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England's batting future is here

As I skirted The Oval two Fridays back, a couple of hours before Surrey faced Kent in what turned out to be both teams' final game in this year's T20 Blast competition, the PA was playing Massive Attack's anthem to paranoia, "Angel", its wall of guitars powering towards a sky beginning to bank with dark clouds, miles long. Behind the gasometers, the new cityscape loomed.

By the time Jason Roy and Aaron Finch walked out to open the Surrey innings, the aircraft-warning lights on the tallest buildings were blinking red against the purple. Finch was the world No. 1-ranked T20 batsman but he struggled to find his timing. Roy didn't, though. The ball started to crack from his bat, and didn't stop. He hit thunderously, and as I watched from the third tier of the Bedser Stand, his power took on a different dimension, the speed of the ball through the air, along the ground and past the fielders newly apparent.

Finch finally got himself going with a giant six into the second tier of the pavilion. Dominance subtly challenged, Roy followed him, and then hit an even bigger one over the longest boundary at deep midwicket and into the crowd. It was sci-fi batting in a spectacular setting, the old gasometers dark and hulking, and just as WG would have seen them when he made his famous 224 not out here in 1866, a few days after his 18th birthday, and in the distance the gleaming Shard, which he couldn't have imagined even in his grand old age. It was ominous for Kent, whose bowlers were taken apart. Roy finished with 120 from 62 deliveries, Finch 79 from 51.

A few years ago I interviewed a golf coach called Denis Pugh. I asked him about the young players he'd seen, and who would be the best.

"A boy called Rory McIlroy," he said, his voice becoming reverential. "The ball makes a completely different sound when he hits it…"

Roy has something of that same quality. His progress may have been jagged - and in the next innings I saw him play, he was out first ball, at Lord's - but the top end of his talent reaches Shard-like heights. He strikes with just the little extra that Pugh heard as McIlroy compressed his golf ball against the club face.

As Roy laid waste to The Oval, some of England's younger Lions basked in the sunshine of a 50-over tri-series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In four games Ben Duckett made an unbeaten 220 not out and a 163 not out, Sam Billings a 175 and Daniel Bell-Drummond a 171 not out (Dawid Malan, of some vintage at 28, also made a 185 not out). Andy Flower, a man who knew cricket before this madness took hold, must have understood, as he watched them that the T20 generation was suddenly, thrillingly, here. Players who could not remember cricket without the format - Duckett was yet to turn nine during that first season of 2003 - are now professionals, and the way that they play the game is deeply imbued with that background. It is a challenge not just to them, but also to us.

I watched the Surrey and Kent players warm up at The Oval. In the nets, coaches used dog-throwers and wore helmets. Every ball was hammered like a mallet on a nail. Bats were a blur. The quality of strike from Billings and Bell-Drummond and Finch was stunning seen from up close, and it contextualised further Roy's innings (they hit it well; he hit it better).

This generation is massing beneath England's flowering white-ball teams and its less-certain Test batting side. In these transitory years of technique and method, we don't seem quite sure if, or how, some of these sublime talents can take their game across all formats.

But in a summer when Test matches outside of London have not sold out (as I write this, there are banks of empty seats at Edgbaston for the final day of the third Test, with all results possible), Roy is the kind of player who will fill grounds, as is Jos Buttler, and I'm sure in future Duckett, Bell-Drummond and Billings will too.

It may be playing devil's advocate to say so, but we may have to lessen our regard for conventional technique and conventional ways of failing if we're to fully open the future to a generation that can keep the long-form game alive in ways that make sense to them and their children.

That future looms over us now, here and ready.