Bopara, Westley answer coach's call
Essex 253 for 1 (Westley 114*, Bopara 112*) trail Kent 387 (Stevens 105, Nash 82, Ryder 5-54) by 134 runs
Nearly two years have passed since Ravi Bopara played the last of his 13 Tests and it is possible that, from here on, he will have to satisfy himself with piling up a mountain of one-day international caps. On the evidence of this highly disciplined century, however, the desire to bat long and big burns as brightly as ever.
Bopara has represented England close to 150 times in limited-overs cricket, most recently during the home series against Sri Lanka, but he will need plenty more innings like this one against Kent to force his name back up the five-day pecking order.
For Essex, though, the future can take care of itself. What they needed here and now was something to kick-start a promotion challenge in the Championship's second division - and the return of Bopara to the No. 3 slot could not have been better timed.
Head coach Paul Grayson described the county's four-day campaign after seven matches with only one victory as "pretty average". On the evidence of half a match here, another draw looks likely but at least Bopara has helped to fix Essex's batting problems on his return to the domestic scene.
Grayson's team had not scored 300 in the first innings of any of their last four matches. They still have a bit of work to do on that front in Canterbury but a significantly bigger total should be on their agenda following an unbroken second wicket stand of 229 between Bopara and fellow century-maker Tom Westley.
Coming together in the sixth over, the pair threatened to make even more hay during an afternoon session when batting looked just about as comfortable as two men can make it when facing a persevering and not untalented attack.
True, Bopara was close to falling for nought when edging Mitch Claydon just short of first slip. But immediately after he lunch he punished a half-volley from the same bowler with as sweetly a timed cover drive as you are ever likely to see.
There was another lapse, when he had 18, on which Sam Billings was unable to capitalise as the ball - again delivered by Claydon - flew high to the keeper's right off an outside edge but for the next couple of hours both Bopara and Westley drove, cut and clipped with real freedom.
The pair had eased into the 60s and more of the same seemed likely during the final session. Instead, a combination of a bit of cloud cover following several hours of unbroken sunshine and Kent's refusal to come quietly meant that, suddenly, almost every run had to be grafted for.
In many ways, though, that made Bopara's innings even more commendable while Westley - having fallen for 95 against Surrey a few weeks ago - was equally determined not to miss out on three figures.
The opener was first to raise his bat, picking out a single after facing 26 balls while in the 90s. And Bopara was more cautious still, taking 42 deliveries to accumulate those 10 so important runs.
For Westley, this was first-class century No. 8; for Bopara, No. 24. Given that Kent still have a healthy lead and considering how the pitch has played so far, neither knock may contribute to an Essex victory but at least the pair have answered coach Grayson's call for some top-order responsibility.
David Lloyd is a former chief cricket correspondent of PA and the Evening Standard