Bopara worth bearing in mind
When he left the pitch after his dismissal in Pallekele with England's defence of their World T20 all but over, it seemed Ravi Bopara may not represent England again.
Devoid of confidence, Bopara's record in recent games has been not so much modest as agoraphobic: his last eight international innings have yielded two double figure scores - the best being 22 - and three ducks. World-weary, diffident and even sad, he has looked unrecognisable from the carefree player who had once scored centuries in three successive Tests.
But, as Bopara returns for Chittagong Kings in the next few days, it may be time for the England selectors to consider him once again for the ODI side.
England require an allrounder to balance the side. With five specialist batsmen (Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan), four specialist bowlers (James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn) and a wicketkeeper (to be decided) all highly likely to feature at start the Champions Trophy in five months, it is clear that they require someone who can reliably provide another 10 overs and bat in either defensive or offensive fashion. Bopara may yet be that man.
Samit Patel has made a decent claim for the position in the first two ODIs in India. His batting, in particular, appears well-suited to the role - he averages 37.00 in ODIs with a strike-rate of 95.62 - but concerns over his bowling linger. He has not taken a wicket in his last 10 ODIs and, in that time, has delivered 56 overs at a cost of 277 runs and only twice contributed a full 10-over allocation. While his ODI economy-rate, 5.42 overall, the effectiveness of his gentle left-arm spin on Indian pitches may well not be replicated on home pitches in June.
Bopara offers a viable alternative. His ODI economy-rate is an impressive 4.63 - better than Anderson or Broad - which drops to 3.23 in his last 11 ODIs as his well-controlled medium-pace has improved and, while his batting average, 30.62, and strike-rate, 75.68, are inferior to Patel's, it is worth noting that, at No. 6, Bopara's strike-rate rises to 90.90. As he showed with unbeaten innings of 45 in 16 balls against Bangladesh at Edgbaston made from No. 7 and 37 from 22 balls against India in Cardiff made from No. 5, he has the power and ranger of strokes to add late impetus to an innings. The selectors will not have forgotten his cultured innings of 60 against South Africa in a low-scoring game in the 2011 World Cup, either. It led to a victory and was one of the higher points for England in a dismal campaign.
But there is a sense that they may have lost patience with him. It is true that he has been on the periphery of the England sides for several years - he has played 118 international games for England across the three formats - without ever nailing down a position. It is true, too, that younger men have passed him in the struggle for a Test place. There are those who have concluded that Bopara is the sort to go missing under pressure; not so much the sort you want beside you in a trench, but opposite you in the enemy's trenches.
But it would be wrong to judge Bopara on the form he showed in the last few months of 2012. Troubled by matters off the pitch, he was unable to dedicate himself fully to his work and his performance suffered. He is better than the shuffling mess that was, against all logic, promoted to bat at No. 3 at Trent Bridge in September. While he will need to prove he has rediscovered the ability to focus on his game, he is still only 27 and should have the best part of his career in front of him.
There are other candidates. Chris Woakes, Luke Wright, Tim Bresnan and Ben Stokes are among those who might do a good job for England. The selectors may also decide that the wicketkeeper should bat at No. 6 and allow the inclusion of five specialist bowlers with Broad or Swann batting as high as No. 7. Bearing in mind that four of England's current top five in the ODI side - Trott, Pietersen, Cook, Morgan and Pietersen - currently feature in the top five of England's highest all-time ODI averages, then that may not be as big a risk at it appears at first glance. Bell and Patel feature in the top 16, too.
But, in English conditions, a seam-bowling allrounder capable of batting in the top seven will remain the preference. If Bopara can prove he has put his troubles behind him, he is worth bearing in mind.
Of more immediate concern to England ahead of the third ODI, for which Tim Bresnan will return to contention having recovered from bruising just above his knee, is how they bowl to MS Dhoni. England's assistant coach, Richard Halsall, said the side were frustrated that they had let match-defining opportunities slip away from them in the second ODI, but it might be more accurate to admit that Dhoni wrestled them away.
"At one stage they were 119 for 4, a great opportunity, and even when they made 285 we got to 60 for 1 after 10 overs and were thinking 'we are going to win this'," Halsall said. "The disappointment is that we created two very good opportunities to win a game of cricket in India, which is very hard to do, and we didn't take them. It was a heavy defeat and the lads were disappointed they didn't deliver."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo