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Saving runs, scoring runs ... it's all the same for Jason Roy

Stokes stole the plaudits, but England's stunning fielding against South Africa was a major factor in their win

George Dobell
George Dobell
Getty Images

Getty Images

If you required proof that this England team was different to those which have preceded it at recent World Cups, it came not just in the result at The Oval but in the performance in the field.
Ben Stokes' boundary catch - an effort that seemed to defy both gravity and logic - dominated the headlines. But the game also contained numerous examples of outstanding ground fielding which saw England's analysts rating it as one of the team's best performances since the last World Cup. It was also a rare example of England out-performing South Africa in an area where they are habitually excellent.
One man who stood out was Jason Roy. Making several incredible interventions at backward point, Roy not only saved runs - sometimes turning what appeared certain boundaries into dot balls - but ensured pressure built on frustrated batsmen.
"We've been incredible with the bat and ball, but our fielding has sometimes let us down," Roy said. "We pride ourselves on our fielding, but we have been disappointed quite a lot with our fielding over the last year.
"As a collective it was very good at The Oval. Everything gets logged and the analysts told us it was our best ever fielding performance. The best ever recorded in the four-year period, anyway. Sixty runs were saved, which is pretty impressive."
Indeed, it is. The actual figure for England - calculated on an index devised by England analyst Nathan Leamon - was +35, which means they saved 35 runs in the field more than might be expected. South Africa, meanwhile, saved 30, leading to a match figure of +65. That is the highest ODI figure CricViz have recorded since May 2016. The +35 figure is England's second-best in ODI cricket following a +51 score registered against New Zealand in 2018.
"We're really proud," Roy said. "You get a buzz out of it. You know that if you've saved a one and that guy is on strike and then there's a wicket, you feel like you've played a part in it.
"I'm not a bowler, so if I don't do so well with the bat then I can add to my performance. In this game I got a fifty and would have liked to go on, but if I've saved 20 runs in the field then that is like a 70-run contribution. That fielding performance is as good as it gets from us so far."
The one exception in the field was Jos Buttler. Buttler has been struggling a little with the gloves for a few months now and, on another day, his drop of Rassie van der Dussen on 6 might have proved crucial. Andile Phehlukwayo may have survived another chance on 4.
England have surely learned from previous campaigns that there is little to be gained from tinkering with key positions at this stage, but Buttler's struggles will not have gone unnoticed by the management.
Roy admitted he was surprised by South Africa's decision to open the bowling with Imran Tahir. "I saw Quinton de Kock turn round and ask for his helmet," he said. "And I thought, you can't be standing up to Rabada here, surely?" And while the decision brought the early wicket of Jonny Bairstow, Roy also felt it offered "a lot of boundary options". Tahir's third over cost 13 including two fours - one swept, the other cut - for Roy.
"There are more boundary options against a spinner than a seamer," he said. "If a seamer came in on that pitch and tried to hit the top of off, it was hard to get it away."
Perhaps South Africa's error was not entrusting the other new ball to Kagiso Rabada. With Lungi Ngidi opening the bowling from the Pavilion End, Rabada didn't come into the attack until the seventh over. By then, there was minimal chance of any conventional swing, the batsmen had some time to settle and any moisture there may have been in the surface had all but gone. It seemed a bit of a waste of a special bowler.
England may also have had a bit of luck with the surface. When they looked at the pitch on Wednesday, they were surprised - and just a little disconcerted - by the amount of grass on it. Facing Rabada at 10.30am would have been a huge challenge, whereas they had already decided to pick Liam Plunkett ahead of Mark Wood largely on the basis that Wood might benefit from a few more days to gain full match fitness.
But, ahead of the game, the groundstaff cut the grass again. As a result, the pitch was drier and more responsive to slower balls and spin than had been anticipated. It allowed Plunkett, in particular, to gain purchase with his cutters and he responded with two key wickets: Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla. Wood, for all his extra pace, may not have enjoyed the surface as much.
Perhaps that is more a reflection of England's options with bat and ball. They have pace, swing, seam and spin available to them. They have a man coming in at No. 11 who has scored 10 first-class hundreds. And they have some fielders who look as if they could catch Lord Lucan. They really should be able to adapt to most conditions.
"That score was probably 30 over par," Roy said. "It was a tough pitch. But we put on a score and that shows a huge amount of spirit and gives us a massive confidence boost. Trent Bridge [the venue for their next match against Pakistan] is known for being flat."
These are early days, though. India, Australia, New Zealand et al. still lie ahead. And however impressive England looked in London, Eoin Morgan acknowledged his side's occasional propensity to crash when saying "We are going to lose games throughout the tournament" even while reflecting on the victory.
Bearing in mind Pakistan's struggles against the short ball at Trent Bridge on Friday, it would seem there is a good chance Wood could come in for Plunkett on Monday to add further pace and hostility to the attack.
Meanwhile the ECB confirmed that Mark Ramprakash was to leave the organisation in June. Ramprakash was removed as the Test team's batting coach in March but remained employed as one of the ECB's lead batting coaches. "I feel the time is now right for me to move on from my role at the ECB and seek to further and broaden my career," he said.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo