Jason Roy is a hugely talented opening batsman with a tremendous eye, an unstinting work ethic and something of the mongrel in him. To say he gives England added bite would be selling him short.
“Of course, England lost to Australia last month,” Graeme Swann wrote in an online column the other day. “But that was at Lord’s, England were without Roy and the little pussycat team that took to the field against the Aussies that day are long gone. They have been replaced by different, more clinical, animals.”
There were a few differences between the Lord’s chase that England blew with an alarming lack of calm application and the Edgbaston one in which they steamrollered their opponents so emphatically that afterwards each Australian resembled those cartoon characters crushed flat by a random falling anvil.
At Lord’s, the wicket kept doing a little bit throughout the day and the target was 286. At Edgbaston, the ball nipped around quite helpfully for England in the morning but did a bit less for the Australian seamers in the warmer afternoon conditions. Also, the target was a significantly less daunting 224.
But perhaps the biggest difference of all between Lord’s and Edgbaston was the presence of Roy.
It was Roy, injured and unavailable for those stuttering, ineffectual and failed chases against both Sri Lanka and Australia, who metamorphosised the whole side when he returned.
He hit 66 against India when he had not fully recovered from his hamstring injury, 60 against New Zealand and then 85 against Australia. He is the lightning rod of the team, the man whose naturally rapid tempo energises the other men he plays with. And he really fires up Jonny Bairstow.
Having hit 0 and 27 when he didn’t have Roy as company, Bairstow has gone 111, 106 and 34 with his buddy back alongside him. Their average partnership is 64.16 and if they raise England’s 50 together, they’re more likely than not to make it to 100 before one of them departs.
Roy first appeared on the county scene aged just 17 in the summer of 2008 as a wildcard Surrey pick in the sixth edition of the Twenty20 Cup. Two summers later he appeared again and when he struck 101 off 57 balls against Kent at Beckenham people started to really take notice.
In the wake of England’s horrific 2015 World Cup, he was given his chance but was no overnight sensation, needing 14 innings to register a century and then enduring a poor series in South Africa. England stuck with him, however, and he responded with two more centuries in a series against Sri Lanka in 2016.
Competition for places was becoming fierce, however, and with Bairstow and Alex Hales also in the squad as natural openers, Roy’s next spell of poor form - in the middle of the 2017 Champions Trophy - led to him being dropped after reaching a high score of 20 in nine innings.
When Roy returned that September, he had a more mature game. He still played plenty of ferocious shots, but he now appreciated there was no need to pre-meditate when he possessed the natural gifts that he had been blessed with, plus everything he had learned.
His first three scores back were 84, 96 and 180 against Australia at the MCG. He had booked his ticket for the World Cup.
In fairness, England’s bowlers were chiefly responsible for the semifinal win against Australia. But Roy and Bairstow still needed to show early confidence in the chase, without doing anything stupid, to keep the guys padded up in the dressing room nice and relaxed.
Bairstow and Roy did everything right, but Roy was soon the chief enforcer. He took Mitchell Starc, the leading wicket-taker for two sweet boundaries in his second over, each driven along the ground in the gap between mid-off and cover. He then flicked him nonchalantly over fine leg’s head for six.
Having once been a bit of a scratchy operator against spin, Roy then showed his massive improvement in this department as he treated both Nathan Lyon and Steve Smith with nothing but utter contempt.
Lyon was hit for six first ball over long-on, despite the fielder being placed there to take a catch. And he added a reverse-sweep four in the same over.
Against Smith, there were three consecutive sixes, one of which must have been one of the biggest hits of the tournament.
The contest was over now, but there was no deserved century as Kumar Dharmasena wrongly gave him out caught down the leg-side on 85. The 28-year-old was absolutely furious about the decision but he couldn’t refer it because Bairstow had burnt England’s review a few moments previously.
This barrage of runs from Roy, who averages 71 in this World Cup and would be contending for top scorer in the tournament had he not missed three innings, propels him ever more powerfully into the reckoning for a spot in the Ashes.
Whatever happens in Sunday’s World Cup final, the idea of seeing Roy take on Mitchell Starc and co again when the red ball is in play is certainly a mouth-watering prospect.