England v Australia, 2nd ODI, NatWest Series, The Oval July 1, 2012

Bopara the latest to click for England

England players keep rising to the challenge in one-day cricket, as Ravi Bopara's all-round contribution helped the team to an eighth win in a row

At each stage of this season the expectation has been that the next challenge will push England harder. West Indies were going to be better in one-dayers than Tests and better still in the Twenty20, while Australia, ranked No. 1 in the world, would push this England 50-over side to their limits. That could still happen over the remaining three matches, but at the moment the home side are winning and the margins are getting wider not narrower.

The latest victory, by six wickets at The Oval with more than four overs to spare, takes them to eight in a row and equals their best run in one-day internationals. Some will no doubt pick holes in the three oppositions by saying Pakistan were not very interested after a Test whitewash, West Indies cannot play the moving ball and Australia have not warmed up, but that would do England a huge disservice.

While maintaining all the usual caveats about England's record in Asia and at World Cups, a formidable one-day team is taking shape. With each victory, certainly the recent ones during this home season, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle has slotted into place. Against West Indies it was Ian Bell's return as opener followed by the flourishing hundred stand with Alastair Cook at The Oval which showed that two orthodox batsmen can work together.

Moving into the Australia series, at Lord's it was the return to form, in breathtaking fashion, of Eoin Morgan, who is crucial to the long-term direction of this team. Then, on Sunday, in front of a full house who savoured every moment of Australia's struggle (try telling them there is too much England-Australia as chants of "easy, easy" went around the ground) it was the turn of Ravi Bopara to take his share of the limelight, with 82 off 85 balls to take England to the brink of victory.

Bopara always seems to be in the position where each series is his 'big' - or even last - chance. Already, at this stage of the season, the murmurings were starting again, despite his 59 in the Twenty20 against West Indies. His two significant opportunities to make a mark in the 50-over format - at West End and Lord's - had ended with edges against Marlon Samuels and Clint McKay.

There is a generation of young batsmen trying to force their way in, even if they are not yet quite bashing the door down, but Bopara started his career so young that it is easy to forget that he is only 27; a batsman's prime is thought to be from around 28 to 32. The best years could be ahead of him although chances will not be endless.

"I think I'm batting as well as I ever had," he said. "A few changes I've made over the last six months have worked for me. It was nice, I enjoyed myself. I told myself to just watch the ball and hit it. That's when I play my best."

It was a very good day for Bopara all-round. He struck with his third ball to claim the key wicket of Michael Clarke and stymie Australia's momentum - his five overs cost just 16 runs - and it should not be underestimated how playing a part in one discipline can benefit another. With five frontline bowlers Alastair Cook does not have to fill many overs at the moment, but by bowling Bopara before Graeme Swann he showed some flexibility that was rewarded.

Bopara, though, still remains prone to the occasional brain fade which will not be going unnoticed by Andy Flower. It feels harsh to criticise a matchwinning innings, but the early stages brought some uncertain running and neither could he stay right until the end, as he chanced a single to mid-off. Yet either side of those moments were the drives, pulls and flicks that highlight his quality.

This was comfortably his highest score against Australia after 10 previous innings had brought a best of 49, also at The Oval, after the tough 2009 Ashes series which set back his Test career. Bopara is still trying to get a sustained run at reclaiming that place in England's five-day batting order - he would have played against West Indies except for an untimely thigh strain - but Jonny Bairstow's early problems and now the form Bopara is showing surely mean he will get his chance against South Africa.

"I'm not thinking about Test cricket at the moment, we have three more games against Australia we have to win and that's all I'm concentrating on," he said. "We just have to look after what have to do in the next few days rather than think a month ahead."

Over those next few days England could wrap up their seventh consecutive home one-day series win with victory at Edgbaston. Then the possibility of that 5-0 series whitewash, which would be enough to send them top of the one-day table, would be tantalisingly close. The expectation is that Australia will get better - but if they do this England team will just see it as another challenge to overcome.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on July 4, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    @5wombats on (July 04 2012, 14:18 PM GMT) Alot of games seem to be played there

  • Martin on July 4, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    @2704 - and what a great stadium that place is. They built it next to the Institute for Myopia; Another fine edifice.

  • John on July 4, 2012, 9:29 GMT

    @jmcilhinney on (July 03 2012, 08:53 AM GMT) Eng were whitewashed by Pakistan in a ODI series earlier this year. All the matches were played at the Inmyownficticioushead Arena.

  • John on July 3, 2012, 8:53 GMT

    @ATIMAYANK on (July 03 2012, 06:23 AM GMT), exactly what series against Pakistan did they lose? Do you mean the one that they won 4-0? I'll be the first to admit that England haven't always looked the goods, especially away from home, but people are only talking about their becoming #1 because it's starting to look like a real possibility. Like most England fans, I noted that it was mathematically possible before the series but didn't consider it realistic. I personally predicted 3-2 either way. The fact that England could realistically become #1 suggests noone else has been consistently good either, e.g. India last in CB Series, Australia 2-2 against WI, India and SL failed to make the Asia Cup final, Pakistan whitewashed by England. If England don't deserve it then who and why? If England take it then, as with Tests, SA will soon have a chance to take it from them. As for England playing most of their games at home, have you actually checked that that's true? I don't think it is.

  • mayank on July 3, 2012, 6:23 GMT

    Bopara is a late bloomer. He always had promis but looked ordinary at international level. I hope now is his time and he will capitalise. Also its interesting to note that the side which plays maximum at home becomes number 1. How these talks of England becoming number 1 have gained momentum. Just last year they looked the 5-6th best side in the world cup and lost series to India and pakistan(both away notably). England in tests too dint look much better against the Pakistanis.

  • Andrew on July 3, 2012, 0:23 GMT

    @jmcilhinney - regardless of height, he wasn't watching the ball & got into an awkward position. It will of been noted. @TheHoneymonster - he didn't play it well, & I would imagine ther will certainly be a few short ones to see how he goes. Whilst most batsmen get trapped by a bouncer at some stage, I don't recall too many almost heading the ball like in soccer. As for Warner in the WIndies, the pitches that series was played on, balls pitching short often barely rose above the pads, either way if opposing teams think Warner is suspect - have a crack I say!

  • Dummy4 on July 2, 2012, 21:34 GMT

    Rohit Sharma of India. Both started off their careers in style,but then faded away. Also,both of them look really classy and seem to have that extra bit of time before playing show which is a sign of a very good batsman,always look brilliant when they play domestic cricket but sadly don't convert their talent into performance at the big stage. Rohit has more time than Bopara though as he's much younger but good to see Bopara amongst the runs. A fine player of fast bowling and even a better player of spin. A player who'll surely succed in Indian Conditions. England should keep him in the fray for that no.6 spot because that lad Bairstow is a walking wicket in India against quality spin. Morgan struggled in UAE,so he's fallen a bit[Even though he's a fine fine player]. Bopara at 6 in India is the answer!

  • John on July 2, 2012, 15:56 GMT

    @satish619chandar on (July 02 2012, 12:03 PM GMT) Very respectful and appreciated comments

  • Samuel on July 2, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    Meety - there isn't a batsman in the world who hasn't been pinged by a short ball at some point in their career. At least it was someone as quick as Cummins - I remember David Warner getting hit on the helmet by that speed merchant Darren Sammy on a slow pitch in the Caribbean recently. He plays the short ball pretty well, if I were an Aussie bowler I wouldn't waste my time banging it in half way down.

  • Satish on July 2, 2012, 12:03 GMT

    If at all i could equate, i would put both Rohit Sharma and Bopara in same league.. Both are equally elegant batsmen and scores their runs with minimum fuss, both are heavy under achievers and never did justice to their talents.. It will be great for England if he continues in same vein.. He did wonderful job in middle overs in UAE too.. Bowling a big plus.. Usually when a team is on high, everyone will perform.. England certainly on a high and every replacement at every position is doing it for them.. Kudos.. Really hope for whitewash and they become the No.1 across all formats..

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