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Feature

Roy has team's backing, but he is no longer indispensable

With Phil Salt in the wings, Roy's vulnerability upfront could threaten his place

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
29-Jul-2022
Jason Roy walks back dejectedly after getting out first ball, England vs India, 2nd men's T20I, Birmingham, July 9, 2022

Jason Roy has endured a tough home summer in T20Is  •  Getty Images

Five innings, 80 balls, 59 runs. Jason Roy has had a grim summer for England in T20Is and his form is becoming difficult for them to ignore.
On Thursday night in Cardiff, he made a torturous 20 off 22 balls while chasing 208 - an innings that damaged England's chances more than a first-ball duck - before lofting Tabraiz Shamsi to long-off, then beginning a slow trudge back to the dressing room that has become an all-too-familiar sight in the month since his unbeaten hundred in the final Netherlands ODI.
Roy has not lacked attacking intent this summer but has struggled badly against the swinging new ball. ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data gives him a 'control percentage' of just 58.8, meaning he has played a false shot every 2.4 balls. His job is to play ultra-attacking shots and get England off to a fast start but it is a volatile role: when batters rely heavily on boundaries, their returns diminish alarmingly if the boundaries dry up.
He has endured some difficult moments over the last two-and-a-half years. He did not enjoy the demands of touring life during the pandemic: even more so than most, Roy's personality does not lend itself to spending days on end confined to a hotel room. Earlier this year, he pulled out of his Gujarat Titans contract ahead of the IPL to spend two months with his family after struggling off the pitch at the PSL.
"Things mentally weren't right with me at the PSL," he said last month. "I was in a weird place because I was playing good cricket but I wasn't enjoying myself. I wasn't happy and it was just a dark time." Details of a mysterious fine and suspended ban for undisclosed misconduct have still not emerged publicly, though he stressed that it has "not been spoken about" in the dressing room.
Jos Buttler, his captain and opening partner, was quick to leap to Roy's defence in Cardiff. "Every batter in the world goes through periods where you don't hit the ball as sweetly as you would like to," he said. "T20 cricket is a bit brutal in that way: it demands that you keep continuing to take risks and keep being brave.
"That's the job for Jason: he's such an imposing figure and teams are scared to bowl at him. [We'll] remind him of all the good things he's done and tell him to trust himself even more." Chris Jordan, his Surrey captain, went even further. "We back him 250%," he said. "Don't be surprised if he comes good on Sunday."
That level of support for Roy is no surprise and England will continue to back him for the foreseeable future. Since 2015, England have been hugely reluctant to drop batters from their first-choice side, reasoning that asking them to play in an ultra-attacking manner lends itself to quiet runs of form and that leaving players out, as a result, risks undermining the overriding message to be positive above anything else.
Roy will have a number of opportunities to prove his form ahead of the World Cup. He will almost certainly keep his place on Sunday and then play eight games for Oval Invincibles in the Hundred leading into a seven-match T20I series in Pakistan and a further three matches in Australia before the main event starts on October 22.
But counterintuitively, his resounding success as an attacking opener has created a position where he is no longer indispensable in the way he once was. A generation of opening batters have emulated his style in county cricket and on the franchise circuit, epitomised by Phil Salt who has run the drinks in this series after having been used out of position in his four T20I caps to date.
Salt will spend August opening the batting alongisde Buttler for Manchester Originals, an ideal opportunity for him to show England's captain that he is ready to make the step up. There are other options, too: Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes would all jump at the chance to open the batting; James Vince's consistency in the BBL suggests he is an ideal fit for Australian conditions; any number of young players could mount a case with a standout season in the Hundred.
And yet Roy still has plenty in his favour. While his record in Australia does not show it, he remains one of England's best players against the sort of back-of-a-length pace bowling that can be expected to thrive in the World Cup. He has always been a selfless player, evidenced by his attempts to swing himself back into form rather than play within himself and prioritise his own runs ahead of the team's cause.
He has been around for a long time but only turned 32 last week: unless he peaked unusually early, there is every chance that he could be part of England's squad for the 2024 T20 World Cup and beyond. Even if this proves to be the beginning of the end, his legacy is secure after his contribution to their 50-over transformation between 2015 and 2019.
Roy has come back from poor form before, most notably after he was left out for the semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, but there is a fine line between trust and blind faith. Now, he needs to show England that they have stayed on the right side of it.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98