George Dobell at Lord’s
It tells you something about Jason Roy’s confidence right now that his ears prick up when he hears nobody has hit a six over the Lord’s Pavilion since 1899. “Oh, really?” he asks. “Let’s try to get an opportunity tomorrow (Sunday).”
While England cricketers of an earlier vintage might have viewed a World Cup final with stifling trepidation – Phil Defreitas, for example, admitted “the occasion got to me” in the 1987 final – Roy talks of “excited energy” and eyes an opportunity to star on the biggest stage of all.
And why wouldn’t he be confident? He is averaging 75.27 in ODI cricket this year. Perhaps even more remarkably, his strike-rate in that period is 119.13. He has made three centuries and six half-centuries from the 11 innings he has played.
It’s no coincidence that England have won eight of the last nine ODIs in which Roy has batted. He has passed 50 in all eight of those victories and scored two centuries. Equally, it is telling that England lost both the World Cup matches that he missed through injury – against Australia and Sri Lanka – and that they lost the only game in which he has failed this summer; he made eight in the defeat against Pakistan.
Only four times in his career – and not at all since January 2017 – have England failed to win once he has made 50. And he has passed that landmark 27 times. He is fast developing a reputation as one of the most dangerous batsmen in a team studded with them.
“I didn’t realise Bairstow’s dismissal wasn’t umpire’s call. I didn’t realise it was absolutely dead. That’s where the first conversation started. To get out like that was slightly disappointing and I probably showed it more than I should have.”
Roy explains his semi-final anger
Just ask Australia. His assault on their bowlers – and on Steve Smith, in particular, who was plundered for three successive sixes – was brutal and served to “deflate” their entire side, as Roy sees it. He thought, for a moment, one of the sixes he hit off Smith was going to sail over the Edgbaston Pavilion – nobody has done that since the ground was redeveloped.
“It was a case of staking a claim,” he says. “One big over at that stage was going to deflate them. I said to myself before the start of the game if a spinner comes on from that end and it’s full, it’s got to go. I thought it was going over. Can I hit a bigger six? Absolutely not.”
That ‘staking a claim’ was perhaps more relevant in his batting against Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon. If Australia were to defend their total of 223, they surely needed that pair to dominate. But whereas an earlier generation of England openers would have reacted with anxiety inducing caution in such a situation, Roy decided to ensure it was the bowlers feeling the anxiety.
Twice in Starc’s second over he thrashed him through the covers; in his third he flicked him off his legs for six. By the time he had bowled five overs, he had conceded 50. When Lyon came on, his first ball was driven back over his head. He was given no time to settle and no chance build any pressure.
Roy’s success is all the remarkable for the contrast with his form in England’s previous global ODI campaign. After a grim run of form that saw him endured six single-figure scores in eight ODIs innings (and fail to pass 20 in nine), he was dropped during the 2017 Champions Trophy. Had it not been for Alex Hales’ self-inflicted absence, it is not impossible he may have struggled for a recall.
“It does feel like another world,” Roy says of his change of fortune. “I feel like a completely different person; a completely different player. I had played some good cricket leading up to that tournament, but I got dropped, came back stronger and now I’m in a World Cup final. I couldn’t have asked for any more.”
And what has he done differently?
“I think I’ve just trusted my training a bit more,” he says. “I’ve not worried too much about the outcome. I’ve just got my processes in order. I’ve started well and played some good cricket.”
There’s no doubt that playing with Jonny Bairstow has helped. As Eoin Morgan has pointed out previously, they manage to take the pressure off one another by scoring at a rate that allows the other to go through fallow periods. And, so destructive have they been, they can make bowling attacks wilt under the onslaught. They have made century stands in the last four ODIs in which they have opened together with strike-rates in stark contrast to England’s openers in the 1979 final: Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley put on 129, which sounds great, but they took 38 overs to do it, which doesn’t.
“It’s about playing off each other,” Roy explains. “So one guy might be struggling or we both might be going guns blazing. But it’s a case of telling him, ‘mate, it’s alright.’ Like that India game at Edgbaston, where Jonny made that hundred: he felt terrible for the first 20 balls. I told him, ‘mate, relax, you’re a gun, you’ll come out the other side. Keep that intensity to the spinners and don’t go internal.’ And he ended up banging it out of the park.”
The influence of his captain is important, too. Morgan has backed Roy, on good days and bad, and encouraged him to continue to take the aggressive approach. So even after barren runs of form – not least in his debut series against New Zealand where he failed to reach 40 in five innings – Morgan made it clear he was part of England’s future plans.
“He’s unbelievable,” Roy says of Morgan. “As you’ve seen on the pitch, he’s a very cool customer, very methodical and very good with his emotions. It doesn’t matter what the state of the game is. It doesn’t matter what someone’s done to him. He’s able to look forward and look past that. He looks for the best in everyone. He’s a great man-manager and a good friend of mine as well. He’s a good guy.”
He admits his reaction to his dismissal in Edgbaston was over the top, but insist there were extenuating circumstances. In short, he thought Bairstow’s leg before dismissal had only been given on the basis of ‘umpire’s call’ so believed England had retained their review; a belief reinforced when the umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, incorrectly signalled for that review. As it was, there was no review and, once Dharmasena’s finger had gone up, he had to go. Even though he knew he was nowhere near the ball.
“I actually got it wrong,” he says, “I spoke to Kumar and said I thought we had the review – I didn’t realise Bairstow’s dismissal wasn’t umpire’s call. I didn’t realise it was absolutely dead. That’s where the first conversation started. To get out like that was slightly disappointing and I probably showed it more than I should have. But it’s professional sport. I was on course for a century. Emotions run high.”
England will need to control those emotions on Sunday. They will have to find the balance between allowing their natural positivity to flow without becoming over excited and reckless. It is, arguably at least, the biggest games in the careers of all involved. It is, arguably, the biggest match in which England have been involved for many, many years. Cricket in England needs this.
“We’re dealing with it pretty well,” he says. “We went into the tournament as No. 1 and with a lot of expectation on our shoulders but it doesn’t affect any of us in the changing-room. It doesn’t matter what the outside noise is saying, the white noise as we call it. We’ve just got to go out and perform. We’re weirdly pretty relaxed. We’re in a very good place with our cricket.”
Indeed they are. New Zealand are a fine side and can certainly win this match. But if they are to do so, they will surely have to dismiss Roy early.