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Analysis

Jason Roy's wretched summer capped by horror and high farce

Desperate form leaves opener no place to hide with Pakistan tour looming

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
23-Aug-2022
Jason Roy had a charmed life but couldn't convert his luck  •  Getty Images

Jason Roy had a charmed life but couldn't convert his luck  •  Getty Images

As Jason Roy trudged off the pitch, up the stairs and into the home dressing room at The Oval, the television cameras followed him all the way.
It has become a grimly familiar sight to see Roy experiencing the first two stages of grief every time he walks off after a dismissal. His shoulders slump in denial before he swears to himself in anger; bargaining, depression and acceptance follow behind closed doors. With a T20 World Cup looming, he cannot afford to repeat the process much longer.
Roy's latest failure, a tortured innings of 21 off 19 balls against Birmingham Phoenix on Tuesday night, was spread across a cruel half-hour: a miniature horror film, combined with a modicum of high farce. This was his highest score of a wretched Hundred season, in which he has scraped his way to 51 runs spread across six innings.
Counterintuitively, Roy's best innings may also have been his worst. In chewing up 19 balls - 11 of them against a hard new ball, with powerplay fielding restrictions in place - he piled pressure on his team-mates, causing the asking rate to climb higher and higher in pursuit of 167. At least a quick failure - a mercy kill, on current form - would have given the middle order time to get set.
The sarcastic applause told the story. Roy's first three innings of the Hundred at The Oval this year had not brought him a single run: he had faced five balls, been caught twice and cleaned up once. When he finally got off the mark, miscuing a back-foot punch off Kane Richardson towards point, the crowd jeered, perhaps just loudly enough to prick Roy's conscience.
He had two lives inside his first nine balls. First, he swatted at a back-of-a-length ball on his hip from Tom Helm, offering Imran Tahir a straightforward catch at short fine leg which he put down. Two balls later, he inside-edged Richardson onto the top of his leg stump via the thigh pad; the Zing bail lit up, before landing perfectly back in its groove.
Both moments felt like signs that the fates had finally aligned in his favour. He has been short of runs across the last two months, but short of luck too; it has felt like fielding teams have 15 on the pitch, with every edge finding a hand, every clean strike hitting the man on the edge of the ring. Surely, finally, this was Roy's night.
And then, the inevitable. No sooner had he reverse-swept Tahir for four over short third, brimming with overdue confidence and self-belief, Roy swiped at Henry Brookes' short ball looking to clear the short leg-side boundary, and top-edged his pull straight to Richardson at deep backward square. There was no need to look and see if the catch had been taken: Roy was already off, dragging himself away from the scene.
Roy at his best is defined by swagger and bravado: strutting to the crease with self-assurance before imposing himself on bowlers, chest out, collar popped. Those traits have been missing for some time: every shot has looked laboured, constantly fighting a battle against himself as much as the opposition.
He has always dealt in boundaries rather than singles. Across a 14-year T20 career, he has scored a boundary every five balls; in the Hundred this season, he has faced 51 balls, and managed only five fours and a solitary six. Eighteen batters have opened more than once in the Hundred this season, and Roy's average (exactly 8.5) is the lowest.
Roy has not been short of backers during his form slump. Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, England white-ball captains past and present, were on hand to offer their support on Sky Sports' coverage at The Oval, insisting that he would come good eventually. "The more games it is, the closer you are to coming back," Buttler said, the sort of circular logic that followed Morgan around during the 18-month drought that preceded his international retirement.
It is blatantly obvious that Roy needs a break. In this sort of funk, he will need to bat for a significant period of time in order to find the rhythm that has deserted him, something which the Hundred's form simply doesn't allow. He is not the only Invincibles batter out of form - Rilee Rossouw and Sam Billings have struggled badly - but he is setting the tone every innings while badly out of tune.
Few sporting disciplines give individual sportspeople the extremes of white-ball batting, and the elation that Roy has felt for much of his career has been replaced by slow-motion disasters, suffering failure upon failure in the glare of the spotlight. In the Blast, where some nights see as many as eight fixtures staged simultaneously, there might be somewhere else to look; in the Hundred, Roy's drought is the story every time Invincibles' men play.
England will pick a squad for September's seven-match T20I series in Pakistan next week and will have a huge call to make: do they stick with a player who has defined their style in white-ball cricket over seven years, or twist a matter of weeks before a World Cup in Australia? It is a decision that could define Matthew Mott's tenure as head coach; Roy has earned England's loyalty, but there comes a time when loyalty drifts into blind faith.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98