Cape Town - There was a sense of inevitability as Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow repeatedly clattered Afghanistan’s bowlers to the boundary in England’s final warm-up game before the Cricket World Cup.
This has become the norm for England’s pacesetters, whose no-holds-barred approach has been instrumental to their team’s recent success.
Each of Afghanistan’s first three bowlers had their first delivery hit for four as Roy and Bairstow raced to their fifty partnership in 32 balls, setting the platform for a crushing nine-wicket win secured with 32.3 overs to spare.
Bairstow’s dismissal in the eighth over, when the score was on 77, did nothing to stem the flow, Roy finishing unbeaten on 89 in a 46-ball innings which included 11 fours and four sixes. “It was like T10 cricket,” said Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib with a wry smile in the post-match press conference.
He is not the first skipper to be left scratching his head at how to stop England’s explosive duo.
The brutality and crispness of their strokeplay immediately stands out, but it’s the consistency of the Roy-Bairstow combination that is truly exceptional. In 26 ODI innings opening together their average partnership is 64.72 – the highest of any openers in the history of ODI cricket (minimum 20 innings). They have seven century and seven half-century partnerships in that time. Eoin Morgan, who has recovered from a dislocated finger and was ready to bat if required against Afghanistan, knows how vital his opening partnership is to England’s chances at the World Cup, not only in terms of the runs they score but the marker they lay down for the rest of the team.
“When Jason is hitting it as well as that, not only does it impose our game on the opposition, it feeds right through the changing room,” said Morgan after the victory over Afghanistan. “The authoritative nature in which he plays builds confidence. And Jonny is the same. The two of them at the top of the order impose themselves on the game when they get an opportunity.”
It’s a formula that is reaping rewards for England, who approach their showpiece opener against South Africa at The Oval on 30 May sitting top of the MRF Tyres ICC ODI rankings, making them many people’s favourites to lift the trophy. It’s an unfamiliar position for a team that have only qualified for the knockout rounds once since reaching the final in 1992 and crashed out in the group stage four years ago – but one that Morgan is more than comfortable with.
“It’s a huge compliment [to go into the tournament as favourites]. The pressure is quite a huge opportunity. I’d much rather be going in as favourites than not even be considered contenders. [Before the last World Cup] we were constantly trying to find a formula that might work in the group stages. We had a lot of meetings and chats about how we could get better. Whereas tomorrow I’m playing a lot of golf. Then practice on Wednesday before the match on Thursday.”
Whatever happens at the main event, it’s been a remarkable four-year journey for Morgan and his side, who in 2015 were criticised for a conservative approach to batting which was out of step with the modern game. Now they’re the pushing the boundaries of what is possible, with Roy and Bairstow leading the charge.