Jason Roy smashed a disdainful 65-ball 85 as England swatted aside Australia in the second semifinal of the World Cup ©Getty
At the start of the 2010/11 football season, Arsenal carried out a series of psychological tests on their players.
It is all very routine: a set of questions to determine mental ability and football reasoning. One category is “self perceived competence” – essentially, how highly the player rates himself. It’s a sliding scale that goes up to nine. Yet Nicklas Bendtner, one of their strikers at the time, scored a 10. That won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Bendtner’s work. For the uninitiated, he was a clown among men. Grand self-assurance without the talent. A meme before memes.
The club’s sports psychologist at the time described his chart-busting result thusly: “When Bendtner misses a chance, he is always genuinely convinced that it wasn’t his fault. You might say that’s a problem, and to a certain degree it can be. But you can also view it as, this guy has a remarkable ability to come back after set-backs.”
Perhaps if Jason Roy took this test he’d register 11. Has there ever been a player ooze such confidence? Perhaps not since Kevin Pietersen, and it’s not for nothing that while they both carry that South African sense of self-worth, Pietersen’s runs guided England to their first ICC trophy and Jason Roy’s, specifically this 65-ball 85 against Australia, gives them a shot at number two.
Let’s take his talent and ball-striking as read. When Roy was coming through as a kid in the Surrey academy, coaches and senior players would always check his bats because there was no way this cherubic 16-year old was making those sort of noises with any old piece of wood. Then they’d spot the forearms and barrel chest and, suddenly, the acoustics made sense. The drummers hands, remember – never the drumsticks.
But that confidence. Seriously. He was cocky. Alphadom incarnate. A handshake knowingly too strong. A choreographed gait. Or, perhaps, a review so forceful it convinces an international umpire to send his decision for a review that does not exist. He was and somehow still is that sort of cocky, sportspeople get a taste of but can never quite savour.
Take tennis sensation Coco Gauff. Skill alone does not get the 15-year old into the second week of Wimbledon. It’s that fearlessness of youth rooted in an ignorance of failure. She has not yet had ranking points depend on a second serve, her livelihood on an over-egged baseline hit or her whole self worth determined by a break point.
When Roy first came into the Surrey 1st XI at the age of 18, he was lamented for being too cavalier and urged by some – though none who knew him well – to curb his brutism. But he didn’t. On his ODI debut, against New Zealand, also at Edgbaston, he slapped his first ball – the first of the match, the first of his international career in fact – straight to point.
He has scars of being axed for the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final and falling in the first over of the 2016 World T20 final. And yet, here he fronts, 28-years old, approaching Australia a game out from the most important match in England’s history like he’d never been hurt.
In Roy’s world, Australia’s unbeaten semi-final streak was nothing. Previous English embarrassments in World Cups were nothing to do with *this* side. England had never beaten India, New Zealand or Australia in all competitions. In the last 11 days, Roy has had a hand in toppling all three. Even the finer points on the field of play were of no greater significance
Showing Mitchell Starc all three stumps – the equivalent of giving a shark a whiff of claret – and then pumping a ball on off-stump through extra cover for four. Or, to that same bowler, breaking your wrists to flick up off leg stump and over the boundary at square leg. Greeting England’s bogeyman Nathan Lyon with a straight six as soon as he came into the attack. Or taking Steve Smith for three consecutive sixes, each bigger than the last, despite cricket’s various wives’ tales of mediocrity getting wickets, being wary of the part-timer and the eternal shame of being undone by a pantomime villain.
Somehow, Roy shuts out the noise. Which is funny because, actually, Roy notices the noise. He has a solid disdain for the written press and has worked to suppress it. And though sometimes he has openly lamented “you guys getting on my case”, something in his psyche cuts it out. Maybe that’s why England have such a perfect yin-and-yang partnership up top, one which has become the first English pairing to score 500 runs together in a World Cup. Jonny Bairstow gets off on proving people wrong. Roy proves himself right.
Even his hamstring tear seemed to defy medical science. He missed just three games and returned to hit 66, 60 and now 85. A teammate, when asked about the recovery, simply said, “It’s Jase – he’s a beast!” Were it any other player, a firmer decision might have been made to draft in a replacement, or even have one lurking on the wings. No. Roy was always going to regain his fitness. And his effect on the side meant Eoin Morgan was going to give him every opportunity to return.
When he is in this form, he’s belittling the world’s best with shots usually reserved for charlatans. The runs are vital, especially when he can storm off in a huff having contributed more than half of the 147 for two on the board, with the next eight wickets needing to find just 79 in 30.2 overs between them. But it is the manner in which Roy gets them that filters through rest of the line-up. It’s not for nothing that Roy scored in one and missed the other two of England’s three defeats.
Much like Jos Buttler, when Roy does his thing, he gets the dressing room giddy. When Smith was struck for a six that almost brained any doubters in the Edgbaston press box, his teammates were in stitches at the sheer audacity of it. Just like that, chasing in a World Cup for batting first seems like the most fun in the world. And, really, isn’t that what this should be all about?
That Channel Four, a free-to-air television channel, will be showing Sunday’s World Cup final against New Zealand is a huge boost for the English game, not least because of how it could draw in children who may be ambivalent or unaware of cricket. Thankfully, this England side are the perfect conduit. Their “express yourself” mantra of being yourself, greeting serious situations with a smile and enjoying the present wonderfully childish traits.
After all, we all lose our joie de vivre once we’re familiar with consequence. In Roy, England have the perfect totem and one whose example they will hold dear to them as they aim for a first World Cup trophy.