Second chance to shine
With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or as an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Varun Chopra, who has been handed a second chance as England Under-19 captain after impressing in the first-class arena for Essex.
Varun Chopra is a man who grabs his chances. An injury to Will Jefferson, the Essex opener, at the start of the season left an open door which the then-18-year-old Chopra pulled wide open with a hundred and fifty on debut and nailed shut by hammering four fifties in seven innings. Jefferson is now the one knocking.
Chopra's latest chance to shine comes with being reappointed England Under-19 captain for the India series this summer. "It will be a tough test again," he says, "but hopefully we can use the English conditions."
His last stab at the role ended less than gloriously, with an 11-0 pasting in Bangladesh just before the World Cup, but the blame wasn't entirely his. Moeen Ali took over and led them to the semi-finals, yet Chopra's first-class class has earned him a second bite at the cherry. He is bigger, stronger and wiser than ever.
To do the job, you need to have the right temperament. "I'm just going to concentrate on my own game," he says of keeping Jefferson out of the side." He's certainly blessed with the cucumber-cool calm of fellow Essex youngster Alastair Cook - although he's not expected to follow the same lightning-fast progression.
He took his time to mature at the Essex Academy, but it's paying off: over the last two years his batting has been slowly oiled from robotic to fluid. He's become much more comfortable with his set-up and movement, too, and he's scoring in better areas.
But hell, what's the rush, anyway? He's still just 19. There's oodles of time yet to progress, to work on his one-day game and even to change his bowling action. Over the winter he changed from a legspin bowler to an offspin bowler, with help from the Essex coaches Paul Grayson and John Childs. "He's a big lad, with big hands, which get purchase on the ball," says Childs. "You're either a spin bowler, or a slow bowler - he's definitely a spinner."
Batting, though, is obviously his strong suit and he gets plenty of practice at his club in Ilford, following in the illustrious footsteps of Graham Gooch and Nasser Hussain. Could Chopra make it as their third England batsman? He hopes so - and there are those who certainly think he can.
In the shorter term, his goal this winter will be heading to Loughborough to work under Peter Moores at the Academy. "I'll hopefully get a slot, and if not I will go to Australia. Either way I will be playing cricket this winter."
As for the rest of the summer, Essex and England Under-19 expect.
2003 Debut for Essex second XI, aged 16
2004 Hits three fifties and a century in five matches for the second XI
2005 Leads England Under-19 to series wins against Sri Lanka on home soil, but then they fall down 11-0 in Bangladesh. Loses captaincy for U-19 World Cup, but is handed the vice captaincy.
2006 - March - England U-19 reach World Cup semi-finals, but crash out to India.
- May - Hits a hundred and fifty to mark his first-class debut for Essex. "One to remember," he says with understatement.
- June - Reappointed junior captain for Indian summer.
One word - prolific.
What he says about his reappointment as England captain
"Obviously, I'm pleased with the news. I'm looking forward to the challenge, especially after learning a lot in the World Cup."
What they say about him - Andy Flower, Essex team-mate admired by Chopra
"Varun's surprised a few since coming into the first-class game with how comfortably he has handled it. He hasn't been outwardly fazed by the first-class game, he looks completely at ease already and that's a great sign for his future. He's lucky to already have a sound technique and that will stand him in good stead. Now it's important for him to progress his game and build a solid platform to work from in the future."
What you may not know
Chopra's nickname is Tiddles, which he's had since he was six and playing cricket with older, taller guys. These days he's 6 foot 1 - but the nickname has stuck. "I don't mind it," he says, "it's quite nice".
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo