Jason Roy may have been outshone by the brilliance of Jos Buttler in Southampton on Saturday, but his contribution to England’s pre-World Cup peace of mind was no less telling.
While Buttler confirmed his capacity for the abnormal, Roy immediately answered concerns about how he would respond to a spell on the sidelines because of a back spasm. An innings of 87 – scratchy at first, then peppered with trademark flair – was unequivocal.
The need for a good World Cup from Roy grew exponentially the moment Alex Hales, his old opening partner, was kicked out after news broke of his two failed drugs tests.
But Roy’s performance against Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl, his first game since incurring what he describes as a ‘disgusting’ injury playing for Surrey on April 23, settled nerves – both personal and collective.
‘It was so special to walk out there,’ said Roy, who has struggled for fitness all year following a tour-ending hamstring injury in the West Indies. ‘The goosebumps were going. It’s about using these next few games as the platform to start feeling good again, and good to get a score when I’m feeling rusty. It shows I’m in a pretty good state mentally.’
Roy remains one of England’s trump cards as they look for a 2-0 lead with two to play against Pakistan in Bristol on Tuesday. And memories of the last time England staged a global event – he was dropped for the semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy – provide extra motivation, if any were needed.
‘I was in a bad place and got dropped, rightly so,’ he said. ‘I’m a million miles better now, and you can probably see that from my frustration on Saturday when I got out. I was absolutely livid with myself, because that’s what I’ve changed most in the last two and a half years: my sixties and seventies have become hundreds.’
Bristol, of course, is where things changed for Roy that summer. Hales and Ben Stokes were suspended following their infamous night on the town, and Roy recalled. He responded with 84 and 96; overall, his second crack at this level has yielded an average of 47 and a strike-rate of 109.
One shot in particular in Southampton suggested he had not mislaid any panache during his time away – an outrageous six over extra cover off seamer Fahim Ashraf. ‘I was struggling a little bit, so it was nice to get one out of the sweet spot,’ he said. ‘I felt good from there.’
England will shuffle their pack again as they look to give all the World Cup candidates a chance before the final 15 is announced on May 21. Buttler may be rested after his 50-ball century on Saturday, allowing Joe Denly a go in the middle order and Jonny Bairstow a rare white-ball appearance behind the stumps.
And with leg-spinner Adil Rashid sitting out the game at a venue whose small boundaries are unkind to slow bowlers, Tom Curran or Mark Wood will get their first game of the series.
It all means Jofra Archer will have to wait until the last two matches to build on his brief but impressive spell in the rain-ruined series opener at The Oval. If that’s a shame for West Country cricket fans, it also makes sense: Archer has already been inked in to the World Cup squad. It’s now up to the other seamers to make an irresistible case.
Pakistan, meanwhile, suffered a blow when it emerged that left-arm seamer Mohammad Amir had contracted chickenpox, potentially ruling him out of contention for the World Cup.