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Feature

Who should replace Jason Roy in England's XI, and who will Jos Buttler's opening partner be?

There are five unused members in the England squad: Billings, Curran, Willey, Topley and Vince

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
08-Nov-2021
Sam Billings could well be a frontrunner to take Jason Roy's place in the XI  •  Getty Images

Sam Billings could well be a frontrunner to take Jason Roy's place in the XI  •  Getty Images

Jason Roy's absence for the knockout stages of the T20 World Cup means England have lost a player described by Eoin Morgan, their captain, as "unbelievably important" to the team, and "a guy who epitomises everything that we are about in the changing room and the way we play". How will they go about trying to replace him for Wednesday's semi-final against New Zealand? Here are some thoughts…
Who comes into the side?
There are five unused squad members who could replace Roy in England's XI: Sam Billings, Tom Curran, David Willey, Reece Topley and James Vince, who was promoted from his previous status as a travelling reserve on Monday.
Vince would be the like-for-like replacement. Aged 30, he appears to be peaking as a T20 batter, made a maiden international hundred in his last innings in an England shirt, and has a strong record in knockout games, making 98 not out and 95 in the Big Bash League qualifier and final last winter. But he underwhelmed in 2019 when replacing Roy in the 50-over World Cup, and while Morgan has regularly mentioned Vince as a fringe player, his last T20I was two years ago.
The likeliest option is Billings coming into the middle-order - possibly carded as low as No. 7 - and for another batter to shift up to open (see below). Billings offers skill against spin in the middle overs and innovation against pace at the death, although finishers have found things tough in this tournament, often struggling to hit early sixes because of the slowish pitches. He is also one of the world's best boundary-riders.
An alternative would be to change the balance of the side, bringing in a seam-bowling allrounder in Curran or Willey to bat at No. 7. England have replaced Tymal Mills' pace by picking Mark Wood, but not his skill at the death or his left-arm angle: Curran or Willey would help them cover one of them. Willey may be a particularly tempting option against New Zealand: Martin Guptill has a poor record against left-arm seamers, averaging 18.50 with a strike rate of 89.51 in all T20s since the World Cup.
The prospect of defending a total in the dew may spook England into picking an extra seamer rather than relying on Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone to share four overs between them as they have done through the tournament. It would also allow them more flexibility in how they allocate overs between their bowlers: Chris Woakes, for example, could bowl four overs with the new ball rather than coming back at the death when he struggles. Another option is to pick Topley, who offers a similar skillset to Mills, but it may weaken their batting too much.
Who should open with Buttler?
While Vince would be the closest like-for-like replacement, England are more likely to bring in either Billings or a seam-bowling allrounder and push someone else up the order. They are not short of options: Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan opened together against Sri Lanka in June, while Moeen and Livingstone both have plenty of experience in the role.
Bairstow is the obvious candidate, given his success in the role both for England in ODI cricket and for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL: across his T20 career, he averages 37.15 with a strike rate of 145.09 as an opener. However, his shift down to No. 4 has worked well over the last 12 months given his prowess against spin through the middle overs, and he is so valuable to England that they may be reluctant to expose him against the new ball - not least given Trent Boult is well-equipped to exploit his vulnerability to the nip-backer.
That could open up a chance for Malan to shift up to his preferred position at the top of the order. Malan has struggled for form this year in T20Is and has a tendency to play himself in before accelerating late in an innings, but his orthodox technique could serve him well against Boult, Tim Southee and Adam Milne, especially if there is bounce in the Abu Dhabi pitch again, which allows him to pierce the infield with his cover drives. His powerplay strike rate of 117.98 (last five years, all T20s) is on the low side but jumps to 129.67 when opening, and an element of caution may serve England well if it means getting through Boult's opening spell.
Livingstone and Moeen represent the most attacking options, but may be seen as vulnerable against Boult in particular. Both showed promising signs in their roles as a finisher and a middle-overs spin-hitter respectively against South Africa, and England may be wary of tinkering too much.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98