Bopara 'empty' at Test non-selection
Ravi Bopara admitted he woke up feeling empty the day after England's ODI series against Sri Lanka finished.
While Bopara still cherishes playing for Essex, he has tasted life on the bigger stage and knows that little else compares to the thrill of representing England. Waking in his hotel room the day after the ODI series ended knowing that he wouldn't be required for the Investec Test series against Sri Lanka was, he says, "a huge anti-climax".
"A lot of the other lads were going off to prepare for the Test series," Bopara told ESPNcricinfo. "They were excited. They were talking about it. They still had a buzz. And I wasn't involved. I woke up feeling this hole inside me knowing that England was over for me for a bit and I was going back to county cricket. It's really hard to accept.
"Look, I love playing for Essex. I really do. But there's nothing like playing for England. It's the ultimate. And once you've experienced it, it's very hard to accept anything less."
But Bopara accepts that his Test form has not been adequate to warrant his continued selection. While there were, as he puts it, "glimpses" of what he can do, an average of 31.94 after 13 Tests is modest for one so talented.
"I feel frustrated," he says. "I've not been able to show my full potential to a wider audience. I was doing OK, but then the Ashes of 2009 didn't go well for me and I haven't got back in for any length of time.
"I've shown glimpses. But I know I haven't done myself justice and I really want to do it. I mean, I really want it. I want to play innings people remember. I know I can do that and I would love another opportunity. But there's no point hoping or moaning. I've got to make sure I do it by scoring heavily in county cricket and making it impossible for them not to pick me."
Such passion may seem at odds with the image of Bopara as laid-back to the point of being comatose. But whatever he used to be like, he feels the experience of spending time with successful people from outside the world of cricket has given him greater perspective and better tools for coping with the stresses and strains of life.
"I've been disorganised in the past," he says. "That's true. But it is the past. I'm working harder than ever now. I did feel, for a while, as if I lost all my energy. But I've rediscovered that. I'm honestly more determined and focused than ever.
"I was very lucky to spend some time with some successful people outside cricket," he says. "I don't want to say who they were, but I'm talking about business people. It wasn't organised by Essex or the ECB. It just happened, really, and it's lucky that it did.
"They showed me the habits and characteristics successful people need to have. They showed me how organised you have to be and how calm they were under pressure. They were so determined and so positive and the whole experience made me a better cricketer and a better, more honourable man. Why? Because now, if I say I'm going to do something, I do it. I've learned a lot."
Bopara's last experience with the Test team ended after the first Test of the series against South Africa in 2012 when, for personal reasons, he felt a need to take a break from cricket.
"Being a cricketer is not like a normal job," he says. "If you work in an office you might leave home early in the morning and be back late at night, I know. But we go away for months at a time and that can cause a lot of problems. The schedule isn't conducive to normal family life. If there's something going on that needs sorting at home, well you've got to go and sort it."
But no-one should mistake Bopara's decision as a demonstration of any lack of commitment. "It's not exactly that I put cricket before anything else, it's just that it is who I am," he says. "Cricket makes me who I am. It's more than what I do; it's what I am. So it is number one for me. Family is more important, of course, but I wouldn't be me if I wasn't a cricketer. It's a non-negotiable part of my life. I have to put it first."
As one of the few men in the England set-up who developed as a player solely in the UK and without the help of the private school system, Bopara might also have a role in inspiring the next generation of young players into the game.
"There is so much talent out there," he says at a Chance to Shine event in Birmingham. "And there is so much love for the game. I was lucky in that my mum and dad played a massive part in my development. They took me to games, they encouraged me to train. They did whatever needed doing and I wouldn't have made it without them. Parents are the key.
"But role-models have a huge part to play, too. There has been a bit of a shortage of players from West Indian circles in the English game in recent years, so it's great to see Chris Jordan coming through. He is going to be a big star and hopefully he can encourage a lot more kids to play the game.
"Can I do that, too? I'd like to. I really would. I'm seeing a lot more kids from ethnic backgrounds in the grounds and if I can inspire one or two to take up the game, well, that would be brilliant."
Chance to Shine ambassador Ravi Bopara was visiting Bishop Challoner Catholic College for Yorkshire Tea National Cricket Week. Thousands of Chance to Shine schools all over the country enjoyed cricket-themed activities in the classroom and the playground. Visit www.chancetoshine.org to find out more and donate.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo