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The Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy show is key to England's bid for World Cup glory

06 Jul 2019 Daily Mail Online

None of the players will admit it — at least not in public — but England’s World Cup changed the moment Jason Roy was reunited with Jonny Bairstow at the top of the order.

While Roy was missing the games against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Australia because of a hamstring injury, England looked diminished. James Vince, his replacement, made 26, 14 and 0. Deprived of the yin to his yang, Bairstow followed 90 against the Afghans with scores of 0 and 27.

It was no coincidence that England lost the last two of those matches, conjuring up the nightmare prospect of missing out on the semi-finals and contributing another painful chapter to their tome of World Cup flops. The obituarists were flexing their fingers.

England’s World Cup changed the moment Jason Roy was reunited with Jonny Bairstow


But Roy recovered, Vince prepared for life as a substitute fielder and Bairstow flourished. In do-or-die games against India and New Zealand, he made 111 and 106 after England batted first, and shared match-defining partnerships of 160 and 123 with Roy.

Against the New Zealanders, their alliance was especially crucial, since the Chester-le-Street pitch slowed halfway through the innings. After Roy fell for 60, they managed another 182 runs for the loss of seven wickets, before New Zealand were skittled for 186.

Others have done their bit, but without the form of the openers England would not necessarily be preparing for Thursday’s semi-final with a spring in their step. Throw in their partnership of 128 against Bangladesh at Cardiff, when Roy hit 153, and the pair have now shared 10 century stands in 31 innings, an absurdly good strike-rate when you consider their aggressive intent.

In fact, there is now an argument that they are the most dangerous opening pair in one-day history. Of the 124 openers who have scored at least 1,000 ODI runs, only Bairstow and Roy have both an average above 40 and a strike-rate above 100. If one of them doesn’t get you, the other probably will.

‘It is genuinely good fun,’ said Bairstow, who has nine hundreds in 44 ODI innings (Roy has nine in 79). ‘Communication is important. We just keep each other going. In an opening partnership, you’ve got to have trust in each other. I’m sure that Strauss and Cooky were the same when they opened in Tests, or Hayden and Langer.’

The partnership was not forged in promising circumstances. Bairstow got his chance as opener when Roy was dropped for the semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy against Pakistan. England lost, but in the subsequent series against West Indies, Bairstow began with a hundred.

It needed Alex Hales’s ill-advised night out with Ben Stokes in Bristol to give Roy another chance. He took it — and how. In his first game back, against West Indies at The Oval, he made 84 off 66 balls, and put on 126 with Bairstow. Then, at Southampton, he blazed 96 off 70 in a partnership of 156. In his next innings in Melbourne in January 2018, Roy hit 180, an England record. He and Bairstow have never looked back.

Like all the best partnerships, theirs contains something indefinable. It is certainly not a case of opposites attracting: both are right-handers, both are happy to hit over the top early on, and both are strong on the pull. Both have a bloody-mindedness, too, Bairstow ostentatiously so.

Jonny Bairstow scored two consecutive centuries to help England to the World Cup semi-final

But there is no doubt he feeds off Roy’s energy, just as he seemed less secure when batting with Vince. Against both India and New Zealand, Roy found the boundary in the first over, immediately putting Bairstow at ease — not to mention the rest of the dressing room.

More than that, the pair’s prowess, combined with pitches that have tended to get slower, has caused England to reconsider their strategy.

Before the World Cup, they were unbeaten in 19 successive ODIs at home when batting second. But their three defeats in the group stages all came when they were chasing, and England are now a bat-first side, winning all five of the games in which they have done so.

One theory is that Bairstow has flourished ever since he suggested that people had been waiting for England to fail — a comment aimed at Michael Vaughan rather than the public. Does he perform better when he has a point to prove?

‘I don’t need to comment on that,’ he said. ‘People are bringing up news that is no news. I got misinterpreted and misunderstood. “Play better when XYZ happens?” No, the fact is we had two massive games to win and we’ve won them.

 Bairstow and Jason Roy shared an opening stand of 123 at the Riverside on Wednesday

‘The last week has been a massive week, knowing that we had two games we had to win to get through to the semis. Now we’ve got another massive 10 days. It’s very exciting.’

It seems unlikely England will move away from the selection policy that has won them a place in the last four. On a fresh Edgbaston pitch, they may resist the temptation to recall Moeen Ali, who has missed the last two matches, and stick with Liam Plunkett, who has added wicket-taking expertise to the middle overs after sitting out all three of England’s defeats.

England, though, are not about to get ahead of themselves as they prepare for the possibility of a first World Cup final since 1992.

‘It is hard to say you are peaking,’ said Bairstow. ‘One good ball and you’re out. But confidence is high, because we’ve had two really good performances. Those will hopefully stand us in good stead and help us put in another one on Thursday.’

And, if things go to plan, another one in the final three days later.


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