Bopara hundred demands notice
Yorkshire 246 and 144 for 2 (Root 67) lead Essex 199 (Bopara 117*, Sidebottom 5-30) by 191 runs
Twelve Tests in five years since Ravi Bopara's England debut sums up his constant struggle to gain acceptance at the highest level, but much more of the resilience he displayed for Essex in taking a century off Yorkshire at Headingley and his claims for a longer opportunity will become impossible to ignore.
April has been the toughest of months for batsmen, but Bopara's stock can only have risen after his judicious 117 not out for an Essex side which managed only another 60 runs off the bat. He survived one chance on 50, Ajmal Shahzad forcing the edge but Phil Jaques, diving at third slip, failing to hold the catch.
A year ago, Bopara committed himself to county cricket, with reasonable success, only for Eoin Morgan to return from IPL to claim the last England batting place vacated by Paul Collingwood. Conceivably, the same could happen again, but this time Morgan, technically frail against Pakistan in the UAE, cannot yet get a game with Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL. Meanwhile, Bopara is showing the benefits of a prolonged education in challenging conditions that have left most batsmen throughout the country befuddled.
Of those 6o runs provided by the rest of the Essex side, the two runs registered by the last man, Tymal Mills, were the most argument. Mills blocked determinedly for 41 balls to share a last-wicket stand of 48 in 17 overs, during which Bopara reached his hundred with three successive boundaries off Ajmal Shahzad.
Bopara's only misjudgment was to run out Mills as he understandably tried to keep the strike by stealing a single after driving Anthony McGrath too firmly to Steve Patterson at mid-on. Mills was not too downcast. "I can safely say I have never batted for an hour before," he said. Tim Phillips, who batted with a runner because of back spasms suffered on the first day, also frustrated Yorkshire as he spent 41 balls over seven. From 119 for 7, Essex's last three wickets added 80.
Yorkshire's most successful bowler was Ryan Sidebottom, who managed to return figures of 5 for 30 in 24 overs while looking largely disenchanted with life. Sidebottom finished last season with career-best bowling figures against Somerset (7 for 37 as well as 11 for 98 in the match), a feat that brought Yorkshire victory in their last game of the season but one which ultimately failed to spare them from relegation.
Just like his father, Arnie, who trod the same Headingley pastures, passions are never far from the surface when Ryan bowls. But while Arnie used to become an exasperated, red-faced figure, looking so agonised that one imagined his bones were becoming more brittle by the minute, Ryan's moods are deeper, like swirling eddies in dark rivers. Arnie would tear at his thinning hair; Ryan tosses his mane of curls in disgust. Arnie made the ball rise and seam from just short of a length; Ryan relies more on swing and a fuller length. Like Arniue, Ryan gives the impression that he is wearied by the whole process and yet is as resntful of every run off his bowling as was his father before him.
Yorkshire's first-innings lead of 47 grew to 191 by the close, courtesy of a controlled opening stand of 106 in 31 overs between Joe Root and Joe Sayers. While Sayers settled into his one-an-over routine, Root gradually drove expansively and even reverse-swept Tom Westley to reach his 50 before he was caught down the leg side off Greg Smith. It will take kinder weather than predicted to allow a result on the final day.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo