LONDON: National selector Ed Smith believes England’s World Cup star Jason Roy is now a ‘more complete player than he has ever been’ and is ready to have a crack at Test cricket after two years as one of the one-day team’s leading lights.
Roy was named in England’s 13-man squad for the one-off Test against Ireland at Lord’s next week and, barring injury, will play in the first Ashes Test against Australia at Edgbaston on Aug 1.
Smith suggested that Roy would have played against India last summer had it not been for injury and confirmed that it had been a long-term goal to get him into the Test side.
“It’s no great secret the selectors have long been admirers of Jason,” Smith said in Canterbury on the final day of England Lions’ match against Australia ‘A’. “The big question with Jason Roy was when was the ideal time if he was going to make the move into Test cricket?
“[England Test skipper] Joe Root and I spoke at length months ago about the scenario in which Jason Roy finished the World Cup confident, full of runs and went straight into the Ashes and that’s what we’ve done. It feels like a really good time for Jason to join the Test team as an opener. He’s in and has our full backing.”
Roy’s first-class record is solid — he averages 38 — but he has spent most of the last few seasons batting for Surrey in the middle order in Championship cricket. His credentials against high-class new ball bowlers with the white-ball, however, need no embellishing and his task now is to replicate that in Test cricket.
He could not be in better form. He averaged more than 60 in the World Cup and gave England an aggression and solidity at the top of the order that they lacked when he missed two games with a hamstring injury that still needs to be monitored. Roy returned to the side in the must-win league-round game against India, smashed 66 and England seemed a changed team. It was quite some effect.
“I think we’ve all seen him grow and improve as a player in white-ball cricket,” Smith said. “There’s never been any doubt about his talent, audacity or his presence at the crease — it’s fantastic. He’s also gained improved mastery and adaptability. I think he’s a more complete player now than he ever has been. It just felt like absolutely the right time for Jason to make his Test debut.”
Smith’s selection panel has not been afraid to pick players for the Test team on the back of white-ball performances. Last summer, Jos Buttler was recalled after a blazing run of form for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
Smith spoke of a ‘sense of trying to catch the right time’ with these decisions, bringing someone into the team when full of confidence regardless of the format.
“Going back to that first decision last May when coming in as selector it just felt like exactly the right time for Jos to come back into the Test team,” Smith said. “Although I wouldn’t compare them because they are very different players and different people, in the same way it feels like the right time for Jason. He’s playing very well, growing and developing all the time and it’s an exciting prospect for us.”
The squad for England’s inaugural Test against Ireland is a mixture of the established and the inexperienced. Alongside Roy, Somerset’s fast-bowler Lewis Gregory and Warwikshire’s Olly Stone are the two other uncapped players in the party while Ben Stokes and Buttler have been rested and Mark Wood and Jofra Archer have been left out because of injuries.
“There were various things to balance — first of all, injuries. The second thing was rest — people who needed not to play, and it was deemed best for England that Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler did not play against Ireland. And the third thing was the right team structure, to give people the right amount of bowling so they arrived at the Edgbaston Test in the right condition.
“The priority is to arrive at the Ashes and give Root the best possible range of bowling options and to keep them on-stream throughout the series.”
With just a week to go until the first Test of the summer against Ireland, England’s squad is going to have to very quickly move on from their World Cup success. “There is a challenge to build and grow on that rather than to say that is the full stop on the end of the sentence,” added Smith. “One thing we really want to do is develop this end of English cricket and not let it peter out but to push on from here.
“The same degree of attention, clarity and rigour we tried to bring to World Cup selection, we have also brought to Ashes selection.”