South Africa in England 2012 September 3, 2012

England's Bopara conundrum

After a self-inflicted break, Ravi Bopara's form with the bat has slumped and it is beginning to pose a dilemma for England

When Ravi Bopara bowled Hashim Amla at Lord's, and celebrated with polite handshakes from his team-mates, he had the wide smile of a man enjoying the game. A few hours later, when he edged Ryan McLaren behind for 6, he walked off wearing the expression of someone with the weight of world on his shoulders.

It has been a tough few weeks for Bopara, stemming from the personal problems that forced him to withdraw from the second Test against South Africa at Headingley. There is no need to speculate on what those problems were, but since returning to action he has had a miserable run with the bat: 1, 3, 2, 16, 0 and 6.

Yet his bowling is as effective as ever in one-day internationals. His 2 for 34 at Lord's included the wickets of Amla (who many of England's frontline bowlers have struggled to dismiss this season) and Faf du Plessis. It followed a tight 10-over spell at The Oval, just the second time in his ODI career he had bowled his full quota and he is giving Alastair Cook a valuable option. This season he averages 23.28 with the ball in ODIs - with an economy rate of just 3.46 - and let's not forget he almost removed Amla early in his triple hundred in the Test series.

"Ravi's bowled well all summer and manages to keep picking up wickets," Cook said. "He's always had a bit of a golden arm, but I think he's managed to control his length a little bit better than in the past. He bowls wicket to wicket, and a lot less four-balls."

The problem is, however, that as one of the top five he needs to score runs. Batting orders rarely have everyone in top form, but Bopara looks so short on confidence that he is being carried by the others. Coupled with Cook attracting some good deliveries against the new ball there is a lot of onus on Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan.

Cook, though, did not sound overly concerned about his Essex team-mate: "You get a little bit frustrated, like anyone, when you're not scoring runs," he said. "But that's why it's great when you have both strings to your bow - like he does. It's not quite happening with the bat for him at the moment but he showed his class with the bat against Australia, and he's certainly making a massive contribution with the ball at the moment."

It is hard not to feel a little sympathy for Bopara, although it is not often a common senitment used in comment sections or social media. Things had all started to look so promising for him earlier in the season against Australia where he scored 182 runs in four innings to hint at a greater maturity to his game. After a match-winning 82 at The Oval he even said he thought he "was batting as well as ever".

Then came a tough Test return at The Oval where he made 0 and 22, twice falling to Dale Steyn, but he would certainly have had the Headingley Test and probably Lord's as well to try and convince the selectors he was was the man for No. 6. But his self-inflicted absence forced him to watch James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow leapfrog him in the queue to the extent that, even if Kevin Pietersen's exile continues into the India Test series, Bopara is no certainty to be there.

The other, more immediate, problem for England is that they are in danger of heading into the World Twenty20 with their No. 3 badly out of touch. Bopara is inked in for that position following a steady half-century against West Indies earlier the season in what is an inexperienced top order outside of Eoin Morgan and, to a lesser degree, Craig Kieswetter.

Yet the shortest format may just be Bopara's best route back to form. There is really no choice but to play shots (despite the maxim that 20 overs is longer than you think) and exploiting the six Powerplay overs will be a key period in Sri Lanka. Maybe the less time Bopara has to worry about building a score can free his mind to be more instinctive.

His place in the one-day side is probably secure for the final match of the series. Cook did not sound like a captain who wanted to dispense with his bowling, while there are concerns over Trott's hand injury. However, one of the major debates this season has been whether England are too wedded to picking bowlers because of their batting skills and the reverse situation is quickly coming to the fore about Bopara.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2012, 20:14 GMT


  • K on September 5, 2012, 19:53 GMT

    A guaranteed wicket of Gilly by itself justified Freddie's selection in terms of the runs saved. Creating chances against Amla is necessary but not sufficient! "Could have", "should have", "would have" don't justify England not taking good care of Bopara. They only need to look at what happened when another player felt he was not being taken good care of! If Bopara MUST BE in the eleven, then respect his batting position at №11! How many strike bowlers are thrust in the top 6 against the best attack,…and repeatedly?…Unfair! plain and simple! Imagine WI requiring Ambrose or the Aussies requiring McGrath to bat at these positions‼…They also created a few chances against a few batsmen, didn't they?…

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    I cannot believe that a bowler (part time or full time) who took Amla easily + the pressure he created by drying up runs, is being berated like this. If Bopara had not bowled those polls in Lords and Oval surely SA would have thrashed you 4 - 0.

  • K on September 5, 2012, 13:27 GMT

    Bopara just proved my point (Posted by 12thUmpire on (September 04 2012, 15:05 PM GMT)). England unfairly exposed him to a strong opposition instead of awaiting a weaker attack, and then give him an extended run, despite what his Essex mate Goochy thinks of him.

  • Jon on September 5, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    It really is ridiculous that batsmen in the England team are allowed to fail for match after match to try and regain their form where a bowler is left out if he has a couple of average games (unless you@re called Broad).

    Bopara should be allowed to regain his form at county level and then get in line to come back into the team. England should be putting out the eleven best players in the country on that day, not using international games as some sort of training match. It is not only unfair on other batsmen who are on form but also to the fans who pay a lot of money to come and see England's best team.

  • John on September 5, 2012, 7:58 GMT

    @Rastus on (September 04 2012, 15:17 PM GMT), while bowlers do get a bit of a raw deal, it's not quite the same thing. Look at Amla this summer. If England had held their catches then he wouldn't have passed 50 and would have made some low scores. A batsman might get a good ball first up that, if he had survived, he could have gone on to make a big score, e.g. Amla dropped on 2 in the second Test. If a bowler performs badly then they have done so over several overs at the very least.

  • John on September 5, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    @12thUmpire on (September 04 2012, 15:05 PM GMT), I have no doubt that Cook will open the batting each and every time he plays an ODI (and Test for that matter) for England. Let's not forget that it wasn't that long ago that Cook scored three hundreds. If he ever does go through a prolonged period of poor form then I would expect him to be dropped from the team before being dropped down the order. The only way I can see him not opening is in a rain-shortened match where they may want to open with a genuine big hitter instead.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2012, 18:30 GMT

    Eeeer Sundar, check the photo mate....

  • Steve on September 4, 2012, 18:13 GMT

    If you listen to Graham Gooch and most of Ravi's contemporaries they know that Ravi is a special talent. He's a slow starter and someone who (so far) has not had much luck? Look at that caught behing dismissal at the Oval - sure he probably touched it - but it didn't show on replays or on hotspot. Ravi didn't think he touched it either but snicko confirmed a noise - A.D. He might of (ok he was) been OUT but that was unlucky and seems typical of his fortune to date. England can't go on with him failing though but he needs to assured of a decent run in the side. Maybe he was and this is coming to an end soon? I for one wish him success and hope for a breakthrough knock tomorrow. His bowling has been amazing and he must be counting Amla as one of his bunnies few can say (or even think) that! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • Srinivas on September 4, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    I have been baffled to put it mildly over the England ODI team composition over the years. The ECB and Team management always seems to favor the approach of picking players based on stats and team requirements instead of picking some players purely on talent. It worked well over the last couple of years but, it seems like they are denying the opportunity for some worthy individuals. Bopara, who is more of a lower order batsman (quite effective). But, shouldn't bat in the top order. I'm not saying based on his performances or the lack there of in batting but based on the just the way he bats.

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