Jason Roy knows what is at stake on Sunday after his slump in form continued in the first Twenty20 against South Africa on Friday night.
With captain Eoin Morgan demanding improvements from his team, the series resumes in Paarl on Sunday afternoon and while it might be a little premature to say Roy is playing for his place right now, he is aware time is running out. He admitted as much before the series saying he would be “100 per cent lying” if he thought he was not under pressure.
Roy has averaged 18 for England in 50 and 20-over cricket since the World Cup final with one fifty in 12 innings. His second-ball duck at Newlands, out cutting hard at a spinner, was his second successive nought (albeit split by three months) and his fifth single-figure score in six innings.
His downfall will have been noted by opponents. George Linde enjoyed a fine T20 debut for South Africa on Friday but there will be better spin bowlers lining up against Roy with the new ball at next year’s Twenty20 World Cup in India, where in the last tournament he was out in the first over of the final in Calcutta to a spinner.
Roy is looking slimmer and in better shape than last summer but skipping the IPL was a gamble. He hoped it would refresh him mentally but it was no surprise England’s two best performers on Friday, Jonny Bairstow and Sam Curran, were match-ready after IPL seasons.
Roy has been here before. He was left out of England’s ODI team in 2017 and returned because of the fallout from the Bristol fight involving Ben Stokes and Alex Hales. He bounced back superbly and England World Cup wobbles coincided with his hamstring injury.
He is very close to Morgan, who is loyal to those he trusts, and brutal with those he does not (ask Hales).
Morgan will give Roy plenty of opportunities to rediscover his touch, but unlike many of his predecessors he is a captain with rich competition for places. Bairstow could resume opening with Jos Buttler in place of Roy and Tom Banton, Sam Billings or Moeen Ali slot into the middle order. Hales needs a change of captain before he plays again, a policy decision that weakens the squad and does not always reflect well on the captain. Rehabilitating players can be a sign of great leadership as much as being ruthless.
Morgan described England’s performance in the first Twenty20 as “pretty average”, apart from a couple of standout performances by Sam Curran and Bairstow, but his demand for high standards should not cloud just how strong his side is right now.
England should beat South Africa 3-0 in this series. They have more world-class players, and are much closer to knowing their best XI than South Africa, who are reduced by injuries and unavailability of all-rounders, and boast a team filled out by players who, if being honest, can be described as journeymen. They did not have enough to finish England off with either bat or ball on Friday night. They rely heavily on Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada, capable of winning games on their own, and are weighed down by politics off the field.
Transformation targets are always an issue too, and probably the reason why Anrich Nortje did not play in the first game, depleting the potency of their attack further.
Morgan’s team, however, looks a mighty fine side with a year to go to the Twenty20 World Cup. They have few issues to settle in their team beyond where to play their best batsmen and hope Roy returns to form. Sam Curran showed signs of solving one of their problem bowling slots.
Reading the pitch will be key in Paarl and England will consider bringing back Moeen for Tom Curran. They have 18 Twenty20 games before the World Cup (not all have been confirmed) and their success at the 50-over World Cup was built on picking a team and sticking with it in the long build-up. Two spinners will be vital in India and without Joe Root to call on it means Moeen needs to come back.
The series ends at Newlands on Tuesday on the same pitch as Friday night, which is good preparation for the surfaces they will face in India next year. There was more turn in the first game than England expected and Moeen’s career is drifting. He needs to spark it back into life and this is a good opportunity..
England will make the one-hour drive through wine country from Cape Town to Paarl on Sunday afternoon to resume a series where Morgan, for once, has all his best players at his disposal. Roy will be nervous. England have never played an international game at Boland Park, and it has never hosted a South Africa T20. In domestic cricket last year the highest total was 197. The batsmen with the best score in that game? Alex Hales.
Team details for second T20
England (possible): Roy, Buttler, Malan, Bairstow, Stokes, Morgan, S Curran, Moeen, Jordan, Archer, Rashid.
South Africa (possible): De Kock, Bavuma, Du Plessis, Van Der Dussen, Klaasen, Van Biljon, Linde, Rabada, Nortje, Ngidi, Shamsi.