England in India 2012-13 January 17, 2013

Bopara worth bearing in mind

Despite drifting into the wilderness, Ravi Bopara could still be the man England are looking for

When he left the pitch after his dismissal in Pallekele with England's defence of their World T20 all but over, it seemed Ravi Bopara may not represent England again.

Devoid of confidence, Bopara's record in recent games has been not so much modest as agoraphobic: his last eight international innings have yielded two double figure scores - the best being 22 - and three ducks. World-weary, diffident and even sad, he has looked unrecognisable from the carefree player who had once scored centuries in three successive Tests.

But, as Bopara returns for Chittagong Kings in the next few days, it may be time for the England selectors to consider him once again for the ODI side.

England require an allrounder to balance the side. With five specialist batsmen (Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan), four specialist bowlers (James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn) and a wicketkeeper (to be decided) all highly likely to feature at start the Champions Trophy in five months, it is clear that they require someone who can reliably provide another 10 overs and bat in either defensive or offensive fashion. Bopara may yet be that man.

Samit Patel has made a decent claim for the position in the first two ODIs in India. His batting, in particular, appears well-suited to the role - he averages 37.00 in ODIs with a strike-rate of 95.62 - but concerns over his bowling linger. He has not taken a wicket in his last 10 ODIs and, in that time, has delivered 56 overs at a cost of 277 runs and only twice contributed a full 10-over allocation. While his ODI economy-rate, 5.42 overall, the effectiveness of his gentle left-arm spin on Indian pitches may well not be replicated on home pitches in June.

Bopara offers a viable alternative. His ODI economy-rate is an impressive 4.63 - better than Anderson or Broad - which drops to 3.23 in his last 11 ODIs as his well-controlled medium-pace has improved and, while his batting average, 30.62, and strike-rate, 75.68, are inferior to Patel's, it is worth noting that, at No. 6, Bopara's strike-rate rises to 90.90. As he showed with unbeaten innings of 45 in 16 balls against Bangladesh at Edgbaston made from No. 7 and 37 from 22 balls against India in Cardiff made from No. 5, he has the power and ranger of strokes to add late impetus to an innings. The selectors will not have forgotten his cultured innings of 60 against South Africa in a low-scoring game in the 2011 World Cup, either. It led to a victory and was one of the higher points for England in a dismal campaign.

He will need to prove he has rediscovered the ability to focus on his game but Bopara is still only 27 and should have the best part of his career in front of him.

But there is a sense that they may have lost patience with him. It is true that he has been on the periphery of the England sides for several years - he has played 118 international games for England across the three formats - without ever nailing down a position. It is true, too, that younger men have passed him in the struggle for a Test place. There are those who have concluded that Bopara is the sort to go missing under pressure; not so much the sort you want beside you in a trench, but opposite you in the enemy's trenches.

But it would be wrong to judge Bopara on the form he showed in the last few months of 2012. Troubled by matters off the pitch, he was unable to dedicate himself fully to his work and his performance suffered. He is better than the shuffling mess that was, against all logic, promoted to bat at No. 3 at Trent Bridge in September. While he will need to prove he has rediscovered the ability to focus on his game, he is still only 27 and should have the best part of his career in front of him.

There are other candidates. Chris Woakes, Luke Wright, Tim Bresnan and Ben Stokes are among those who might do a good job for England. The selectors may also decide that the wicketkeeper should bat at No. 6 and allow the inclusion of five specialist bowlers with Broad or Swann batting as high as No. 7. Bearing in mind that four of England's current top five in the ODI side - Trott, Pietersen, Cook, Morgan and Pietersen - currently feature in the top five of England's highest all-time ODI averages, then that may not be as big a risk at it appears at first glance. Bell and Patel feature in the top 16, too.

But, in English conditions, a seam-bowling allrounder capable of batting in the top seven will remain the preference. If Bopara can prove he has put his troubles behind him, he is worth bearing in mind.

Of more immediate concern to England ahead of the third ODI, for which Tim Bresnan will return to contention having recovered from bruising just above his knee, is how they bowl to MS Dhoni. England's assistant coach, Richard Halsall, said the side were frustrated that they had let match-defining opportunities slip away from them in the second ODI, but it might be more accurate to admit that Dhoni wrestled them away.

"At one stage they were 119 for 4, a great opportunity, and even when they made 285 we got to 60 for 1 after 10 overs and were thinking 'we are going to win this'," Halsall said. "The disappointment is that we created two very good opportunities to win a game of cricket in India, which is very hard to do, and we didn't take them. It was a heavy defeat and the lads were disappointed they didn't deliver."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vikram on January 19, 2013, 4:27 GMT

    Bopara is England's modern day Ramprakash. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I would prefer Samit Patel over him!

  • disco on January 19, 2013, 3:09 GMT

    Bopara's mind is shot, much as was Mitchell Johnson's. He needs a year out of contention.

  • Sean on January 19, 2013, 2:08 GMT

    Maybe, maybe he could be useful in the ODI side, but please, never again in the test side. Tried that a few times, didnt work.

  • j on January 19, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    Ravi is a quality batsman and last Ashes proved could bowl faster than Australia's main seam attack all by himself, although that can't have been particulary difficult. He has shown time and again with Essex that he's got the ability and strokeplay to be up there with the best in the world, but he hasn't fully taken his chances these last few years. Ravi, you're a great player, but Jonny Bairstow should be given the coverted England number 6 batting slot, and he deserves a long run there too just like you got. Bat up the order for Essex and take on Compton (even though Root is knocking at that no.2 door too) to fight your way back in. England is bulging with new young talent, adapt or stay in limbo Ravi.

  • Steve on January 18, 2013, 22:44 GMT

    I hope that the 'powers that be' haven't given up on Ravi who everybody in the know recognises as a prodigious talent! Sure, he's struggled to break through and had his share of personal problems but the talent is there! maybe the promise of a prolonged stint in the team and encouraging words from collegues will do the trick? If England could pick there no 6 / all rounder from Bopara and Patel it could become a match winning spot? Goochie rates him as he did with Cook and that has proved to be highly beneficial for team England! I know there's a lot of young talent knocking at the door but I believe that Ravi's day will come? Hope so. COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • John on January 18, 2013, 22:03 GMT

    @Selassie-I on (January 18 2013, 11:14 AM GMT) Trouble is Swann (who is IMO our best shorter formats cricketer) is rested and Broad (when not injured) is not so consistent with the ball either. Also our 2 part timers (Patel and Root) have done better than all our full timers bar Tredwell.

  • s on January 18, 2013, 18:45 GMT

    bopara is a good enough batsman and can deliver more than pie chuckers and is still 27. he souldnt have been dropped after the performances against australia

  • Tom on January 18, 2013, 18:44 GMT

    @shot274 - I close my eyes when Dernbach comes on to bowl. It drives me absolutely crazy how inconsistent he is, he seems to have real problems bowling at lefties, far too often his line is leg stump or wider, it's just too easy to glance off bat or glove to fine leg for 1 or 4.

    His figures hide a lot of that, as any LBs because of his woeful line are not counted in his economy, so just the wides get counted.

    I'm an Essex fan, and I love how Ravi plays, but with the best will in the world, he's unlikely to get a spot back in any team. He can play as well as anyone, but his problems are mental - he can only play well when his mind is fully concentrated on the cricket, and he can "see ball, hit ball", and he has a history of getting into slumps that he cannot get out off without going off and resting.

    5 years ago I was sure we'd have Cook opening and Bopara first drop in all teams, so sad :(

  • Sriram on January 18, 2013, 14:29 GMT

    He is what Rohit Sharma is to India and Kapugedara to SL. Enormous talent, gr8 records in domestic but nothing to boast at International Level.

  • Ash on January 18, 2013, 13:33 GMT

    Now what I want to see is KP bowling more. I know we have heard it all before but I think he is a good enough batsmen and has enough promise as a bowler that he should be able to spend some of his time with Swanny, Mushtaq, Monty Tredwell etc. If I remember correctly he started as an offspinner who could bat a bit? And I can't understand why everyone isn't excited at the prospect of Woakes I know he wasn't great in the last game but I would like to see him get an extended run as he impressed me when I first saw him in Oz and his batting just exploded in the second half of the County Championship last year. Don't think he did so good batting in List A but I think with time it will improve and 33 with the ball isn't too bad, his economy is ok as well, and he can nip it both ways I reckon he's worth a shot I would have him in the team instead of Bresnan or Bopara. (I also think with time he could be the all-rounder in tests Eng. need as well) And he is only 23 so he has time.