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“Now that he has scaled the plateau, the challenge for Roy is to remain there”

Talk of Jason Roy, and the first shot that probably comes to mind is a batsman freeing his arms and belting a short ball from the fast bowler through point with flair. It’s a fair enough comparison for much of Roy is about a care-free approach to batting. You wouldn’t associate him with an accumulator or a slogger. He is a concoction of both.

Yet, cricket is all about adapting to situations. Like Rahul Dravid famously said of a young Hardik Pandya, “this concept of ‘play your natural game’, which I hear all the time, frustrates me because there’s no such thing in my belief as ‘natural game.’ It’s only about how you play different situations.”

That kind of wisdom does not come 50-60 matches into an International career. It takes decades, and yet sometimes just doesn’t hit you. Jason Roy, though, in his 60th ODI seems to be getting a hang of it.

“I had a long discussion with Thorpey [Graham Thorpe] after I got out and just said it was probably my favourite innings as far as how my tempo was throughout the innings. Just the way I knuckled down early, it was quite difficult and I went through some difficult patches but then came out the other side,” Roy said after he composed a Beethoven-level-good hundred at Cardiff to take England to their second win in the ongoing bilateral series against Australia.

Nothing about the innings reeked of Jason Roy. When Johnny Bairstow was dismissed in the ninth over, the wicket-keeper batsman had already made an uber-attractive 42 in 24 balls. Roy had faced two balls more than his partner, scoring half the amount of runs he did. It is understandable if you thought he was scratchy from the scorecard at that stage. But he was anything but that. He played out five dots in an over from Kane Richardson, looking completely assured in defence and middling the ball remarkably well. Bairstow slammed the same bowler for a six and two fours next over off consecutive balls.

But this was no competition and Roy had realised that. When Bairstow was promoted to open with Jason Roy for the first time, the common consensus was that the latter would be the aggressor and Bairstow the sheet anchor. There has been a notable role reversal between the two and excitingly, both have adapted brilliantly.

When Alex Hales departed for 26 in 38 balls in the 19th over, Roy was still out there, nonchalant, cool and completely in control of his game. Since Bairstow’s dismissal, he had made 23 runs off as many balls. He was almost playing second-fiddle to Hales, had faced 15 balls lesser than him in the period, but still had a strike rate of 100, a sign of how efficiently he was rotating strike.

It is imperative to note that Ashton Agar was bowling at this time. In his ODI career, Roy has had a problem against left-arm bowlers. Whether it be fast bowlers or spinners, Roy has struggled to be as efficient as he is against right-arm bowlers, a factor that brings his batting average down into the ordinary cluster.

A 16.75 average against left-arm spin is piss-poor. But on Sunday, he seemed ready to work on it. He faced twelve balls from Agar in five overs, milking eleven runs with nine singles. He wasn’t looking to take the attack onto the spinner, instead, he decided to rotate strike and play him out.

By the time Agar came on next, Roy was on 97 off 95 balls, having carted some of the Australian medium-pacers around Cardiff. In his next two overs, Roy continued the same measured approach against the spinner despite having reached his hundred in the meantime. 12 runs were scored off 8 balls from the left-arm spinner with the sole boundary coming off a deft shot through point.

When he was dismissed for 120 off 108 balls, the England innings was just 36 overs old. He had virtually put himself in with a chance of getting a double hundred with a zero-risk innings, the kind ODI batsmen dream of.

The struggle for Roy is to maintain his “tempo”. He was dismissed for a two-ball duck at The Oval last game. 120 is his third highest score in ODIs but draw a graph of Roy’s ODI innings’, and you are likely to see a pattern of plateaus and lakes. Massive knocks have imperatively been followed by deep long-lasting valleys that stretch into lakes.

In India, during a three-match series in January 2017, Roy stood neck and crop above his mates as he scored three back to back half-centuries, and despite not converting any of them into hundreds, Roy had shown he had the game to survive in the sub-continent. It had seemed like Roy was ready to rule the Champions Trophy back home in June. Yet, from May, he plunged into a lake of low scores.

From the West Indian series prior to the Champions Trophy to the end of the multi-nation event, where he was dropped for the all-important game against Pakistan in the semi-finals, Roy was pathetic. He had one half-century, with the next highest score being 20, and six single-digit scores. His shocking loss of form forced England to push Johnny Bairstow to open the innings in the semi-finals against Pakistan, a move that turned out to be the beginning of Bairstow’s limited-overs renaissance.

For Roy, it was about going back to what he does best and soon enough he scaled another plateau. 84 and 96 against West Indies back home in September 2017 was followed up by a swashbuckling 180 against Australia at Melbourne after the Ashes.

The lakes followed soon after, with him once again struggling to score big. He hadn’t scored a half-century from the 180 he made in January 2018 to yesterday, when he cracked his fifth ODI hundred. Interestingly, all five of his hundreds have led England to wins.

Now that he has scaled the plateau, the challenge for Roy is to remain there. Consistency has never been his forte but unlike before, his hundred at Cardiff was fraught with a kind of maturity you happen to see only inconsistent batsmen. Could this be his watershed moment in ODI cricket? Only time will tell. He certainly wouldn’t want to hit another lake before the upcoming World Cup next year.  

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