Bopara enjoys his chance to build rather than blast
England Lions 285 for 3 (Bopara 106, Taylor 103*) beat Sri Lanka A 283 for 6 (Chandimal 119, Finn 4-67) by seven wickets
To many observers, the England Lions top six contesting the Royal London triangular series against Sri Lanka A and New Zealand A loses little in comparison with the senior side as jostling for position begins in earnest with the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand barely six months away.
Four Lions batsmen have already made hundreds in the tournament with Ravi Bopara and James Taylor the latest to achieve the standards set by Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow. It was enough to dispatch Sri Lanka by seven wickets with 21 deliveries to spare as they made light of a target of 284 on a pitch which was about as accommodating as New Road, rarely the most straightforward square for batsman, can get.
As soon as The Oval Test is concluded, it is one-day cricket all the way and, if few regard England as serious World Cup contenders, there is no doubting the abundance of batting talent in the shadow squad. Bopara looked visibly excited by their potential. "Every single player in the top six has definitely got a chance of being in that World Cup squad," he said. "Some of these young guys have improved so much."
Bopara is the one Lions batsman with an established place in England's one-day side, but coming in at No. 6 in a safety-conscious set-up is a role not always designed for satisfaction. For the Lions, he has been given the chance to bat at No. 3, an opportunity he has cherished, and his 106 from 101 balls in front of an appreciative Worcester crowd was an expertly-judged affair which left Sri Lanka without a win in the tournament. England face New Zealand, again at New Road, on Tuesday in a match that will decide the winners.
"It would be nice to be playing for Essex but getting experience at the top of the order for England certainly helps," Bopara said. It wouldn't be very helpful for me to come here at bat six. That's not me being arrogant or anything. Any batsman wants time at the crease. You don't want to be coming in to bat in the last 10 overs to try to spank it out of the ground every single time. I don't enjoy my cricket doing that sort of stuff."
England were assisted by some curious captaincy by Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka's century maker, who observed the legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna remove both Alex Hales and James Vince in a spell of 2 for 12 in five overs and who then did not reintroduce him until the 33rd over at which point the Lions were 175 for 2, Bopara and Taylor both had unbeaten half-centuries and with six an over needed the match was almost won.
By the time Bopara was stumped off Prasanna for 106, the third-wicket stand was worth 194 in 31 overs, and he had strutted his stuff, Taylor played with understated authority alongside him. Taylor might have fallen on 2 when Dushmantha Chameera's first ball reared at him with surprising venom only for a trio of off-side fielders to fail to make ground for the catch. He made excellent use of his fortune, his skilfully-assembled hundred seeping into the consciousness.
Prasanna's delayed return to the attack was particularly striking because three years ago on this ground, in an identical fixture, he took the new ball and included the Lions' top six in a return of 6 for 23 as they were dismissed for 108 and lost by 10 wickets. Sri Lanka were so impressed they immediately summoned him to the senior side although he has had limited success in his sole Test, against Australia in Pallakele, and a dozen ODIs.
"Did I play in that game?" asked Bopara when told of it. He was slightly relieved to discover he had not. Three of that top six - Hales, Taylor and Bairstow - did, and Hales succumbed again as he edged to the keeper. James Vince had been bowled in the previous over, Prasanna's second, his 32 impressive while it lasted but not lasting long enough, leaving him as the only member of the Lions top six still to pass fifty.
Chandimal's unbeaten 119 had sustained Sri Lanka. The innings came to life from 126 for 3 after 33 overs - David Willey conceding 16 off an over including a pulled six from Chandimal which took him to 50, Steven Finn spilling 18 from the next, Bhanuka Rajapakse sparking with four boundaries in an over during an adventurous stay at the crease.
An attempted sweep off Finn was just one shot that caught the eye - not the most respectful way to treat an England fast bowler who returned to London immediately after the game in the hope of making his international return against India on Friday in the final Test at The Oval.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo