Bopara eager to make amends for Ashes failure
A year on from a harrowing Ashes series Ravi Bopara is still searching for his route back into the England line-up. Asked to bat at No. 3 last summer, he had his game ruthlessly unpicked by Australia and made just 105 runs in seven innings before being dropped for the final Test. It was a harsh experience but Bopara insists he's grown from it and can return a better player.
"It has been a rollercoaster year but a really good experience," he told Cricinfo. "There have been some high points and some really low points but it's good to get those early in a career. Ultimately, I love cricket and all the emotions that come with it - there are hard times, but I also know there will be good times and you just have to ride those waves."
Since his Ashes disappointment Bopara's only taste of England action was being part of the World Twenty20 squad in West Indies where he played one match as Kevin Pietersen flew home for the birth of his child. He suffered more disappointment last Sunday when he was left out of the one-day squad to face Bangladesh despite Pietersen's injury but responded emphatically by making 168 for England Lions against West Indies A. With the emergence of Eoin Morgan and the resurgence of Ian Bell, however, it's a difficult route back to the top level.
It's almost difficult to remember but in the two series against West Indies that preceded last summer's Ashes, Bopara became only the fifth Englishman to score three Test hundreds in a row (after beginning the run in Barbados). At that stage his languid talent looked set to become a fixture in the England middle order and judges no less than Sachin Tendulkar had even spotted something "special" in him. So what happened?
"Last time it was my first Ashes series and I probably put a bit too much pressure on myself, demanding myself to do really well and I got a bit desperate," he said. "You know when you want to succeed you tense up and stop your instincts and natural game from coming through. That makes batting a lot harder."
It suggests a tension that his on-field persona doesn't reveal. Bopara has never carried himself with the same intensity of Mark Ramprakash or the nervous diffidence of Bell. If anything, he appeared too casual - an impression not helped by a series of loose dismissals in the four Tests against Australia. Yet he insists the reality is different and, though working on some technical issues, sees freeing up mentally as the key to his improvement.
"The way I approach cricket now is that I go out to enjoy myself and whenever in doubt, to take the positive option," he said. "I think that's the way to play cricket. I spoke to Nasser [Hussain] a couple weeks ago and told him I was getting a little bit desperate for big scores and he just reminded me about who I really am and what I'm really about. It helped me a lot, helped me relax."
"I've done some technical work as well, because when you correct your technical issues, it helps you mentally. You back yourself just that little bit more because you know you've given yourself a better chance."
Having gone through the Essex system under the guidance of Graham Gooch and later Andy Flower, Bopara's connection to the national set-up remains strong. In the past Gooch has also hailed his qualities but while the two have worked closely before, Bopara has spent his time away from the England side in solitude and he is clear about what he needs to do.
"I look to do a lot of these things by myself. I've worked a little bit with Goochy but I do a lot of work alone and spent plenty of time over the winter improving my game," he said. "I know what I've got to do to get back in - more than anything it's score runs and take wickets - there is no other way in. You can say what you like but you need runs and you need to perform as a bowler - to try and fill an allrounder role."
His bowling returns in limited-overs cricket this season have improved significantly and he is currently the highest-wicket taker in the triangular series the England Lions are involved in alongside India A and West Indies A.
"I see bowling as a good route back into the limited-overs side in particular," he said. "I worked hard this winter - these days with Twenty20 you don't need to be a gifted technical bowler, you just need to get it in the right areas and it's paid off so far."
At the moment England's limited-overs teams look fairly settled but Bopara could unseat Luke Wright at No. 6, filling the role down the order where he first displayed his international talent in the 2007 World Cup. But despite earmarking the 2011 World Cup in Asia, Bopara refuses to get bogged down in speculation.
"I'd not thinking about it too much, just taking it game by game. I'd love to play in the World Cup, but I've got to concentrate on the here and now and score runs in my next game for the Lions and keep pushing at the door."
His more immediate concern is impressing for Essex when they meet Kent who are playing a 'home' Friends Provident t20 match at The Oval. "The pitches there are quite good so hopefully it will be a packed house and a lot of good fun."
Fun, it seems, is the word Bopara wants to drive his return to the England side.
Ravi Bopara was speaking to promote the Friends Provident t20 match between Essex and Kent hosted at The Oval on Friday. Tickets are available at www.britoval.com/tickets and on 0207 8205700.
Sahil Dutta is assistant editor of Cricinfo