England might have won their first Twenty20 International against India by eight wickets and lost the second by seven, but amid the wildly swaying momentum of the opening encounters there has been one constant for the tourists: Jason Roy top-scored with a 32-ball 49 in the first match, and did it again with a 35-ball 46 in the second.
It is a welcome return to form for a batsman who has not scored consistently since the high of the 2019 World Cup. Roy was averaging 37.17 across all forms of international cricket before the start of the 2019 Ashes and a short-lived flirtation with Tests, but between the start of that series and his arrival in India across 19 matches and 19 months he averaged just 16.31.
“It hasn’t gone quite to plan for the last year, so it’s been nice to get a few runs,” Roy says, turning his focus to Tuesday’s third match in Ahmedabad. “I’m still looking for that big score. Those 40s are great and look good on the scoreboard but to get very competitive totals in T20 you need someone to go on and get a big score, so as happy as I am there’s still a lot to improve on.”
It is no coincidence that Roy’s return to form, in India and before that with Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League, came with fans in attendance. As a player he is not well suited to silence, preferring to play his high-octane shots in high-octane environments, but it is a situation he faces once again following the announcement that the remainder of the T20 series in India would be played behind closed doors because of a local rise in coronavirus cases.
“I am feeling good,” he says. “I’m training really well, and in the nets feeling full of confidence and that’s half the battle in professional cricket. You’ve got to feel confident and happy in yourself and enjoying yourself, and since the Big Bash I’ve started really loving my cricket again, which is a nice feeling … going out there and playing in front of 60,000 adoring, screaming Indian fans, which is second to none really, that feeling.”
Roy mentions that after a Covid-affected 2020, when he found that “bubble life and everything going on with Covid can really cloud your judgment and make you overthink a few things”, he “rekindled that love for the game” in Australia, flourishing before an ankle injury ruled him out of the semi-final and the final, which Perth lost to Sydney Sixers.
“I think just the whole year that’s just gone, with no crowds around, everything that’s going on that’s so much bigger than the game, just puts stuff into perspective. Then you add on top of that your own personal work not going quite as well as you’d want it to, and it can get really on top of you,” he says.
“I hadn’t played enough cricket, that was the simple thing. So I signed up for the Big Bash and the moment I got there, at the first game I had 20 or so people watching me in the nets and I just had this adrenaline rush, and this sense of belonging again. It was the most incredible feeling. I never fell out of love with the game, but playing in front of a crowd makes you realise they mean a huge amount to us as sportsmen.”
Roy must now rise once again to the challenge of motivating himself in their absence, when as an opening batsman in this format “you have to be ultra-aggressive” – and also a little lucky – to get the big scores he seeks. “It’s a mixture of aggression and pretty calculated stuff really if you want to get those scores,” he says.
“That’s just the way T20 goes, and if you live by the sword you’ve got to be willing to die by it. More often than not most pitches with the new ball are pretty nice to bat on, so you’ve just got to make sure you get the boys off to a solid start. My job is to not mess about, really.”