One of the more intriguing explanations for Jason Roy’s indiscipline as a Test opener is that “he likes to get bat on ball”. To which one might reply: Don’t we all?
Roy’s attempt to get bat on ball in England’s second innings at Edbgaston (when they needed to bat all day) was to charge down the pitch to Nathan Lyon and miss. Here at Lord’s, the superbly combative white-ball whacker tried again to get bat on ball in the three deliveries he faced before departing for nought. The third nicked off a bat pushed out to a Josh Hazelwood ball that was just short of a length and settled in Tim Paine’s gloves.
Battered and bruised, in the other corner, Rory Burns was hit on the shoulder twice in a venomous spell by Pat Cummins before being bounced out for 53. According to Crickviz, Roy leaves 14 per cent of pace balls while Burns allows 27 per cent of them to pass untouched. The average for a Test opener is 26 per cent.
With his awkward style and vision-correcting head movements, Burns is dedicating himself to defying Australia’s best bowlers while Roy is at risk of becoming a dilettante in the red ball game – unless perhaps England drop him to No 4, which would amount to rewarding him for giving his wicket away cheaply.
As a white-ball specialist who likes to make contact with every delivery, Roy can claim an impressive body of work. His swift return from a hamstring injury saved England’s World Cup campaign. He struck 66 against India, 60 at New Zealand’s expense and 85 in the semi-final against Australia. England’s confidence was restored by his belligerence. The psychological boost was palpable.
England’s debt to him was undeniable. But the bill has been paid. Roy appears to view his talismanic contribution in June and July as a free pass for the Ashes. Thus throwing his wicket away becomes somebody else’s problem. This is not the first time philosophical justification has been cited for a player ignoring basic discipline. Always the problem is what happens next. Others pick up the tab. Sooner or later resentment is bound to fester in the dressing room.
The fallout is extensive. First, Burns is lumbered with the task of seeing off the new ball without his opening partner. Second, it brings Joe Root down the steps of the pavilion much sooner than he would like (England’s captain has already volunteered to bat No 3). The suspicion then grows that some England players are still cocooned in the glories of a month ago, and that Roy has granted himself permission to stay there.
Roy has two ready-made excuses which many seem happy to recite on his behalf. One is that he does not open for Surrey and was press-ganged into walking out first for England (blame the system, people say). The second is that his “natural game” is somehow inviolable and cannot be modified. This is where his defence crumbles. Running down the pitch to Lyon is hardly a matter of artistic freedom. Nor is pushing at balls from Hazelwood when you have already made a mess of his first two deliveries. “Not leaving” balls outside the off stump so early in an innings is a choice (with a bit of instinct thrown in, admittedly). It cannot be framed as admirable positivity in a series where England are already on the ropes.
Burns, who has a fraction of Roy’s strokemaking talent, is giving him lessons in perseverance and selflessness. The more dogged of England’s openers was dropped on 16 and 47 before Cummins decided he had seen enough.
In the 37th over, a rising ball slammed into Burns’s shoulder. The next one he ducked. Then his shoulder took its second punch. Soon, Burns was fending off another bouncer to Cameron Bancroft, who caught him at grass height, miraculously, at short leg.
Roy was asked before his return from injury about his suitability for Ashes cricket. He said: “Playing Test cricket has been an ambition of mine for years. If I get the chance, I’d like to think I’ll be able to cope. You get analysed a lot more in Test cricket. Everyone knows what I’m about. So, if I get caught at fourth slip driving at a ball that maybe a ‘traditional’ Test cricketer wouldn’t drive at, then people hopefully won’t be too outraged.”
Hazelwood, England’s nemesis on this delayed “first day” has already put the blade in: “We’ll see how Roy goes in Test cricket. He’s only played one Test match and it’s a lot different opening the batting in a Test than a one-day game, that’s for sure.”
As Glenn McGrath observed Burns’s starting point has been: “You’re not getting me out.” Roy’s has been a need, either insecure or arrogant, to get straight on with it, to feel “bat on ball,” whatever the risks. Time at the crease for its own sake appears anathema to him. Toughing it out has no appeal. Root will have to tell him that there is a point where bravado shades into selfishness.