Roy blow leaves Root pondering options
England expects Jason Roy to feature in the third Test as uncertainty surrounds the makeup of their batting order
Andrew Ramsey at Headingley
22 August 2019, 09:24 AM AEST
The uncertainty that enshrouds England's Test batting order has taken a further twist due to the head blow sustained at training by out-of-form opener Jason Roy.
While England skipper Joe Root was confident on match eve that Roy, who passed a concussion test on Wednesday morning having been struck on the protective helmet the previous afternoon, would be passed fit to play.
However, the arrival in Leeds of potential replacement batter Ollie Pope coupled with the intricacies of the ICC's new concussion substitute policy have heightened intrigue over the order that England will employ in the third Test starting on Thursday.
Pope remains on standby should Roy exhibit any symptoms of delayed concussion, given the ICC's protocols apply only to 'in-game' injuries and would leave England unable to install a substitute if Roy exhibited effects from the blow once the Test began.
Discussions about the placement of batters within the top seven gained added piquancy on Tuesday when England coach Trevor Bayliss aired his belief that Roy was better suited lower down in the order.
"Personally, I think he probably is suited to the middle-order but we’ve selected him in the top of the order because of his form and experience in the one-day team playing international cricket," Bayliss said of Roy.
"We think we’ve got the best seven (specialist) batters available to us at the moment, in England.
"Whether we can change it round and make that any better, I’m not sure.
"But we’ll certainly have a discussion about it."
Bayliss's assessment was challenged by Root, who confirmed – in line with historical precedent – that the batting order remains the jurisdiction of the skipper, not the coach or selectors who decide on the squad and playing XI.
Root threw his support behind Roy, who was a hero of England's triumphant World Cup campaign at the top of the order but has scored 40 runs from four completed Test innings in that role against Australia.
The 29-year-old also missed a crucial catch during the final session at Lord's last weekend (from Travis Head who remained unbeaten at game's end) and the manner of a couple of his dismissals has prompted speculation he is struggling in the unfamiliar batting berth.
But Root maintained that Roy has the potential to establish himself as an explosive, game-changer against the new ball in the longer format which is why he is persisting with him at the top of the order.
"I obviously think he should open otherwise he’ll be batting at four," Root told reporters at Headingley on the eve of the third Ashes Test.
"I think there’s a lot of talk about the batting order because of the variety of options we have.
"At no stage are we trying to reinvent the wheel, but we’ve got to play to our strengths and be quite flexible over the course of the series.
"I feel Jason can have a real big impact at the start of an innings.
"It might not have happened just yet, but we fully expect him to go out and do that."
The ongoing debate surrounding South Africa-born Roy stems from his lack of previous experience as an opener at first-class level.
Despite having played only three first-class matches for Surrey in the preceding two years, and none of those as an opening batter, England's selectors believe the bludgeoning impact he's made on limited-overs formats is what their Test team requires.
They have seen the evolution of Australia's David Warner who began his international tenure as a T20 hitter before establishing himself as one of the most influential Test openers because of the rate at which he scores in the five-day format.
It was in the weeks before England secured their fairytale World Cup win that Root and national selector Ed Smith agreed that if the one-day opener finished that campaign in good form and full of confidence (Roy scored 443 runs from seven World Cup innings) he should be installed for the Ashes campaign.
"It feels like a really good time for Jason to join the Test team as an opener," Smith said last month.
"He’s in and has our full backing."
However, it's not only scores of 10, 28, 0 and 2 in the current Ashes series that have raised doubts about his capacity to make the transition from one-day limited-overs whirlwind to solid Test opener.
His wild swing on day five at Edgbaston – charging down the pitch at Nathan Lyon before being clean bowled – and a couple of disappointing dismissals at Lord's have raised questions as to whether he should swap places in the order with Joe Denly.
Having played as an opener early in his first-class career, Denly then moved down the order when he returned to play for Kent after a stint with Middlesex but was selected as an opener for his Test debut in the Caribbean earlier this year.
Denly has since been shifted to the middle-order, but has also failed to make an impact at number four in the Ashes campaign with 85 runs at 21.25 and a highest score of 30.
But for all the talk and speculation as to whether Root or Bayliss will have their way in deciding England's batting order at Headingley, Australia captain Tim Paine hosed down any suggestion that his bowlers had Roy's measure.
"I think opening the batting in Test cricket in England is difficult," Paine said prior to Australia's final training session in Leeds on Wednesday.
"I know our guys (Warner and Cameron Bancroft) are struggling a bit as well to get the runs they would like.
"It's international cricket, it's tough.
"We've seen Jason Roy play amazing innings on one-day cricket, and we've seen David Warner do the same thing in the early days of his career.
"Sometimes it takes time to get used to Test cricket … but we’ve seen that Jason's a highly skilled batsman who, on his day, can take the game away from you.
"So at no point do we think or treat him like we've got the wood over him.
"We've got to make sure we keep fronting up and execute really well to him because we do know the talent that he's got."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval