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Match Analysis

Will Jacks hits the right notes to highlight Jason Roy's funk

Roy's latest failure heightens scrutiny with T20 World Cup selection looming

Jason Roy looks on, Birmingham Phoenix vs Oval Invincibles, The Men's Hundred, Edgbaston, August 4, 2021

Jason Roy is under pressure  •  Getty Images

Jason Roy wasn't laughing this time. The humour he found in edging his first ball of this season's Hundred to short third on Thursday, was absent after he timed a flick straight to short fine leg.
A golden duck against London Spirit was followed by 10 against Welsh Fire. A limited-overs home summer of just 197 runs across 11 ODI and T20I innings was supposedly going to be fixed by a clean run of games for Oval Invincibles. Two games in, the only difference in the Hundred seems to be Roy's travails are being brought to a wider audience.
The fury across his face, the bat toss in the air when he probably wanted to hammer-throw it into the River Taff, was understandable, and not just because this was another failure to add to the list. He'd looked pretty good - as pretty good as you can look scoring a run-a-ball 10. A boundary through midwicket, timed rather than thrashed, suggested a reclamation of touch. As is the way when you're down on your luck, the best connection he made was when he worked George Scrimshaw around the corner to David Payne, who didn't have to move an inch.
The good news for Roy was his team won. Convincingly, in fact: by 39 runs after Invincibles closed out an attempted chase of a 159 target that Fire were never really going to get. The bad news - rather, the more damning news - was the architect of Invincibles' 158 for 5 was his opening partner and Surrey team-mate, Will Jacks.
With 81 off 45 - the joint-second highest score in the men's Hundred to date - Jacks batted from ball one to 99, only missing out on lasting the course with an unselfish attempt to find the fence. Invincibles skipper Sam Billings labelled it a "coming-of-age" performance from a player who has long been touted for international honours. What was unavoidable was the contrast between two players doing the same role but with very different results.
Neither side really knew what to make of the pitch, which explained why Josh Cobb opted to bowl first upon winning the toss. "We're going to look to use that first up and know what we've got to get second half," Welsh Fire's captain had explained before a ball had been bowled. After the 25-ball powerplay, with just 30 runs scored by Oval Invincibles for the loss of two wickets, it looked a smart play given the tackiness of the surface.
Unfortunately, they didn't account for Jacks - or rather, the maturity displayed by the 23-year-old. The nuggets that'll do the rounds on social media were more or less contained within the final 20 balls of that first innings: 63 scored, 39 of them from the 12 Jacks faced, with three of his four sixes among them. But the longer-term benefits to the experience of this match-winning knock was contained in his opening 28 deliveries. Jacks had just 33 by then, Invincibles 81 for 3 from 70.
Now comfortable with lining up balls stopping in the pitch when pace was taken off, the first delivery of the next set delivered by Scrimshaw was waited on then slapped over wide long-on. "You've got to be patient," Jacks explained at the innings break. "Takes your ones - it's something in the past I probably wouldn't have done, so I'm happy today that I've taken it deep."
He went further after Invincibles confirmed their first win of the campaign: "We were aiming for 140, but we figured out it wasn't the easiest wicket to get under the ball. When it got dug in, it was skidding through a little bit low."
The problem for Roy is just how sought-after the opening spots are in any team. It is, after all, the best place to bat in white-ball cricket given the opportunity to exploit the powerplay, and occupying that prime real estate puts a target on your back. Especially when you've not been paying the rent. And the trouble is exacerbated by the fact there are plenty influenced by Roy, like Jacks, steadily banking the kind of numbers that suggest he could be bought out down the line, instead of selling up on his terms.
If there is one consolation it is that Roy has not tried to take the easy route. His appreciation of the attacking intent required is in keeping with one conditioned by a position that offers no shade to slink into for a breather. The nature of opening is to be out there, exposed, embracing risk. And it is an exposure you have to want, which is perhaps why the role requires the most ego. Because even when things aren't going well, you've still got to walk out exuding that same cavalier spirit. The moment you go into your shell is the moment you've lost it.
For the longest time, Roy was one of the best around at doing both: either scoring runs (and quickly) or looking like the opposition got off lightly after wearing a few blows. He was, especially during 2018 and 2019, the manifestation of the role's machismo: big chest, big forearms, big scores.
That being said, there is more consideration to how Roy is trying to emerge from this funk. Having worked through the stages of bad form in his own mind - primarily anger and acceptance - he has been honing in on specific problem areas with Invincibles batting coach Vikram Solanki. While those around Roy come together to defend him with talk of how it is "a matter of time" until the floodgates open, the man himself is putting the work in to make that so.
"He's the kind of player you really do just stick with. Because when it does click - wow," Billings effused. "Him and Jacks at the top of the order, that's as good an opening partnership, in my opinion, in the tournament."
Billings is probably onto something there, even if he also speaks as a friend, and there is an unshakeable feeling, in part because of his body of work, that Roy will come good and prove his captain right. There are better decks to come, starting with a return to The Kia Oval on Thursday against Northern Superchargers. And it was only about eight weeks ago Roy struck ODI century No. 10 against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Nevertheless, here in Cardiff, there was a creeping sense of a shift worth registering - perhaps not in the immediacy given Roy is only 32, but certainly down the line. To watch Invincibles' openers was to see two players on opposite sides of professional sport's Ferris wheel: one looking forward with the highest height to come, the other fighting against the idea that the peak might be behind him.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo