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Jason Roy loses his England ODI record; will it be his World Cup place next?

Batter can only wait and hope after back spasm keeps him on sidelines during Stokes onslaught

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jason Roy's place in England's World Cup squad is not yet nailed on  •  Gareth Copley/ECB/Getty Images

Jason Roy's place in England's World Cup squad is not yet nailed on  •  Gareth Copley/ECB/Getty Images

Sitting in the England dressing-room at the Kia Oval, Jason Roy applauded after Ben Stokes swung Ben Lister down the ground. The six, Stokes' ninth, took him to 182, thereby surpassing Roy's 180 against Australia as the highest individual score by an England batter in ODIs - men's or women's.
Roy took it with good grace, posing for photos with Stokes after England wrapped up a 181-run victory under the floodlights. "He was like, 'well done' and I was like, 'sorry'... we're not too fussed about stuff like that," Stokes said. "Jase will be pretty happy that he's seen one of his team-mates, who he's played a lot of cricket with, take that off him."
Whether Roy cared about the record or not, Wednesday was a difficult day for him. On the morning of the game, he suffered another back spasm, having missed the first two ODIs for the same reason after experiencing one in the nets in Cardiff the previous Friday. He tried hard to shake it off in the warm-ups, but England decided they could not risk him.
"He was close, this morning, to playing," Chris Woakes said on Wednesday night. "It's just a shame that, when he got here and started moving around, he had another twinge again. This close to a World Cup, it's a bit of a risk to throw him into a game when you're unsure as to how he's going to go."
Roy is considered 50-50 for Friday's fourth ODI at Lord's. "I'm sure he's desperate to get out there and I'm sure he's frustrated as well," Woakes said. "Pre-World Cup, you want to get a bit of form behind you and play as many games as possible, but he's a resilient character. The lads have got around him and I'm sure he'll be fine."
Dawid Malan opened the batting in Roy's absence and scored 96 off 95 balls, sharing a 199-run third-wicket stand with Stokes. Most pertinently, Malan appeared to have taken heed of Jos Buttler's desire for England to "fall on the positive" side. Despite England slipping to 13 for 2 in the third over, Malan had 34 off 33 at the end of the Powerplay, including six boundaries; he set the tone in a way Roy so often has before him.
On a tour to South Africa three years ago, at the start of England's new World Cup cycle, Eoin Morgan suggested that age was the main reason Malan had been left out of England's 50-over squad, asking rhetorically: "Will a 36-year-old be able to fulfil the high-intensity standard of a World Cup?" An average of 57.43 after 20 ODIs is testament not only to Malan's skill, but also his sheer obstinacy.
And if England feel Malan has now done enough to start the World Cup as Jonny Bairstow's opening partner, then Roy's place in the squad must be in danger. Ideally, a spare batter should cover several positions, as Malan or Harry Brook would; Roy has opened the batting in each of his 110 ODI innings.
And there are legitimate concerns around Roy's fitness record, which have only been heightened in the past week. He missed three games at the 2019 World Cup with a hamstring tear and limped out of the 2021 T20 World Cup with a torn calf; another calf tear meant he missed the vast majority of the Blast this summer.
England are due to play nine group games in eight different cities across five-and-a-half weeks at the World Cup, with regular internal flights. It is an intense schedule and with squads tightly capped at 15 players for 11 spots, it represents an endurance test: while injured players can be replaced, they cannot afford too many niggles.
Michael Atherton, who suffered with a back issue called ankylosing spondylitis during his professional career, said on Sky's coverage of the third ODI that Roy's back spasms would linger. "When you have them, it's always in the back of your mind that they can happen again," he said. "One hundred overs is a physically intense game: you need to have confidence in your body."
England could finalise their World Cup squad as soon as this weekend - though Buttler dodged a question at the post-match presentation about how much clearer he was about the final 15. And if Roy's name features in it, England must consider adding him to their squad to face Ireland in three ODIs from September 20-26.
Roy has exclusively played 20-over and 100-ball cricket since England's tour to Bangladesh earlier this year, and last faced 50 balls in an innings in the PSL in March. He acknowledged after the Hundred that he had "work to do" ahead of the World Cup; not turning up for an exam is tantamount to failing it.
The very fact that it was Roy's record that Stokes broke on Wednesday is a reminder of just how well Roy has played for England in the past. He has been a standard-bearer for their attacking approach with the bat, and two of England's three defeats at the 2019 World Cup came after he had succumbed to his hamstring injury. The question the selectors must answer is whether, four years on, they will miss him nearly as much this time around.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98