24 August, Saturday
The new ball is ready to invite swing. Showing contempt for traditional notions of playing himself in, Jason Roy leans forward. He knocks the ball through the off side with such power that Australia’s fielders do not even bother giving a try. Before the over is over, Jason repeats the shot, with the same outcome.
The start of Jason Roy’s impressive 85 in the World Cup semi-final embodies why he is one of the world’s most feared openers in one-day international (ODI) cricket. And this illustrates why, as England has been looking for their 15th Test opener since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, they could not resist the option of Roy.
Before his debut, England Cricket Team captain, Joe Root declared that he wanted Roy to channel his ODI performace.
“We want Jason to go out and be himself, to express himself and trust his instincts as much as possible.”
There was just one problem. Opening in Test cricket is a challenge of an entirely different level as compared to doing so in ODIs. In the first 10 overs in England since Roy’s ODI debut in 2015, the ball swings twice than in Tests as in ODIs; the seam movement is more than a third greater.
This all speaks to the drawbacks of trying to import a method from one game format to another. So rapidly are the skills required to thrive in cricket’s limited overs and Test formats diverging the very overs, rather than merely being different versions of the same sport, they are better understood as being completely different games.
The most obvious precedent for Roy’s Test selection is playing for Australia. But the greatness of David Warner, like Virender Sehwag, as fearless Test openers conceals how rare cricketers of this type have been in Test history.
There are only eight openers who have ever scored 1,000 runs with a strike rate above 65. And even the very best of these rare players have been enfeebled by the jagging English pitches.
England’s hope was that Jason Roy would defy history. If their scarcity of options encouraged England to land on him, it was also in keeping with the style of cricket they wanted to play, and Trevor Bayliss’s preference for having two attacking players in the top 3.
The most curious thing about Hales’s Test career was how radically he changed his limited overs approach: his strike rate in Tests was so poor that even Alastair Cook scored quicker.
“I was fighting my natural game a little bit, but I felt like if you want to succeed as an opening batsman in Test cricket I don’t think you can go out and start playing shots from ball one because you'll just nick one", hales said.
“You can’t just walk out to open the batting in England and start playing shots from ball one. I can’t really think of any successful England openers who've done that."
“I found it particularly difficult especially at the top of the order. With the red ball in England there’s no hiding place - it swings, it seams, it’s really difficult so I found it’s a completely different game opening 50-over to Test cricket.”
Roy has diverged from Hales’s approach to Test opening so far. Yet the results have appeared to be even worse. In 6 innings opening, Roy has an average of 9, a record he maintained perfectly when he knocked Josh Hazlewood behind in the fourth over of the morning.
Openers in Tests are amplifiers to the innings
They can do both;
Reinstill the strengths of the batsmen to come, who are also protected from the new ball and fresh bowlers or
Expose their weaknesses, as Roy has done so far by continually exposing Root and those beneath him to the new ball.
Only once this summer have England’s openers lasted the first 10 overs - and that was when Jack Leach was nightwatchman against Ireland, pushing Jason Roy down to number 3. Protected from the new ball, he made an average 72 then, suggesting that he could succeed in Tests if given a better opportunity. Indeed Hales, now looking back at his own Test career, believes that he may have done better had he batted lower down the order.
And so, while Jason's shot selection has been not so good this series, in a broader sense this is perhaps not his fault. As Roy has been selected to play in a very specific way - just to bat, essentially, as if the colour of the ball does not really matter - and is doing accordingly.
The results are a simple explanation of an enduring truth: A brilliant limited overs format can translate poorly to Tests.