Jason Roy justifies England's faith by finding his groove
But, after contrasting innings, Dawid Malan seems to be dancing to a different tune
There was a moment in South Africa last year where it seemed as though Jason Roy's spot in England's T20I side was under threat. With so many options to open the batting - and most of them open about their wish to do so - Roy looked to be under serious pressure: teams were targeting him with left-arm spin and legspin, and by the end of the series, his highest score in his last 10 international innings was 24.
But if England's dressing room had any concerns about Roy's form, they never showed it publicly. Instead, they recognised that he needed a long rope: England's ultra-attacking brand of limited-overs cricket means that batters will fail more often than they succeed, and Roy had clearly struggled with the mental strain of bio-secure bubbles.
As a result, they gave him as many opportunities as he needed to thrash his way back into form. In India, he finished the series as England's third-highest run-scorer despite rarely looking settled at the crease, but this summer he has found his groove again in style.
The situation in the deciding game of the series against Pakistan at Emirates Old Trafford was not tailored to Roy's strengths. He scores significantly faster against quicker bowlers than spinners, and prefers to face balls spinning into the bat than those turning away; on a slow, turning pitch that saw more overs of spin bowled that any other T20I between full members in the last seven years, Pakistan had packed their attack with two legspinners and a slow left-armer.
But Roy has never been intimidated by the idea of teams targeting his weaknesses. After taking down Glamorgan's spinners in a Vitality Blast match before miscuing a long hop from Marnus Labuschagne to point, he laughed off the idea that dominating slow bowlers was anything new for him. "Someone has to get you out at some stage, don't they?" he said. "Sometimes it happens to be a left-arm spinner. A leggie got me out tonight eventually, didn't they, so I'm sure someone will have something to write about."
Instead, Roy committed to his gameplan in Manchester - take a couple of sighters in the first over and then look to dominate the powerplay - and it paid off. Only Evin Lewis and Quinton de Kock have scored faster in the powerplay in T20Is this year out of regular openers (Roy's strike rate in the first six overs is 151.49) and he rarely shows any desire to slow down: why should he, when England bat so deep?
He had taken Shaheen Shah Afridi's first over for four boundaries - a square drive through the ring, pulls either side of deep midwicket, and a roll of the wrists to clip off the hip through fine leg - and then set his sights on the spinners, committing to the sweep shot as his best scoring option.
Roy sweeps differently to other players. As Niall O'Brien, the former Ireland wicketkeeper, noted, he rotates his hips significantly more than most and tends to stay on the balls on his feet rather than going down on one knee early on, giving him slightly more power and helping him place the ball either side of boundary-riders. He nailed five out of his seven attempts at the shot on the night, and finished the series with a strike rate of exactly 200.
"I just think I've got a stronger gameplan and am way more precise with my shots," Roy said. "The issues have always been with the way I start my innings against spin. Speaking with Liam who has played a lot of cricket here, [he said that] letting the bowler bowl to you can be to your detriment and letting them bowl dots to you can make you fall into a little bit of a negative rut. So I was trying to be proactive as much as possible, whether that was sweeping or reverse-sweeping, and making sure I was very precise in my shots."
There will, no doubt, be those who question his decision to try and heave Usman Qadir for another six down the ground while well-set, but to do so misses the point of Roy's role in England's side. When picking a team with so much batting depth that Liam Livingstone comes in at No. 7, there is no expectation on Roy to see an innings through to its conclusion; England see chewing up balls and trying to take an innings deep as a higher-risk option than searching for boundaries. All told, Roy made 64 off 36; England's other eight batters managed 89 off 82 between them. Roy's innings contrasted starkly with the one that nearly cost England this deciding game, Dawid Malan's scratchy 31 off 33 balls in which he struggled badly against spin and managed only two boundaries as the rate climbed. It seems increasingly like Malan is on borrowed time in this side, having managed 268 runs at a strike rate of 114.52 in T20Is since his brilliant 99 not out in South Africa in December, and his slow-starting method is at odds with England's all-guns-blazing approach.
Of course, there is still a role for touch players or anchors in modern T20, but chasing a middling total on a difficult pitch is the sort of situation which is meant to see them come up trumps. Instead, Malan was bogged down to the extent that Eoin Morgan scampered through for several tight singles simply to get him off strike towards the end of the innings.
Nathan Leamon, England's white-ball analyst, in an interview last month described "the guy who, every time he walks to the crease, hits three sixes and gets out fourth ball" as "the most valuable T20 cricketer in the world", given the impact that such a player would have on every innings. That was the knock that Livingstone attempted to play immediately after Malan was out, hitting his first ball for six and being caught in the deep off his second; as with Roy's innings, it seemed to underline the fact that Malan is playing a different style of T20 cricket to the rest of this squad.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98