Jason Roy has long been on England’s Test radar and it’s something that many England supporters are understandably wary of. Whilst his all-out attack has worked well atop England’s ODI batting order at times, his technique and approach don’t instantly appear perfectly to the world of Test cricket. Then again, England aren’t operating in a perfect world at the moment.
The top order has been a thorn in England’s side for at least a couple of years now. 30/3 seems to be their standard operation, with openers falling cheaply and a struggle to find a number three. With the ODI side having gone from strength to strength, largely on the back of a fruitful top order, there has always been the temptation to ask; “why don’t they just pick the ODI batsmen, they couldn’t do any worse… surely?”
Attacking batting has been prevalent under Trevor Bayliss’s stewardship, even in the Test arena, and there are few more attacking than Roy. He has registered six ODI centuries and a further 12 scores of 50 or more. Of those 18 innings, only three have come at a strike rate below 100. When Roy gets in, he tends to really hurt teams.
That’s what makes him so tempting for the Test side. He will undoubtedly experience failures against the red ball, because he has against the white ball, too. For his 18 scores of 50+, Roy has 31 scores of fewer than 20 runs in ODI cricket (including one not-out). He is a player familiar and comfortable with his role as a top order hitter who isn’t afraid of failure.
Is this really what England’s Test side needs, though? He struggles against spin and England’s next assignment after a spin heavy job in Sri Lanka (you can get tempting online betting odds on Sri Lanka winning should the weather stay away) is another spin heavy assignment in the Caribbean. Roy played two County Championship games for Surrey this season, batting at three against Somerset and Essex. In the first, he scored 63 from 89 balls. In the second, he scored five and 128 from 151.
The move to three was the interesting part. Alec Stewart, director of cricket at Surrey, had said earlier in the summer that they had been asked to move Roy up to bat at four in previous seasons by the England management. It is clear that England have a keen eye on Roy for the Test selection.
His end of season successes at Taunton and the Oval saw him drafted into the England Lions First Class squad for their fixture against Pakistan in November. Further success there and we may well see Roy in the England Test squad which heads to the West Indies in early 2019.
The identity of England’s top three is far from clear. Roy’s County skipper, Rory Burns, is in line to debut in the upcoming Test series in Sri Lanka, Keaton Jennings appears to be hanging onto his spot in the side by a thread and Moeen Ali was moved up to three at the end of the India series. Joe Denly, the experienced Kent batsman, is also in the squad but doesn’t look like a long term prospect.
Also in Roy’s favour is England’s head selector, Ed Smith. Smith will likely be emboldened by the success of Jos Buttler in the Test arena this year. Buttler, previously a flop in the format, was given a third chance on the back of a stellar IPL for Rajasthan Royals. Roy, too, is something of a short format specialist and will get opportunities to show his form in the ODI side and, most likely, at the IPL and World Cup next year.
With a succession of failures at the top of the order, England may well be tempted to enter the Faustian Pact that Roy represents. Whilst he will get low scores and will struggle at times, when he comes off he will inflict serious damage on England’s opponents. If England are going to be 30/3 anyway, why not take the gamble…
By Miles Reucroft