Jason Roy was looking and sounding fresh. He has had a break from the bubble since he did not play in the Indian Premier League. He may be short of game time but he declares that he is “mentally refreshed” after a tricky summer. That may be more important.
He is expected to resume as England’s opening batsman on Friday in the opener of a three-match Twenty20 series in Cape Town and he will have to be at his sharpest when facing the express bowlers of South Africa – Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. “I’ll need to switch on – or leave with a few broken bones‚” he says before adopting his more usual confident outlook: “Extra pace is always fun to play against.”
As for who he would like as an opening partner since there are so many contenders – Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes and, most likely, Jos Buttler – once again he had to keep his wits about him since there is only one correct answer to this question. “I don’t have a preference. It’s mad, the number of batters battling for our top six or seven is quite frightening. I’m not fussed who I open with, whether I open, what goes on, what dynamics they go with, but it’s a great position to be in leading into a World Cup.”
The absence of Joe Root from the T20 squad, though he is in South Africa preparing for the ODIs – and no doubt itching to play in the shorter format as well – is often used to emphasise England’s batting strength. The Test captain has been named on a seven-man shortlist for the ICC male cricketer of the decade.
“You just know what you’re going to get with Rooty, don’t you?” says Roy. “We played a squad game the other day and I said to Jos: ‘He’s just always batting, isn’t he?’ He’s always there, you look out at the middle and he’s always on 40. He’s full of class, so he’ll do what he needs to do and I’ll let the selectors do what they need to do.”
Roy recognises that there can be no guarantees of a place in the best eleven. “No one can rest on their laurels‚” he says. “But playing for places is quite a hard thing to do. You’ve got to concentrate on the next performance. If you start playing for places you can lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve. If there’s players on this tour who are thinking: ‘I need to play for my place’ then that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to win the series.”
The shorter the format, the more that playing for your place, which may entail ensuring that the figures look good becomes a dangerous option. In the longer formats, staying in and grinding out the runs so that you become undroppable is often compatible with the needs of the team. In T20 cricket such caginess can hinder the side’s progress. Valuing your wicket is no longer the highest priority. Roy understands that and the need to keep batting with freedom.
Like a dozen other English cricketers he is heading off to the Big Bash in Australia after the matches against South Africa, another indication of England’s white-ball strength. Another bubble awaits and this can cause a strain on cricketers, like Roy, with young families. But with next October’s World T20 less than a year away, he recognises the need to be playing now. His request that his family might go to Australia with him was met with a firm no. “The Indian team can have their families there but I guess they have more bargaining chips.”