n Friday night in Bloemfontein, Jason Roy’s “horrible year” – one he would later reveal has been plagued by self-doubts – got an awful lot better.
Struggling for runs since last summer, axed from the England side that went on to win the T20 World Cup and, perhaps, playing to keep his place in the 50-over equivalent, at last, everything clicked, to the tune of a quite superb 79-ball century in the First ODI defeat to South Africa.
“I actually didn’t sleep that well,” Roy admitted, speaking to group of journalists at England’s team hotel the morning after the night before. “I was a bit overcome with a few emotions and stuff like that. It’s been a turbulent few months. I woke up really well, though – it was the best five hours’ sleep I’ve had!”
Roy’s innings of 113 off 91 deliveries was something of a trademark knock, the first of 15 boundaries coming off only his third ball as South Africa’s bowlers were put under the pump during an opening partnership of 146 with Dawid Malan, before England squandered the position to fall 28 runs short chasing 299 for victory.
“It was a nice feeling to go out there and just be myself: chew on some gum, give it the full bravado, say a few things to the opposition, get in the fight a bit and it was a very proud moment,” Roy said, having felt anything but himself at times over the past 12 months.
Roy pinpoints his return from the Pakistan Super League early last spring as the moment things began to go south, the 32-year-old then pulling out of the Indian Premier League because “I needed to work on a lot of things in my head”.
By the start of the domestic season, Roy felt “a happier person” but a lean spell that became most pronounced during a “disaster” of a campaign in the Hundred led to the dreaded phone call in which he was told he was being dropped from the T20 side. In the autumn, his central contract was downgraded to an incremental deal, too.
“It was just all these things, it was like an avalanche of s*** things happening over and over again,” Roy said. “You start doubting yourself as a player, thinking people have forgotten about you even though you’ve played a huge amount of cricket, start doubting yourself as a guy, becoming reserved, which is just not me.
“To then come out and put that all in a closet, lock it away and play the way I played yesterday, I’m really proud of myself.”
Roy returned to the England set-up for the ODI whitewash defeat in Australia before Christmas, which began just days after the T20 World Cup final.
“That was a hell of a tough thing to do, being dropped from the squad and then coming in after they’d just won,” he said. “The guys didn’t really want to be there, which is fair enough, and I’ve got to go there and try to score runs. It wasn’t enjoyable.”
Both head coach Matthew Mott and captain Jos Buttler made bold public statements of support for Roy on arrival in South Africa this week, but the player himself has been under no illusions regarding the urgent need for a score, with England’s World Cup defence in India only nine months away.
“No matter what the structures of the team and the backing you’re getting, you’ve still got that element of self-doubt that comes into it,” Roy said, an unsurprising admission given the plethora of young batting talent queuing up for a crack at his shirt. They include the likes of Phil Salt and Will Jacks, who enjoyed a stellar home summer for Surrey and Oval Invincibles, often with Roy batting at the other end.
“That wasn’t easy,” Roy said. “Being where I was mentally and the lads tearing it up, but then you realise that was me once upon a time and the journey they are embarking on is incredibly special.
“The initial feeling was: ‘These guys are overtaking me’. But then it’s: ‘Pull your head in. You’ve had a great career, if it stops tomorrow, you’ve had a load of fun’.”
Roy credits the support of his wife, Elle, some “honest conversations” with Buttler and work with Surrey’s psychologist, Andrea Furst, for helping rediscover the “process” that allows one of England’s greatest ever ODI cricketers to perform at his best.
“[Get into a] good head space the night before, the day before I’m hitting it nicely, speaking positively about myself. Good conversations around the group, helping people. I think that helps me a lot when I’m giving as well,” Roy explained. “I don’t think I have done that over the last year, I’ve been very internal, worried about myself, and that’s made me internally break away from what I’m used to.
“Now I’m really enjoying my cricket again, I’m enjoying the environment, I’m enjoying where I’m at. That’s how it should be, I’m playing for England, there’s no better thing to do. I just needed a bit of reality check.”
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