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Bopara in need of an Ashes score

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Oliver Brett | 19:30 UK time, Saturday, 18 July 2009

The weekend before the Ashes began, Ravi Bopara gave a fascinating first-person account of how he felt going into the biggest Test series of his career to date.

Explaining how he was unimpressed by Australians, past or present, trying to intimidate England's players through words alone, Bopara said: "Whether the words are from Shane Warne or whoever, how are they supposed to hurt me?

"Is he trying to intimidate or put pressure on me? Pressure? Pressure is when you've got a knife in your face and someone says, 'Give me what you've got'."

He went on to explain how exactly that had happened to him when he was 12 years old, growing up in the mean streets of east London.

That kind of anecdote might explain why he often wears a carefree expression as he marches out to bat, whatever the situation, and why he betrays so little emotion in general on a cricket field.

Bopara narrowly avoids being caught by Hauritz

It is clear that he is blessed with enviable talents, and had been in terrific form all year - in all formats of the game - until this series. But he has now hit a small crisis, with scores of 35, 1, 18 and a particularly scratchy 27 behind him.

It might only be a temporary blip, and I think he is certain to keep his place in the side when England head to Edgbaston despite Ian Bell hitting a century for Warwickshire on Thursday. But if Australia were to find a way of winning the third Test, with Bopara struggling again, then the difficult number three spot might have to be re-assessed.

Part of the attraction of selecting Bopara in this England side is the knowledge that he does not come to the crease riddled with nerves or the fear of failure.

But some commentators have accused him of being a bit too casual at times - and he certainly fell to a loose stroke on Friday when he popped up a catch to short-leg off Australia's admirable, though injured, spinner Nathan Hauritz.

It was, frankly, a painful innings to watch. He was dropped on nine, and was inches away from giving mid-on a catch on 19. It must have been infuriating for him to occasionally see a number of his cuts and drives middled, but hit straight to fielders.

Nevertheless, his entire innings contained just 13 scoring shots from 93 deliveries - at a time when he and Kevin Pietersen should have been batting Australia out of the game.

Bopara is the role-model for the next generation - a boy who scrambled 10 team-mates together from his inner London state school to enter a Capital Kids competition run by the Lord's Taverners, which they won.

The England and Wales Cricket Board must be thrilled at his achievement in reaching the highest level at a time when they are stressing their various pledges to funnel cash into exactly the sort of scheme Bopara profited from.

He is one of the first to do so, and it is indicative of the strides that must still be made as the other three members of England's top four went to private school.

For what it's worth, my money's on Bopara's current malaise being a temporary problem. But it would be great if he got past 50 at least in his first innings in Birmingham.


  • Comment number 1.

    Colly comes from Shotley Bridge, a former pit village and went to the local Comp. Vaughan himself went to Silverdale Comp. Sheffield, so what top four? You make it sound like a finishing school. Northerners don't tend to go to private schools.
    Cook and Strauss went to Private School? But Pietersen was presumably out of the English school system as he was born and bred in SA.
    Bopara isn't selected to be a role model. And neither is Colly. They're supposed to be the best we have.
    Bopara hasn't been in great form all year in ODIs. Check out his average. Unfortunately he's been over-hyped and is now out of his depth. Not his fault. He's said he would be happier playing Twenty-20. He's not a Test No 3. I just hope his baptism doesn't harm him.
    Bell saved his 2005 Ashes place by two 50s at Old Trafford, the Third Test, but he wasn't ready for that Series (against a vastly superior bowling attack) and neither is Bopara ready for this one.

  • Comment number 2.

    The Ashes is a litmus test for Ravi Bopara (as well as his captain Strauss). This is the yardstick that will determine whether he's made of the right stuff or not. It will also either resolve the number three debate or keep it wide open.

    He should consider himself rather lucky that Ricky Ponting dropped a sitter at Lord's when he was on a measly 9. Sadly, he miserably failed to capitalise and fell for an unimpressive 27.

    In the unlikely event that the Aussies miraculously pull off victory tomorrow, Bopara may very well find himself sitting out the next Test.

    A loss will not be entirely his fault, though, Andrew Strauss made a strategic blunder in not enforcing the follow-on. I was immensely surprised at the decision to bat again. What sense does that make?

    Were they afraid of the wicket crumbling on the final day? Or their inability to chase in the fourth innings? Should the Aussies pull this thing off tomorrow, a distinct possibility, it will have been a serious indictment of Strauss's captaincy and Ravi Bopara's frustrating inability to seize the day.

  • Comment number 3.

    It is common sense to pick the best-performing players for your test side - which is why, whatever their past failings, both Bell and Harmison should be in this match. The failure of the selectors to pick Harmison in particular could well cost England very dearly.
    And yes, can we stop all this 'background' stuff please? We had enough of the old 'varsity' stuff years ago: now the obsession is 'da streets'.... ok for NME journalists, perhaps, but not in sport.

  • Comment number 4.

    Quite agree with Mr Brett. Bopara isn't justifying his place at the moment. But who do you replace him with? And it looks like Petersen will be out for a couple of tests too. Unlike the bowlers, where there is stiff competition for places, no one is really standing out to take his place. I saw Ian Bell at Worcester captaining the England Lions shortly before the first Test, and frankly, he was woeful. I suspect his omission thus far may well be because of those innings. Key is is good touch at the moment, but never seems to do it at test level. Any ideas?

  • Comment number 5.

    Oh dear, a couple of failures against what is still the most fiercely competitive and probably the best team in the world and out come the moaners and doom merchants. The demand for instant success and short termism are the blight of many aspects of especially sport. I seem to remember a young man in 1975 starting his test career against the Aussies, with 0, 0, (certainly got a pair on debut) then 1 and 31 I think - out he went from the test team much to the delight of the Australians who were ecstatic so see England discard Graham Gooch because new he was class. Give Bopara a chance, if he has genuine flaws in technique or temperament they will be found out at Test level and he'll be dropped, not because of a couple of bad scores against our most combative opponents.

  • Comment number 6.

    That should read "because they knew he was class" (4th line from the bottom)

  • Comment number 7.

    Whatever happens at Lords today, the No.3 slot should be assessed. It has not been right for years, even when Vaughan was holding it down in the capacity of captain.

    During the Ashes series of 2005, I questioned whether England had the weakest 3, 4 and 5 in test cricket. Two of the three are still in place and their selection at 4 and 5 is taken for granted by most pundits. The fact that the number 3 slot has come down to a choice of Bopara or Bell should be cause for concern, because neither has shown capable of securing the spot.

    It is such an important position. If the openers do well, the No.3 can come in with the new ball gone and attack the lesser bowlers to continue the impetus of the innings. If the openers have failed, the No. 3 effectively becomes an opener and has to see the new ball attack off, with considered application. He has to be prepared to carry his bat for the entire innings, not a few overs of gay abandon. It is a position that calls for flexibility both in defence and attack, not a mindset forged in 20/20 or limited over games.

    Al the great teams have a great No.3. Love him or hate him, Ponting would secure that place if he was English (or hadn't played for Oz first). Love him or hate him, Kallis would be a reasonable choice too. The reason they are hated so much is because they have been so good at what they do. If only Bopara or Bell were hated as much it would be good for English cricket.

  • Comment number 8.

    Some people just don't have it and where they come from should have nothing to do with, reverse snobbery at best.

    Bell, Key, Bopara, Adams, Ramprakash, Hick all have flattered to deceive. All have been found wanting. Admittedly some were persevered with and some were discarded quickly but none made their mark.

    It makes me realise how much Alec Stewart is still missed by England at the top of the order. Cook has as many flaws as Bopara, if not more, but is making more runs. Discuss. Perhaps Ravi doesn't care enough? Not an answer but a question.

  • Comment number 9.

    Bopara doesn't 'need' a big score, in so far as he won't be dropped if he doesn't get one. And quite right too. He should just be encouraged to play his natural game. He has countless big centuries for Essex and will come right for England.

    Next place for a batsman will come if Pietersen has to rest. Could even be a second place if Flintoff unfit and they decide they need a batsman to replace. Bell clearly remains next in line. After that, I think you take your pick: noone has a compelling case on ability, temperament, form and age. Key with some form and good temperament. Ramprakash seems to be a class above what he was when he failed to establish himself at test level. But the doubts about his temperament at Test level will remain, and he isn't young. Denly, young and talented, and some good scores recently, but doesn't have the weight of runs to demand a place. Peters has been out of form. Seems to be people who have already tried and not quite made it who have been in form: Joyce, Trott etc, rather than younger players making a case for themselves.

    Wish that Cook and Bell could regain the ability to turn starts into centuries. Line-up and back-up would then look far more solid.

  • Comment number 10.

    Bopara just needs time to shine. Everyone can see that he knows how to hit a ball, now he's learning that being No3 takes patience and an ability to read the game. He's scored 3 centuries at No3 against the Windies this year. At the end of the day I dont see anyone better waiting to come in.

    He's got the potential to be great in the position and it's going to take time and shoving him in the Ashes is a bit of a baptism of fire but by the end of it I see him making 50+ reguarly

  • Comment number 11.

    Ravi Bopara took the Cricketing world by storm when, he scored his maiden Test Match Century, against the West Indies in Barbados, in February this year, the Essex batsman was then dropped for the final Test Match of the Series in the Caribbean.

    Bopara however regained his place for the First Match of the return series against the West Indies, and Bopara repaid the faith of the selectors by scoring yet another century to get his name up on the famous Lords honours board.

    Bopara then became the first English batsman since Graham Gooch to make 3 consecutive Test Centuries, when he once again reached 3 figures against the West Indies at Durham.

    Following this rich vein of form, much was expected of Bopara going into the Ashes series against Australia.
    However the number 3 batsman has so far disappointed with a best score of 35 in 4 innings so far, he will be looking to put that right in the remaining 3 games.

  • Comment number 12.

    Well, people are living with bopara's 3 centuries against a weakened westindies side. we cant a name a consistent bowler in the windies team with taylor and edwards being inconsistent in their line and length all the time and now ravi is facing an aussie side who are more classy tthen the windies bowling line up. if he cant score against this aussie line up who are not in the same league as a mcgrath or shane warne then he doesnt deserve a place in the england side


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