and he has eight scores of 50 or more in that period, at an average of 57. All from a player whose strike rate is only bettered by Pakistan's Sharjeel Khan among opening batsmen since the start of 2016. It all adds up to a brutally destructive cricketer who knows how to play the percentages.
Highest ODI strike rates among opening batsmen since the start of 2016 (min 10 innings)*
Name Matches Inns NO Runs HS Ave Strike Rate 100s 50s 4s 6s
Sharjeel Khan 14 14 0 618 152 44.14 130.37 1 5 81 22
Jason Roy 23 23 2 949 162 45.19 108.08 2 6 107 16
David Warner 28 28 1 1755 179 65.00 106.94 9 4 185 29
Quinton de Kock 27 27 2 1280 178 51.20 106.22 4 7 143 31
Martin Guptill 21 21 2 972 180* 51.15 101.78 3 5 98 39
Alex Hales 16 16 1 876 171 58.40 100.68 4 4 99 17
Rohit Sharma 10 10 1 564 171* 62.66 95.27 2 2 46 19
Aaron Finch 26 25 0 715 107 28.60 93.22 1 6 77 21
Mohammad Shahzad 22 22 0 705 84 32.04 89.24 0 5 90 10
Hashim Amla 24 24 1 872 154 37.91 87.37 3 3 98 10
There is an increasingly strong argument to say that Roy should be unleashed on Test attacks too. His first-class returns for the first few years of his career were modest but he averages 46 over the past three seasons, with seven centuries.
"Obviously his white-ball form for England last year was outstanding and then at the end of the summer I saw a Test match player," says Di Venuto. "He played beautifully up at Durham on a wicket that was offering plenty against a high-quality attack of Wood, Onions and Rushworth. Watching him play during that game I certainly saw someone that could play Test cricket. If he continues to play like that then there's certainly a future in Test cricket for him.
"You love players like that coming in to bat in your middle order, number five or number six, that can just turn a game on its head. He's an aggressive player who plays spin and fast bowling really well. There are a few batters that are performing well in the England line-up but if Jason's consistently scoring runs in county cricket when he gets a chance, and obviously he's shown what he can do in international one-day cricket, then there's no reason why he can't get a go in the Test matches and play well."
More immediately though, Roy's focus is on the forthcoming ODI series against South Africa - a side against which he struggled in early 2016 - and helping England live up to their billing as favourites for the Champions Trophy. With the exception of Joe Root and Jos Buttler, and perhaps the captain Eoin Morgan, there is no player more pivotal to England's hopes this summer.
*Stats correct as of May 4
This article was first published in All Out Cricket magazine

Jo Harman is the deputy editor of All Out Cricket magazine