England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Cardiff May 21, 2011

Bopara favourite for Test position


More than four months after completing England's finest achievement in many years by retaining the Ashes 3-1 in Australia, the majority of Andrew Strauss's Test squad will reconvene for the first match of summer which, if it goes well, will put England on course for the No. 1 ranking.

Nine of the team that completed the innings-and-83-run victory in Sydney will line-up in Cardiff to face Sri Lanka. The two who won't be there are the retired Paul Collingwood and the injured Tim Bresnan and their replacements have been the only real debates for the selectors ahead of naming a 12-man squad.

There has been plenty of time to consider who will fill Collingwood's shoes in the middle order and the signs point strongly to Ravi Bopara. He didn't make the most of his first innings for the Lions in Derby when he fell for 17, but the feeling is that the decision had already been made. That also means that Eoin Morgan's 193 came too late, although it was a commanding innings that showed his immense natural ability.

Bopara, though, has gained credit for the decisions he has made in recent months, most notably declining two IPL offers to remain with Essex. After overcoming a tricky start to the season he has made two Championship hundreds and, importantly, bowled plenty of overs to develop his second-string.

Meanwhile, Morgan played nine Twenty20 innings over six weeks but then waltzed into the Lions and looked as though he'd been playing first-class cricket for months. In many ways it would have made the selectors' job easier had Morgan failed (or at least not scored a near double hundred). Morgan has now indicated he will return to the IPL if he isn't selected in the Test squad, a move that could well raise a few eyebrows. He will look particularly bad if someone breaks a finger on Wednesday and he's back in India.

The choice of pace-bowling cover could be one of a few impressive performers from the early stages of the domestic season. Given that Bresnan's Ashes role was to pitch the ball up and find swing, Ajmal Shahzad is the likeliest option and has impressed the selectors with his work ethic over the winter. It shows the depth currently available that Steven Finn, who played three Ashes Tests and all of last summer, has slipped down the pecking order.

Below those two the return of Graham Onions is being very closely monitored although it would be dangerous to rush him back too soon from such a serious injury, while Jade Dernbach is making significant strides as he showed with 5 for 44 against the Sri Lankans.

It all means that none of the pace bowlers who do play can afford to coast. The most under pressure could well be Stuart Broad, England's new Twenty20 captain, as he returns to the Test side after injury. Firstly he has to show his body isn't becoming brittle, but also that he can contribute significant hauls. Currently he has 99 Test wickets at 35, a number that has to start coming down.

The other player with plenty of eyes on him will be Kevin Pietersen. After recovering from his double hernia he has played two matches for Surrey (one an innings defeat against Cambridge University) and it's a crucial summer for him if he really wants to regain his standing as England's premier batsman. The selectors showed they were willing to drop him from the one-day side last year and Andy Flower isn't one to accept passengers.

Possible squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, James Anderson, Ajmal Shahzad

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2011, 8:16 GMT

    Right now, Morgan > Bopara as a batsman ( lefty is just pure class )

    I would try Hildreth ahead of Bopara as well.

  • ankur on May 22, 2011, 7:30 GMT

    One really wonders, why it is so tough for english selectors to give youngsters a chance? you always have the same players getting back into test side every other season......it seems like Ian Bell,they want to keep giving him a chance till he finally succeeds!

    Are there no young batsmen who can make their debut?

  • J Ranjith on May 22, 2011, 5:10 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer: Looking at the results by England since 1 Jan 2009, they have played only 14 meaningful test matches and won Ashes twice and drew against SA, but their win-loss ratio is 6:3 with 5 draws. That's an above-average record, that's it considering how pathetic Aussies are in last four years, with Ponting also not playing well since 2007. England loses 1 match for every 2 important wins. Other than that, they have played 15 matches against WI, Pak and Bangladesh. And, England fans are over excited still with Ashes win. 2005 Ashes win was really wonderful as they beat Aussie legends, after that, England is just superior over Aussies, that's it. Reaching no.1 ranking is thus far ahead, it's good to aim at, but constant chatting about reaching no.1 is not good unless they perform really well against better teams this season, albeit at home. Let us see what future brings to us but please do not overestimate England team and get disappointed.

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    Bopara over Morgan is a stupid decision. Morgan is a class act - Bopara not so much :(

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2011, 2:57 GMT

    I seriously fail to understand human thought process. I was angry, and could understand why people used to bash India even in some irrelevant blogs. I feel embarrassed by some of the comments from my fellow countrymen (fellow Indians) saying "England will bash SL" blah blah blah.. Certain degree of humility from us would without any doubt enhance our reputation as a great champion. Anyways, back to the subject, just because Bopara ditched IPL for test matches does not make him a better player. Also, I believe Bopara was given ample chances in the past. I may be wrong though. If he was tried and tested, I would be inclined towards a better player.

  • luke on May 22, 2011, 2:42 GMT

    Gary you sum it up there....i wouldn't have Bopara anywhere near the test team , it seems his medium pacers are giving him a big edge.

    If the selectors dont want to go with Morgan please get Hildreth in at 6 im sure he would do well and certainly deserves a chance.

    I think Woakes is going to have a big future in the test team but it is probably a little to early for him he has plenty of time on his side

  • Gareth on May 21, 2011, 22:41 GMT

    To the commenters that say Bopara is a better player of spin / better in subcontinental conditions (even though the match is in Cardiff) - Bopara played 3 matches in Sri Lanka - and averaged 8 with the bat! His bowling isn't much use either: 10 Tests so far and only 1 wicket to show for it.

  • Garry on May 21, 2011, 22:07 GMT

    Bopara is a handy cricketer but Morgan is a class act. This early in the summer Bopara's seamers could be handy and maybe with Prior at 7 they feel they'll have enough batting but Morgan is the long term player and if England were serious he'd be in there now from this test onwards.

  • MOHAMMAD on May 21, 2011, 22:01 GMT


  • Kristen on May 21, 2011, 19:50 GMT

    Bopara should be given the role as he has shown determination to reject IPL contracts, also he has score 2 centuries this years in difficult conditions, which have saved Essex from defeat. He is also a decent bowler(clocked at around 78-82 mph) and I have met him and he is a very nice person. Best of luck to him

  • No featured comments at the moment.