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Jason Roy embraces home comforts in final push to secure World Cup berth

Despite being most frequent ODI selection since 2019, opener is in a fight for his spot for title defence

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jofra Archer is unlikely to be involved in England's World Cup defence, but Jason Roy is still fighting to confirm his place  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Jofra Archer is unlikely to be involved in England's World Cup defence, but Jason Roy is still fighting to confirm his place  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

England's selectors were deep in conversation in the middle at the Kia Oval. Jos Buttler, pads still on after a net, wandered over to the central strip with Matthew Mott, Rob Key and Luke Wright for company and the four of them stood for half an hour, no more than 50 yards away from the players whose World Cup hopes rest in their hands.
At the far end of the ground, Jason Roy was being put through his paces by Craig de Weymarn, England's physio. Roy has missed the first two ODIs against New Zealand after suffering a back spasm on the morning of the game in Cardiff, and underwent a fitness test ahead of a possible return on his home ground on Wednesday. His name doubtless featured in the nearby conversation.
No England player has featured in as many ODIs as Roy in this World Cup cycle - not even Buttler - yet two weeks and one day before they fly to India, his seat on the plane is not completely secure. Roy is part of their provisional 15-man squad but is under pressure from Harry Brook, and could use a score this week to alleviate it.
Roy is hardly alone among sportspeople in having battled occasional injuries across his career but the timing of this most recent one was unfortunate. England play nine games in five-and-a-half weeks across eight different cities in the World Cup and, with squad numbers so tightly capped, they cannot afford too many niggles.
It was at The Oval seven years ago that Roy truly announced himself as an international cricketer, hitting 162 off 118 - then the second-highest ODI innings by an Englishman - in a successful chase of 308 against Sri Lanka in a 42-over game. He was 25 years old, playing his 24th ODI and with the world at his feet.
Roy's role in England's 2019 World Cup win should not be underestimated. He will always be associated with the winning moment, firing the ball in from deep midwicket to enable Buttler to run Martin Guptill out off the final ball of the Super Over, but he was phenomenal with the bat too, passing 50 in five of his seven innings, including a ferocious match-sealing display in the semi-final against Australia, while maintaining a strike rate of 115.36.
The question that England's selectors must answer is whether, four years on, Roy is still the same player. After that World Cup, his ODI career average was 42.79, with a strike rate of 107.40; in this cycle, he has averaged 31.78, his strike rate dipping to 98.99. It is not a catastrophic record, but nor is it an unequivocal case for inclusion.
Twice this year, Roy has shown why England have been so quick to back him as a 50-over player, even having dropped him from their T20I set-up. He has two hundreds in six ODI innings this year: the fact that one came in Bloemfontein and the other in Mirpur highlights his adaptability.
Soon after England named their provisional squad, Buttler defended Roy's inclusion by highlighting his record alongside Jonny Bairstow. "I feel we become very obsessed with age in England and we are always looking for the next thing," Buttler said. "If people are still performing, age is irrelevant."
Yet this summer, Roy has hardly spent any time in the middle. After a solid IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders, he tore his calf before Surrey's opening game in the T20 Blast and his longest innings of the summer lasted 42 balls; he won the Hundred with Oval Invincibles, but averaged 17.11 with three ducks and a solitary half-century.
"There's a slightly different tempo that you have to play in this format, so he'll be desperate to get out there and spend some time in the middle," David Willey, Roy's England team-mate, said on Tuesday. "I don't know how far off he is, but he'll be itching to get out there and score some runs."
The clamour for Brook's inclusion has quietened down in the past week, with a run of 8, 4, 25 and 2 across the two white-ball formats acting as a reminder that he is not yet the finished product. But Dawid Malan, the spare batter in the provisional squad, did his own chances no harm with 54 in Cardiff, and Brook could yet squeeze Roy out.
Roy seems to have reconciled himself to the fact that his England career will soon draw to a close. "There's this 50-over World Cup, then there's going to be that changing of the guard," he told the Sunday Times recently. "Do they want to look at the future, which is probably the right thing? I'm at ease with it."
But first, Roy needs to make sure that he is on the plane to India. Assuming he is passed fit on Wednesday morning, he will have no better stage on which to nail his spot down.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98