The conduct of Ben Stokes and Alex Hales on 25 September 2017 outside a Bristol nightclub may have sent shockwaves through England’s cricket team, but it also had a knock-on effect which has played a huge part in making them the side they are today – a side in a World Cup semi-final for the first time since 1992.
Hales’s removal from the side and subsequent prolonged absence following a second failed drugs test has left the floor clear for Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow to become England’s not-so-secret weapon at the top of the order.
Considering they first came together to open the batting in one-day internationals in September 2017 their achievements are remarkable. The right-handed duo began their combination with partnerships of 126 and 156 against the West Indies and never looked back.
Following yet another match-defining 123-run partnership in a crucial must-win final group game against New Zealand at Chester-le-Street today, Roy and Bairstow have now scored 2,186 runs together at a rate of faster than seven runs per over.
According to statistics app CricViz, none of the other 89 ODI partnerships to have managed over 2,000 runs together have scored at a quicker rate. Roy and Bairstow score quickly, invariably getting England off to a rapid start, but they are also consistent, averaging over 65 per partnership – the most of any established ODI opening pair in history. This summer they average 99.7 in seven ODI innings together.
Put simply Roy and Bairstow are a statistical marvel – the perfect bedrock for England’s patented ultra-aggressive ODI batting style.
Much was made of the impact Roy’s hamstring injury could have on England’s World Cup campaign when he pulled up in the outfield on 14 June against West Indies in Southampton. His importance is now clearer than ever.
His replacement, James Vince, made scores of 26, 14 and 0 in Roy’s absence, with defeats by Sri Lanka and Australia threatening to derail the hosts’ entire campaign. Since Roy returned to the fold England have gone back to resembling what they are: one of the best ODI sides in the world.
While it has been Bairstow who has taken the headlines through back-to-back hundreds against India and now New Zealand, the Surrey opener has been crucial too, scoring 66 from 57 balls and 60 from 61 to give England the confident starts they’ve needed when batting first in pressure situations.
In Chester-le-Street, as on many occasions previously, their quick-fire opening salvos have given the impression of a flat wicket. After seeing off an opening over of left-arm spin from Mitchell Santner, both Roy and Bairstow looked comfortable, hitting the ball over the offside field and piercing the gaps all around the wicket.
Making the most of the hard new balls was vital because, as their lower-order team-mates found later, it wasn’t easy at all, with cross-seam deliveries and slower balls sticking in the pitch to make scoring freely a struggle.
But having plundered 123 from the opening 18.4 overs England were afforded the luxury of being ahead of the game. Despite something of a slump England’s score of 305-8 was imposing.
In stark contrast to the free-flowing blades of their opponents, New Zealand’s top order was hesitant in the face of quality bowling and it cost them dear. Once the kingpins of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor had been toppled the game was only heading in one direction, with England’s progression to the semi-finals confirmed when the Black Caps were dismissed for 186 in 45 overs.
England have sometimes been accused of being flat-track bullies. In reality it’s a fallacy their opening partnership perpetuate through their consistent brilliance.