Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ravi Bopara: Is it his time?

Bopara walks off delighted to know a post-match interview
with Nick Knight awaits him.
Ravi Bopara is one of those players who, no matter how much some areas of the cricket watching general public don't want him to, continually turns up in the England squad.

After an impressive ODI series against Australia, where he scored 182 runs at an average of 91.00 and also managed to take 4 economical wickets, Bopara now finds himself in the Test squad for The Oval.

Bopara comes in for Jonny Bairstow who, having been found wanting on the short ball by the West Indians, has been sent back to Yorkshire to continue his development. Whilst it's disappointing for Bairstow, he is only 22 and there is certainly promise there. However, if he struggled with Kemar Roach then it's difficult to see how he would've overcome Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel.

Bopara was also selected ahead of Eoin Morgan, who held the number 6 spot ever since Paul Collingwood retired and Ian Bell moved up the order. But an incredibly poor series against Pakistan in the UAE and his decision to sit on the bench at the IPL means that Morgan has gone back to being seen as a one day player for England, rather than a Test player. Morgan was impressive against the poor Australian tourists, but against a swinging ball his technique is questionable.

Rather than call up someone deemed to be in form from the county game, something which would've occurred before this new modern era, England return to the familiar and his name's Ravi Bopara.

Bopara made his Test debut aged 22 in 2007, where he infamously picked up three ducks in 5 innings against the Sri Lankans. He wasn't seen again in the whites of Test cricket until 2009, where he came in at 3 against the West Indies and made three consecutive centuries. This success meant that he came in at three against the Australians in the 2009 Ashes series and in the seven innings he played before being replaced by Jonathan Trott at The Oval, he could only amass 105 runs at an average of 15. He was sent back to Chelmsford where his form had more dips than an Alton Towers roller coaster, but in 2011, after an injury to Jonathan Trott, Bopara returned to the Test fold against India. With everyone around him scoring runs with ease and Bopara knowing he was nothing more than a fill in for a shoulder injury, Bopara walked to the crease at Edgbaston with England 596-4 and only made 7 before he was out LBW to Mishra. At The Oval, where England were 487-5 when Bopara walked to the crease, he finished on 44 not out as England declared on 591-6. After the 12 Tests Bopara has played, his average currently stands at 34.56, which isn't that bad until you take out the runs he made against the West Indies.

If you looked up confidence player in the dictionary, a faded picture of Ian Bell would be covered up with one of Ravi Bopara. Whilst he has the technique, Bopara's mental frailties have always been exposed on the international stage. After the West Indies series, he had all the swagger of someone who spends a lot of time with Kevin Pietersen, but during the Ashes series, he was scratchy, slow and, especially at Lord's, incredibly painful to watch. Bopara, now 27, returns to the Test squad knowing that he has the chance to press down a claim for that number 6 spot. He's older, more experienced and his excellent ODI series against the Aussies aside, Bopara has been playing relatively well for Essex this season, when their matches haven't been flooded off. His unbeaten century against Yorkshire back in April, having come in on a hat-trick ball the night before and somehow surviving the incredibly testing conditions, was played with authority and, with help from the lower order, led Essex from 42-5 to a more reasonable 199 all out. Having been out with injury for much of May, Bopara led Essex to victory over Gloucestershire with an unbeaten 120 in the CB40 match at Chelmsford in June.

Bopara is in some kind of form, he has the advantage over those competing for that number 6 spot of being able to bowl and become that bit part bowler England have been lacking since the retirement of Paul Collingwood. He has been given another chance to prove himself and now Ravi needs to grab this opportunity and prove to his doubters that he can do it. He, and England, are coming up against one of, if not the, best bowling attacks in world cricket at the moment and everyone, not just Bopara, will need to be on top of both their game and their mind. For Bopara, he will be tested by pace and line and length. Early on in his innings, he's rarely pretty to watch as he walks across his stumps a lot and is likely to nick off into the slips, something which the South Africans will surely know. It will be challenging, but if Bopara can come through it, then England will hope that he can finally blossom into the player that many at Essex know he can be.

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