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September 23, 2011
Graeme Swann's first match as England captain could not, statistically, have gone any better, as England rampaged to their first ten-wicket victory in the Twenty20 format. Likewise, his one big decision on the night also paid handsome statistical dividends, as Ravi Bopara's medium-pacers were entrusted with a full quota of four overs, and responded with an England record analysis of 4 for 10.
"If you give someone a chance to bowl at the death who never normally does it, and he gets 4 for 10 in 3.4 overs, I'll take all the plaudits, thank you very much," joked Swann, who claimed his decision had been swayed by the hold that Bopara had over his batting in practice. "It takes a world-class death bowler to get me out three times in every net. I'm just glad I got the chance to be captain to show everyone how good he is."
Joking aside, England's performance on the night was ruthless. At 42 for 0 after 24 balls, West Indies briefly looked capable of putting up a fight, but once Samit Patel had made the first breakthrough at the end of the Powerplay, they went on to lose all ten of their wickets at a rate of almost one an over. It was a state of affairs that left Bopara feeling "embarrassed" to have swiped a record that will be hard for his more regular bowling colleagues to overhaul, but in terms of his career progression, his evening's work was another important step in his allround development.
From the moment he chipped into the Oval Test victory with a largely forgotten 44 not out against India, Bopara has enjoyed the most productive month of his career since his three hundreds in a row against West Indies in the spring of 2009. His ODI series against India included a gutsy 96 at Lord's and 37 not out from 22 balls in partnership with Jonny Bairstow at Cardiff, and now this performance - while of spurious merit against a team as outclassed as West Indies proved to be - could yet be significant when it comes to the World Twenty20 on the slow, low decks of Sri Lanka next September.
"I think medium pacers in Twenty20 cricket, in the middle overs, are very important," said Bopara. "Like spinners you have to put pace on the ball, try to hit the ball, and on big fields like this they can be very handy. I fancy myself bowling in the subcontinent, where it can be quite low and difficult to get away at times, so hopefully I'll get a chance, especially if Graeme is captain."
Bopara, however, knows that a lot can happen between now and then, which is a lesson he has learnt since that last run of international form two years ago. "You can never bank on being around, you have to keep performing," he said. "I just want to take one step at a time and not get too far ahead of myself, because that happened when I got those three hundreds in a row. I got a bit ahead of myself, saying that in the next five games, I wanted to make it eight in a row. And when you get above your station that's when you fall quite hard.
"But I definitely feel more of an England player now, especially over the last month. A lot of it is in my own mind, because it's easy when things are going well, to have a good mindset. It's when things ain't going so well, that's when it's very tough. But that 40 in the Test freed me up and I played with quite a free spirit in the one-dayers. I said to myself, back yourself and hit the ball which I've tried to do for Essex for a number of years. I'm glad it's come off, and long may it continue."
Swann harbours similar sentiments about his Twenty20 captaincy. With Stuart Broad unlikely to feature again this year, and Eoin Morgan having undergone shoulder surgery, there's a very real prospect of his role being extended into the one-off fixture at Eden Gardens on October 29. "I'd like to think so, if we get to that point and those guys aren't involved," he said. "Hopefully I'll do a good job on Sunday and my name will still be in the hat, because I enjoyed every moment of today."
Swann particularly enjoyed the vocal support of a packed 17,000 crowd, who defied the chilly conditions and the odd circumstances of the series to get fully behind their team - to an extent that England are not used to receiving this summer. "It's the first crowd we've played in front of in England for the last two months who've really been on our side," he said. "The difference between the noise when we took wickets and hit boundaries, and the fever pitch for the Indian batsmen [in the ODIs] was great to behold. A lot of that has to do with how well we've played this summer, and hopefully we'll continue to do that."
Darren Sammy, West Indies' defeated captain, took the result on the chin, and recognised that - even with a glut of inexperienced players on their side - England are a formidable unit at present. "They are No. 1 and they play like No 1," he said. "All the guys, even on debuts, come in fairly experienced from county cricket. It shows in their game, they're quite confident and that's a page we can take from their book.
"We had a great start but the moment we let them go we didn't bounce back," Sammy added. "We can point out areas we went wrong and encourage them, but we were playing the No. 1 team. at the moment. Whatever they do and whoever comes in just tends to fit in the team right away. We have our goals and we want to win cricket matches, but this was about seeing who could compete at this level."
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