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Jason Roy's cold culling shows England's ruthless side

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Published in Cricket
Monday, 18 September 2023 05:00
It was Jos Buttler who rang Jason Roy to let him know that he had been left out of England's final World Cup squad - just as it was for last year's T20 World Cup. Buttler considers Roy a close friend and the pair have been international team-mates for nearly a decade, but twice in 13 months he has delivered a clinical, cruel blow.
His omission could mark the end of his international career. Luke Wright, England's national selector, said on Monday morning that Roy is likely to be a non-travelling reserve for the World Cup and insisted that they "certainly haven't ruled him out" of future selection. He could yet play the second and third ODIs against Ireland.

But Roy signalled in newspaper interviews after the Hundred that he expected this World Cup to be his England swansong. He said that, at 33, he anticipates "a changing of the guard" in 50-over cricket and acknowledged that, 14 months after his most recent T20I appearance, he is unlikely to feature in next year's T20 World Cup.

Five weeks ago, when England's selectors met in Nottingham to pick their provisional squad, Roy was pencilled in as half of their first-choice opening partnership, alongside Jonny Bairstow. After a solid IPL season with Kolkata Knight Riders, Roy had hardly played in the English summer due to a calf injury but had credit in the bank.
This year, he had scored hundreds in two of his six ODI innings in the contrasting conditions of Bloemfontein and Mirpur, and he was the player that England had selected more than any other in 50-over cricket between World Cups. Even if his returns had dipped across the four-year cycle, he still boasted an average of 39.91 and a strike rate of 105.53 in 116 ODIs overall.
Yet as Wright pithily expressed: "Things happen in sport". The things which cost Roy were Dawid Malan's scores of 54, 96 and 127 against New Zealand to leapfrog Roy as Bairstow's opening partner; Harry Brook's form after his initial omission in late August - 215 runs from 105 balls in his next three innings for Northern Superchargers and England - which Matthew Mott described as the response of a great player; and Roy's own fitness issues, with back spasms on the morning of the first and third ODIs ruling him out of the series.

Malan, Wright said, was "absolutely outstanding" against New Zealand, finishing the series as the leading run-scorer on either side despite missing the second ODI for the birth of his son. When the selectors reconvened, "we realised things had slightly changed and Dawid would be the one opening the batting with Jonny in the World Cup."

That meant a decision over who was better suited to being the lone spare batter in the squad. "From Jason's point of view, he probably only covers us for an opener," Wright explained. "Harry gives us that cover from Nos. 1-6 and has obviously been in great form as well. It's been an incredibly tough decision but it shows where we're at in English cricket, that there are so many tough decisions."

Based on ODI records alone, replacing Roy with Brook might look like a strange decision: Brook has scored 123 runs in his six appearances in the format, while Roy has more than 4000 and played a significant role in England's World Cup win four years ago, with five 50-plus scores in his seven innings. But Wright said that, in context, the selectors did not see it as a gamble.

"One thing you can't disagree with on Harry is that whenever he gets an opportunity - whether that's in Test cricket, T20 and hopefully now in 50-over cricket - he takes it with both hands. When we left him out of the original squad, we knew we were leaving out someone who is potentially a world-beater. In any selection, there's always a risk with whoever you pick.

"Does it make it harder to leave out someone who has played so many games in Jason? Absolutely. It's hard to leave someone out with that pedigree. But also, it was so hard to leave out someone with Harry Brook's talent. We think he's a fantastic player who gives us those options from Nos. 1-6 which, from a tactical point of view and if there are any short-term injuries out there, gives us that cover we need."

Buttler and Mott spoke to Roy in turn at the weekend to explain England's decision. "The feedback was that he is very disappointed," Wright said. "I'm sure he's hurt - but also, Jason knows what professional sport is like." They have also given him the option of playing against Ireland, but told him it would not affect his World Cup chances.

Roy has also been earmarked as a reserve top-order batter, in the event of an injury to Malan or Bairstow, but will not travel with the squad to India. At this stage, England intend to take Jofra Archer as their only travelling reserve to continue his rehabilitation in the hope that he will be fit enough to play a role at the end of the tournament.

"As a reserve batter at the top of the order, we've made it very clear we see him [Roy] as the man to do that and I don't think there's any reason why we wouldn't," Wright said. "We've spoken to him about that. He's got time to reflect now over the next few days. The early response was that he's still available for England; unless that's changed, that's how we see it."

There was a time when England's selection decisions in the build-up to World Cups felt panicked; this one was cold and calculated. Roy's international career may not yet be over - as Wright would tell him, things happen in sport - but if this really is the end, it is a ruthless way for an England white-ball great to go.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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