England v West Indies, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 1st day May 6, 2009

Bopara ton holds England together

England 289 for 7 (Bopara 118*, Swann 7*, Edwards 4-53) v West Indies

Every time England have started a series in recent memory it has been preceded by talk of new eras before failing, often spectacularly, to deliver but Ravi Bopara's assured century, in his first innings at No. 3, suggests that this time might be different. It was a vital innings as the home side wobbled against the pace of Fidel Edwards, who claimed three quick wickets to rattle the middle order, but Bopara found crucial support from Matt Prior and Stuart Broad as honours ended even on 289 for 7, although West Indies rued a batch of dropped catches.

Bopara's display stood out for its maturity and calmness. He scored a hundred in his previous Test innings before being dropped and has now been thrust back in such a key position. He was also one of the clutch of players to have recently returned from the IPL and, while it wasn't the best of days for all of them, Bopara and Edwards showed that the adjustments can be made.

The No. 3 position has become the most vexing position in England's batting order since Michael Vaughan vacated it towards the end of last summer. The last hundred from the position was Vaughan's 106 against New Zealand in the corresponding fixture last summer. Ian Bell and Owais Shah were unable to take their opportunity and so the mantle has been passed to Bopara, the most exciting of England's new-look selections, and he has responded in full to the confidence shown by Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. This will be his position for the Ashes.

He had two lives, on 76 and 100, as West Indies' fielding fell apart in the final session and survived a perilously close lbw on 40 against Sulieman Benn that was heading towards middle. However, his strokeplay, especially his driving, was classy from the beginning and he showed the best footwork of England's top five.

His hundred arrived off 207 balls after a fairly lengthy wait in the 90s, but even then his nerves didn't show. After tucking the ball into the leg side he calmly saluted the ground before making a rectangle symbol, imitating writing to his team-mates - he wanted his name on the honours board straight away. That's confidence for you.

West Indies missed a real chance to take a grip on this match. Edwards' post-lunch spell of 6-2-15-3 reduced them to 109 for 4 and when Prior fell shortly after tea a total of 193 for 5 could have gone either way. But the visitors were then struck by a spate of dropped chances - still a problem in this improving West Indies side - as six were put down in the final session. Broad was dropped four times in making 38, with Chris Gayle guilty for one at first slip, alongside the two lives given to Bopara.

Three of those chances came off Edwards, who deserved better support after producing the spell that put West Indies on top during the middle session. For the first two hours the bowling had been too short on a pitch offering little, despite Gayle's decision to bowl, and Andrew Strauss had been their only success when cutting at Jerome Taylor. There had clearly been a team talk during the interval about bowling fuller and it worked with great effect.

Alastair Cook dragged on via an inside edge, but it was the next ball that brought the session alive. Kevin Pietersen can often be a dodgy starter, but Edwards produced a delivery that would have dismissed most batsmen, shaping away late and took the outside edge. Just as good as the ball was Denesh Ramdin's catch because the wicketkeeper had almost been wrong-footed before sticking out his right glove and grabbing the chance.

England's shortened batting was now being severely tested as Paul Collingwood came in without having had any cricket since April 3 after spending three weeks on the bench at the IPL. He middled one pull shot, but was soon undone by another full, swinging delivery from Edwards that he jabbed at without any footwork. Devon Smith hung on a second slip, but it would be a different story later on.

Prior has been picked at No. 6 because he is good enough to be a specialist batsman and his counter-attacking style helped wrestle the momentum away from the tourists. He and Bopara brought up a swift fifty partnership while Prior went past 1000 runs in 17 Tests, although he gave his innings away when he picked out cover off Edwards. Broad, though, unfurled the shots of a top-order batsman as he drove effortlessly through the off side and lofted Benn over mid-on. Two of Broad's lives came off Benn, the first when Ramdin failed to gather an edge and the second when the bowler seemed to caught by surprise as a return catch lobbed in his direction.

Benn eventually broke through when Broad sliced to backward point where Taylor showed how to catch then he removed Tim Bresnan with a dubious leg before that was heading over the stumps. Seven wickets on the opening day of a Test, especially at Lord's, is a good return but West Indies will feel it could have been even better.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo