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Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy set out on a voyage to conquer title of 'greatest ODI opening pair'

Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy
Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy
ANALYST
Modified 30 Mar 2021
Feature

With the target set at the 2017 Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup, the England team management went for a complete revamp of their white-ball approach after the 2015 debacle in Australia. Eoin Morgan led the charge, and it seemed England had found their best opening bets in the much-talked-about Alex Hales and the new kid on the block, Jason Roy. Meanwhile, Jonny Bairstow remained in the larger plans with no fixed role.

Forty innings, 3 century stands (which included the unbeaten 256-run stand against Sri Lanka in 2016) and going at almost 6 an over, Roy and Hales led the rampage for England’s new successful brand.

England entered the 2017 Champions Trophy as the favorites. But Jason Roy lost form.

Woefully out of touch, Jason Roy was dropped from the England line-up for the semi-final at Cardiff. Jonny Bairstow replaced him in the formidable England line-up as an opener for the first time and did all the hard work on a sluggish surface to get a 57-ball 43. Till then, for 6 years, he had just jumped up and down in the middle-order and warmed the benches.

Pakistan would go on to script their penultimate magic in the tournament at Cardiff and England faced an inglorious exit. But the day marked the starting point of Jonny Bairstow’s legacy as an ODI monster.

Three months later, in September 2017, Jason Roy would replace Alex Hales in the fourth ODI against West Indies. The Bristol pub-brawl controversy left Ben Stokes and Alex Hales dropped from the side.

Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow would go on to open for the first time in ODIs. England, chasing 357, had raced to 126 in the 18th over courtesy of Roy’s 66-ball 84. Bairstow supported him with a 39. England won the game through the DLS method.

Three-and-a-half years since that union, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have set trends that have further revolutionized the England brand of ODI cricket.

Jason Roy vs Jonny Bairstow: Individual numbers as openers

Jonny Bairstow is setting new trends as an ODI opener.
Jonny Bairstow is setting new trends as an ODI opener.
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Highest strike-rates for ODI openers (minimum 1,000 runs)

The Big Js of English cricket top the list.
The Big Js of English cricket top the list.

The numbers are self-explanatory. When you have a pair topping the all-time charts for batting strike-rates, the impact is visible.

Top ODI opening pairs since September 2017

Jonny Bairstow-Jason Roy lead the way.
Jonny Bairstow-Jason Roy lead the way.

Bairstow-Roy’s partnership run-rate is a clear indicator of why England have enjoyed a 2.5 W/L ratio, the highest in ODIs during this period. Eleven of those century stands have come in wins.

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The same period saw England lay their hands on the 2019 World Cup. Despite Jason Roy’s injury that led him to miss a few games, the partners in crime joined hands to play a substantial role in the victorious campaign.

Best average of opening pairs in 2019 World Cup

Bairstow-Roy made the strongest impact
Bairstow-Roy made the strongest impact

ODIs have evolved rapidly ever since the advent of the T20s, and comparing eras has become all the more difficult.

Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes mostly played ODIs against the red ball early in the morning. It’s a pacers game when the red cherry moves, and the openers’ approach isn’t very different from the first session of a Test.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly saw the transition phase from occasional reds to mandatory whites.

By the turn of the century, the pairs of Virender Sehwag-Sachin Tendulkar and Adam Gilchrist-Matthew Hayden were setting new rules. Each era had its challenges.

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Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have the most hundreds and runs as ODI opening pair.
Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have the most hundreds and runs as ODI opening pair.

Shrinking boundary sizes, super bats, two new balls, dew factor, and the ever batter-friendly rules have tilted the equation considerably favoring batters. In times like these, England identified the need to shed off the conservative approach and maximize the batting-friendly regulations and conditions.

Bairstow and Roy have been so consistent and prolific that a century stand between the two doesn’t seem remarkable anymore. Instead, it’s the manner in which they do it that is astonishing.

In the first ODI against India, the Bairstow-Roy opening stand lasted 135 runs off 86 balls. Bairstow was the aggressor with a 66-ball 94, while Roy played second fiddle with a 46 off 35 balls. The rest of England failed to collaborate for the remaining 183 runs from 214 balls.

Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow added 135 off just 86 balls in the first ODI in India.
Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow added 135 off just 86 balls in the first ODI in India.

Wary of Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s skill-set, the pair adopted a cautious approach in the next game. A run out separated them, but not before they piled up 110 from just 99 balls. Roy was the initial aggressor, falling for a 52-ball 55. Bairstow would later belt his way to a match-winning 124 from 112 balls as England chased down 337.

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In 300+ run chases, Jason Roy has the most centuries for an opener with five, and Bairstow notched up his third on Friday.

In the final ODI, Bhuvneshwar got the better of the England openers much earlier in the innings, which almost sealed the game in India’s favor. Sam Curran exhibited England’s batting depth by playing an extra-ordinary knock (95*) at No.8 to stage a fightback, which wasn’t enough as the side fell 7 runs short of India’s total and conceded the series.

The series was a clear indicator that despite batting deep, England have an overreliance on the Bairstow-Roy pair.

Eoin Morgan, the man who reshaped England’s white-ball cricket, has time and again defended England’s ultra-attacking ploy. The method of risking wickets for more runs has worked to their advantage. Their opening pair helps them with all the foundation.

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The duo don’t compete among themselves, rather complement each other’s strengths.

During the 2019 World Cup, Jonny Bairstow, in his column for the Telegraph, had mentioned how Jason Roy is a calming influence and elaborated on how their relationship is based on honest communication:

“We communicate about the bowlers, sharing views on if it’s seaming, what a particular bowler is trying to achieve, and traps they are trying to set for us and how we go about scoring runs. We will discuss what shots are working, those that are not and build a shared view on the pitch and communicating this back to the dressing room. The way Jason is striking the ball at the moment and enjoying his cricket brings a calmness to proceedings, too. His confidence is infectious.
“Players score in different areas. Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer were like that for Australia. Jason and I complement each other. We post different challenges to the bowlers, so that the opposition captain is always having to try different things.
“It’s about targeting different areas to different bowlers. The general message between us is to play strong cricket shots. As longs as we do that then it is a good platform to start from. There is no need to be too fancy or unorthodox.
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“Running between the wickets is instinctive once you have batted together several times. You understand each other’s pace. There are certain singles you take on with Jason that you would not with someone else. There are certain areas of the ground you know where he will look to score,” Jonny Bairstow wrote.

It’s clear that they bring the best out of each other.

Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy – the greatest ODI opening pair?

Only four pairs have registered more century stands in ODIs than the duo of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly top the list with 21 in 136 innings. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have 17 in 110 innings, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden had 16 in 114 innings, and Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes had 15 in 102 innings.

On Sunday, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma put up their 17th ODI century stand.
On Sunday, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma put up their 17th ODI century stand.

To give you a perspective, three of the most prolific opening pairs – Sachin Tendulkar-Virender Sehwag (India), Mark Waugh-Adam Gilchrist (Australia), and Hashim Amla-Quinton de Kock (South Africa) - have batted together 93 innings each (49 more than Bairstow and Roy), and have piled up 12, 8 and 11 century stands, respectively.

To understand the impact, let’s compare some of the prolific opening partnerships and compare their run rates and averages with what was the average run-rate and average partnership average of ODI openers during the respective pairs’ career timeframe while opening the batting.

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E.Ave stands for the average of batting averages of ODI opening partnerships in the respective eras | E.Ave RR stands for the average of run-rates in the opening partnership of ODI openers in the respective eras
E.Ave stands for the average of batting averages of ODI opening partnerships in the respective eras | E.Ave RR stands for the average of run-rates in the opening partnership of ODI openers in the respective eras

When we compare the eras, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy clearly lead the way ahead of every competition.

ODI opening pairs to have scored over 6 an over (min 1,000 runs)

E.Ave stands for the average of batting averages of ODI opening partnerships in the respective eras | E.Ave RR stands for the average of run-rates in the opening partnership of ODI openers in the respective eras
E.Ave stands for the average of batting averages of ODI opening partnerships in the respective eras | E.Ave RR stands for the average of run-rates in the opening partnership of ODI openers in the respective eras

The opening pair of Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy scored more runs than any other pair and at a much faster rate. The difference in partnership average, its run-rate and frequency of putting up big stands is much superior to their contemporaries.

They make former England ODI opening combos like Trescothick-Knight, Hales-Roy, Bell-Cook look pale. They have reached such heights that it will take an extended run of failures for them to drop off the lists.

England ought to achieve more with this pair at the top. They have failed to win any ODI series since the 2019 World Cup. They drew in South Africa, lost at home against Australia and have now lost in India too.

England cannot ask for more from their openers. While they hope the show at the top continues, at the same time, to do justice to the efforts of the Bairstow-Roy pair, they will need to reassess their middle-order batting approach that may border around ultra-aggression and recklessness against smarter teams. The white-ball leg of the India tour must serve as the eye-opener.

Published 29 Mar 2021, 11:43 IST
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