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Roy of the Rovers hitting sees England cruise to WC final

In a batting lineup containing Jos Buttler and Joe Root, with Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes lower down, Roy was simply the biffer at the top who did little more than give the ball a good wallop.

England's Jason Roy plays a shot during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and Bangladesh at Sophia Gardens stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on 8 June 2019. Picture: AFP

BIRMINGHAM - Hands up, who had Jason Roy as the most important player in the England team? If you did, congratulations. Also, would you mind letting the rest of us peep into that crystal ball you keep stowed under your bed?

In a batting lineup containing Jos Buttler and Joe Root, with Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes lower down, Roy was simply the biffer at the top who did little more than give the ball a good wallop.

As for the bowlers, Jofra Archer and Adil Rashid stole headlines as knockout artists capable of running through teams on their own. Even Roy’s opening partner, the fiery red bearded Jonny Bairstow, commanded more attention given his propensity for fisticuffs with former players in the press and some sublime stroke play.

But in Roy’s absence against Sri Lanka and Australia, England lost. James Vince is a fine player but he lacks the ability to brutishly devastate attacks like Roy can. Without that rapid explosion out the blocks, England’s innings never got going in two disappointing setbacks. When he returned for the must win games against India and New Zealand, a pair of sixties cameoed a pair of hundreds from Bairstow and England comfortably qualified for the next round.

Against Australia at Edgbaston in the second World Cup semi-final, the 28 year old born in Durban was in another league. He ignored niggles in his hamstring and lower back and hammered nine fours and five sixes, registering 85 off just 65 balls.

Against Australia’s quicks he imperiously drove on the up through the off side, anchored from a stable base as he transferred his weight perfectly in the execution of his strokes. He nonchalantly flicked Mitchell Starc for a whipped six over fine leg and lashed Pat Cummiins through midwicket for four.

He welcome Nathan Lyon, the destroyer in chief in Australia’s 64 run win at Lord’s, to the attack by popping him for six back down the ground. Then, to underline his supremacy, he flick-flacked a reverse sweep past short third man for another boundary.

In the 16th over Steve Smith was brought on to bowl. His captain Aaron Finch was desperate for a wicket as England’s top two had strolled to 95 and were roaring along at almost 6.5 an over. Perhaps he was hoping that Smith’s brilliant 85 earlier in the piece might provide the bit of luck needed to break the partnership. Roy had other ideas.

The third ball was a full toss that was smeared over long on’s head for a maximum. The fourth ball was more sweetly timed and disappeared over the ropes straight over the bowler’s head. The fifth ball was flighted up to the batsman and was met with an almighty crunch. The white orb was sent into the stratosphere and came down somewhere in the third tier of the stadium over cow corner. According to the media manager in the press box, that is the first time anyone has ht a six that big since the new stand was built in 2011.

The last time a World Cup semi-final took place on this ground Allan Donald dropped his bat and was run out on the last ball of a tied match. Earlier in that final over, Lance Klusener had bludgeoned Damien Fleming for two of the hardest shots ever seen as the ball screamed to the cover fence.

Twenty years later, Jason Roy was channeling the spirit of Zulu and was carving a path of destruction that looked destined to end with a deserving century.

It wasn’t to be. In the 20th over, a short ball down the leg side from Cummins got big on Roy who wafted at it but madden contact with it. Bowler and ‘keeper appealed more in hope of preventing a wide being called than expectation of a wicket.

Kumar Dharmasena, who, it must be said, has had a shocker of a World Cup with a string of poor decisions, saw hit differently. The umpire raised his finger and gave the batter his marching orders.

First Roy was bewildered and signalled for a review straight away. Then Roy was furious when he realised that Bairstow had wasted his side’s only reprieve and was now defenceless against Dharmasena’s incompetence.

Then Roy completed the psychological cycle and accepted his fate. He walked off with his helmet off and his hands aloft. He whacked his pads twice, evidently furious that his three figure score had been stolen away, but he drank in the adoration of the crowd around him and was seen after with a smile non his face on the player’s balcony.

Root and Morgan made light work off the remaining runs. When Morgan bunted Jason Behrendorff to the midwicket boundary with cross batted hoik at the start of the 33rd over, the result was secured. An eight wicket win with 18 overs to spare. That still doesn’t adequately reflect the one sided nature of the encounter.

The victory was set up by the bowlers. Three wickets for Rashid and Chris Woakes with a double from Archer bundled out the Aussies for a paltry 223. Only Smith and Alex Carey, who worked hard for his 46 off 70 balls, offered any real top order resistance while Starc added a handy 29 batting at nine.

Roy and Bairstow could have been circumspect chasing a low score but they came out swinging and emphasised the gulf in quality that has existed between these two ODI teams for the better part of four years. England have built one of the most astounding white ball teams in cricket’s history and they have done so with a positive mindset and a fearless approach. Roy embodied that in Birmingham and has given his nation reason for optimism heading into Sunday’s final at Lord’s.

Waiting for them will be New Zealand. The battle between Roy and Trent Boult, a master at deceiving hyper attacking openers with beguiling swing, will be worth the admission alone.

But if Roy comes off, if he replicates the power and gumption of this semi-final winning blitz, then England’s dream of a maiden World Cup will surely materialise

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