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May 12, 2012
Ravi Bopara will have every right to curse his misfortune if the thigh problem he picked up against Kent in the County Championship halts his chances of a Test recall. The signs were not promising on Saturday as he emerged at No. 8 with a runner, with Essex confirming he had a "slight tear to his right quad" after scans yesterday evening.
It was a frustrating winter for Bopara, who was ever present in the Test squad but did not get the chance to add to his 12 caps even when Eoin Morgan was dropped after the series against Pakistan. He was the favourite to come into the side to face Sri Lanka but an untimely side injury meant he was unable to bowl, which impacted the balance of the side and Samit Patel was preferred in the middle order with drinks carrying again in Bopara's hands. In his favour this time is that his bowling is a far less important factor but England will not want to enter a Test with a player under an injury cloud.
Bopara has not had an extended run in the Test side since the 2009 series against Australia when his technique and confidence were unpicked during the first four matches before he lost his place for the deciding contest at The Oval. Since then he has made just two Test appearances, both against India last season, as an injury replacement for Jonathan Trott. In those two games he walked in facing no-win situations with England on 596 for 4 and 487 for 5 making scores of 7 and 44 not out. That followed the head-to-head battle with Morgan earlier that season, which the latter won at the last minute with 193 for the Lions against the Sri Lankans at Derby.
The fact Bopara was not included in the England Lions side to face the West Indians at Northampton indicated that he was set for first dibs at No. 6 this season, with Patel's left-arm spin not required in English conditions and Morgan having spent six weeks warming the bench in the IPL. Bopara has made an impression this season with an excellent hundred in tough conditions at Headingley; hundreds at the start of this campaign are a particularly notable achievement.
But injury to one player is a chance for another, should Bopara be ruled out - although who that will be is open to debate. Jonny Bairstow is gathering some momentum after scoring two hundreds for Yorkshire this season and he struck a confident half-century against the West Indians. He is an exceptional talent who has already shown glimpses on the international stage although was batting low for the Lions at No. 7.
James Taylor picked a good moment to score a hundred against the West Indians, although he appears to have slipped down the pecking order over the winter. Patel was picked for a specific role in Sri Lanka and, while he has batted No. 4 for Nottinghamshire this season to further his international ambitions, does not appear a top-six Test batsman. Somerset's Nick Compton, who is also in the Lions team, is the leading domestic run-scorer this season.
England's batsmen did not cover themselves in glory over the winter tours in the UAE and Sri Lanka, only passing 400 once as they levelled the series in Colombo, but of the specialists only Morgan has so far paid with his place and that will not change in the short or even medium-term. Andrew Strauss has scored one Test hundred in 50 innings but has huge backing from within the set-up and Ian Bell scored a timely century against Durham last week, although his place in the squad was never in doubt.
There are unlikely to be surprises elsewhere in what will be a 13-man squad, unless Bopara is picked and they decide to provide cover. Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan played in the second Test against Sri Lanka, the latter taking his 100% Test-win record to 11 from 11, and the pair will be competing to partner James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who is fully recovered from the calf injury that ended his Sri Lanka tour, in the pace line-up. One other option for the selectors if Bopara is ruled out would be to keep Matt Prior at No. 6 and play five bowlers, although that appears unlikely.
The 13th member is likely to be another quick bowler in the shape of Graham Onions, who has started the season strongly for Durham by taking 22 wickets in four matches. He was with the squad at various stages during the winter but will probably have to wait for an injury or two to strike before the chance comes to restart his Test career, which is stalled on eight Tests after a career-threatening back injury two seasons ago. In the pace department, England have no shortage of options.
Possible squad Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara/Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions
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