CricViz analyst Ben Jones looks at how Jason Roy has improved against spin.
Jason Roy has long had an “issue” against spinners turning the ball away from him. In 2018 and 2019 he averaged just 18 against them, albeit scoring at the relatively brisk 7.8rpo. Over a number of years, it’s been the weakest element of his game.
It hampered him, and teams began to get wise to the issue. A range of SLA spinners were bombarding Roy in the first over of the match, from Samit Patel and Keshav Maharaj to Ashar Zaidi and Bjorn Fortuin. If you had a SLA bowler to bowl, they opened the innings to Roy. They would dart the ball through on even the more unhelpful tracks, targeting his pads and his stumps. In the absence of a left-handed partner, England have done little to protect Roy from this mode of attack.
As such, Roy had gained a reputation as a hugely talented but crucially flawed opening batter, particularly in Asian conditions. A weakness against spin is rapidly becoming the equal of “doesn’t like the short ball” in terms of throwing a bucket of cold water on your career prospects; in a world where the two dominant T20 leagues are in Pakistan and India, it can kill your domestic career in a matter of moments.
But then in the last 18 months, Roy’s record has improved significantly. He’s now averaging 32 and scoring at the even sprightlier pace of 8.6rpo against the spinners taking the ball away from him. What’s behind that improvement?
Well, in a broader sense Roy has become a significantly more frequent sweeper, of all iterations – reverse, conventional, and slog. In 2018 and 2019, he swept the SLA/leg spin bowlers around 12% of the time, less than one shot an over. This year he’s sweeping 23% of the time, with a large percentage of those sweeps – particularly against leg spin – being reverse sweeps. Faced with the risks associated with straight hitting or backing away, Roy has expanded his repertoire to play significant more sweep strokes.
What’s particularly noticeable is that against good length deliveries from SLA, Roy’s record has seen a dramatic increase. Previously, Roy’s strike rate against SLA was healthy against full and short deliveries, up above 140, but sunk to almost a run a ball when bowlers nailed their length. Since the start of 2020, that strike rate has risen to 165, with no drop in average. Roy has started hitting SLA bowlers off their length.
That hasn’t been directly caused by using his feet more, or sweeping more. The most obvious explanation for Roy’s improvement here is that he’s massively reduced his reliance on the cut shot. In 2019, 45% of Roy’s runs against SLA bowlers came through point. A technical issue for Roy was that backing away to give himself access to point was becoming a less viable option, as bowler darted the ball through, bowling ever straighter. Across his career, he’s generally performed substantially worse when left-arm spinners bowl at the 90kph mark, for this exact reason.
Since then, he’s attempting to force the ball into that zone less often. Just 13% of his runs in the last two years have come in that zone, Roy scoring straighter and more through the legside. While that’s still an area which good left-arm spinners can restrict the opportunities to score in, it’s a very defensive move, firing the ball outside off; if you have an issue against SLA, then your stumps are typically the source of your ills, and bowlers avoiding them is not a problem. That fact that Roy has managed to find a sustainable source of runs without resorting to the cut, and its associated issues, is a key factor.
This isn’t a story of how Roy saved his career, internationally or otherwise. Roy’s place in the England side was never under serious pressure, and nor should it have been. Not only did his form rarely dip below the required standard for the national team, but he always played a crucial role. His early scoring rate has remained extremely high, ensuring that England’s deep batting order was never deprived of deliveries. Short, sharp knocks that made the most of the Powerplay scoring opportunities, were always Roy’s stated aim, and even in his ‘worst’ form he never really caused problems for Morgan’s side.
But his improvement against leg spin and SLA bowlers has taken him from an excellent role player, one with a specific but limited place in the strategic plan, to being a straightforwardly excellent T20 opener. While he still lacks the versatility of England’s other batsmen – he is the only member of the top seven, who can only bat in one position – he has become sufficiently well rounded in that spot that he rarely causes problems from a selection standpoint. Previously, sides with those new ball leggies or left-armers were a concern, and while that concern has not entirely disappeared – it never can with a player of Roy’s natural aggression – it’s significantly lessened. And England are a far greater side for it.