Pakistan v England 2011-12 February 16, 2012

Bopara England's biggest surprise


Such has been the excellence of Alastair Cook in the first two ODIs between Pakistan and England that it would be easy to overlook the impressive performances of a couple of his teammates.

Cook scored his second successive century as England took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. It means his ODI average since returning to the side as captain in June 2011 is 55.93 at a strike-rate of 92.5. It is understandable that such figures overshadow those of his colleagues.

But Cook is not the only England player enjoying a good series. Steven Finn, bowling with pace, control and skill, has underlined the impression that he is fast maturing into a high-quality international cricketer and, in taking four wickets in each of the first two ODIs, has played a key role in England's success. Displacing Stuart Broad or James Anderson from England's Test team still appears unlikely in the short term but Finn surely has an exciting future.

It is, perhaps, the batting of Ravi Bopara that has been the biggest surprise. Had Jos Buttler been fit, there is every chance Bopara would have been the man omitted from the ODI side, but the 26-year-old Essex batsman has taken his chance and responded with two important half-centuries. From a precarious position on the periphery of the Test and limited-overs teams, Bopara has re-established himself in England's long-term plans.

Bopara's talent has never been in question. It has long been accepted that he was capable of playing attractive strokes and, just days after his 24th birthday, he joined a select group of England players - Herbert Sutcliffe, Denis Compton, Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch - by scoring Test centuries in three successive innings, after 108 against West Indies at Chester-le-Street. The questions have more been over his temperament under pressure and ability to grind out runs in adversity.

So it must have been particularly pleasing to see Bopara prosper in Abu Dhabi. On begrudging pitches that have inhibited strokeplay, Bopara has twice come in with his side under some pressure and succeeded in grafting for runs in circumstances where most others have failed. It was a welcome sign of maturity from a player who may yet develop into a fine batsmen in all formats of the game.

While many on-lookers have been surprised by Cook's much improved ODI batting, Bopara is not. Indeed, Bopara now believes Cook can force himself into England's T20 squad

"Taking responsibility had been a massive thing for me," Bopara said. "We knew we had soak up the pressure as it was going to be tough in the first 15 or 20 minutes. It gets easier as the innings goes on. Once you're in for about five overs you get used to the pace of the wicket and the bowlers. Once you give yourself a chance, you have every chance of catching up and scoring at a run a ball.

"If you're going to bat in the middle order you have to give yourself 15-20 balls. I'm not saying you go in there and block 15-20 balls but you can't put yourself under pressure if you're not scoring in those first 10, 15, 20 balls. You just hang in there because you do get those little bit of luck - maybe runs past third man or fine leg - and you can catch up."

Luck was a key ingredient in the first ODI in Abu Dhabi. A better wicketkeeper than Umar Akmal - and that is a very large constituency - might have stumped Bopara when he had just one in that game. But Bopara has experienced too many triumphs and tragedies already in his career to start pondering the tiny twists of fate than can make or break a player. He is determined to simply concentrate on the present and is reluctant to be drawn on his own future or that of his team.

"Things can change so quickly," Bopara said. "I'm not analysing where I am at the moment. I remember in the summer, against India, I had a good series but then I went out to India and didn't have such a good series. I'm just keeping my feet on the ground. I'm just thinking about Ajmal and how I'm going to deal with him.

"I wouldn't want to think about winning this series 4-0. We've done that in the past. Individually we've got a bit giddy and things just go wrong. So we're not going to look too far ahead. We'll just keep doing what we've been doing in the last couple of matches and worry about our skills and dealing with that Pakistan bowling line-up.

"We haven't had a good one-day record in the sub-continent so it's a big thing for us to win out here. It will give us confidence to know we can do it in sub-continent conditions.

"Obviously, I want to play Test cricket for England. That's the ultimate goal and achievement: to stay in that side and win things. That's my main aim. That's what I'm working towards."

Bopara was more effusive on the subject of his teammate and old friend Cook. While many on-lookers have been surprised by Cook's much improved ODI batting, Bopara is not. Indeed, Bopara now believes that Cook - who is currently not part of England's T20 squad - can force himself into the reckoning in the shortest format.

"He's someone I've seen adapt so much over his career so far," Bopara said. "I've played with him since I was 14 or 15 and with the amount he's changed over the years, there's no reason why he can't change and become a T20 player as well. I've seen him play some class T20 knocks for Essex. There's no reason he can't do it for England. He's someone I've seen adapt more than anyone in my whole career. Most definitely I think he's the sort of person who will play for England in T20.

"He just grinds out runs, doesn't he? I don't know how he keeps doing it but he knows his areas, he's a tough man, he's hard on himself and he's a really good player."

The England and Pakistan squads travelled from Dubai to Abu Dhabi on Thursday. England reported no new injury concerns, with Tim Bresnan and Jos Buttler improving by the day and the sore back that forced Bopara off the field for a short period on Wednesday not thought to be a serious issue.

It is Pakistan who have more to think about. In both games they have been let down by the part-time wicketkeeping of Umar Akmal and their brittle batting. None of their batsmen have yet registered a half-century in the series, highlighting their long tail and need for more all-rounders. Pakistan's fielding will also have to improve substantially if they are to challenge in the 2015 World Cup. The third ODI takes place in Dubai on Saturday.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dilip on February 18, 2012, 20:55 GMT

    @valavan agree totally mate, too many "blind leading the blind fans", i like to watch all matches and not just the blinkered indian vision. this team is probably the worst i've seen in all the years, there's just no fight when the going gets tough, at times, it seems like "i've got millions in my bank account so who cares" attitude. it's sad to as a fan but i can't see it changing for a good few years. i think kohli has it to be a good test player, as for the rest, less said, the better.

    as for Bopara, morgan situation. i don't think either will make the grade at test level but bopara might be better suited to the spin tracks while morgan might be a better bet on the home turf. i'm sure someone will come through the county ranks soon enough.

  • Andrew on February 17, 2012, 18:32 GMT

    The main reason that England won the last 2 matches was mainly because the batsmen played the Pakistan bowlers (especially spinners) with respect. Cook was amazing. But very surprised that he didn't perform well in the tests as he did well in the warm up matches. Also lots of credit to Finn for applying pressure on Pakistan batsmen. We know that Pakistan batting order is more fragile compared to other teams but have the best bowling unit. So England have responded well in this ODI series. Only problem is that I don't see Kieswetter performing well in the middle order. I think it would be better for him to open again. I also think England should consider putting Pietersen down the order and maybe if he can come in to bat in the last 15-20 overs or so it would be a perfect way for him to not only play in the manner in which he likes but also get his confidence back which would benefit England hugely.

  • Randolph on February 17, 2012, 17:58 GMT

    Bopara?Haha Oh boy the talent is paper thin in England. With backups like this, who have already been exposed multiple times in world cricket, coupled with the overrated bowling attack who were toothless against Pakistan, England may as well save themselves the embarrassment and send the Ashes down under now.

  • joel on February 17, 2012, 13:56 GMT

    @Gerard Pereira , seriously i suggest you look at Morgans stats before making a comment like that .

  • Hammad on February 17, 2012, 13:56 GMT

    im watchin women t20 NZ vs Eng.. is it weird that i think the fielding, catching and wicketkeeping of England women team is better than Pakistan's Mens' team? BTW this is coming from a Pakistani.. Ravi Bopara btw is just riding his luck, first match missed stumping and plumb LBW not given.. Cook on the other hand is the main difference atm.. otherwise both sides batting is pretty miserable..

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2012, 13:30 GMT

    I think Ravi Bopara is a very good batsman and deserves all chances that he is getting.. He rotated the strike very well during both one dayers against Pak.. That was very crucial as it did not allow the Pak bowlers to settle or bowl only at 1 batsman for long periods of time.. Bopara deserves credit for the centuries scored by Cook.. Had Bopara gone cheaply, then I dont think anyone else could have stayed there with Cook long enough to post such scores.. Bopara should be given a good chance in atleast 2 more series and may be bat a bit higher in the ODI team and then he will definitely score centuries..

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    Despite this - and my personal likeing for the 50 over game - I doubt this will have any resonance in the UK. Win or lose - mopst cricket fans in the UK don't care for or watch 50 over cricket - especially abroad. (Sky returned viewing figures of under 250,000 peak for the game, that finished after tea time in the UK) Proving English audience has no interest at all in the format. Shame - but that's the way it is.

  • dani on February 17, 2012, 11:29 GMT

    Bopara really played well..bragging about he had a missed stumping and a chance by the umpire in first odi would be silly..afterall gud batsmen are those who recover from such chances rather than losing their wickets thinking about those chances..pak team is playing well,may be not fully upto their mark,courtesy of 1-2 poor selections,but they have been beaten by a side who played better on those 2 days..m sure pak would come back in the series as was clear by the effort they put in the 2nd was funny to see comments here that the good pakistani players r playing in bpl :)

  • Satish on February 17, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    Bopara actually provided a rather unexpected turnaround for England.. England had either Cook or Trott settled in almost everyt match when it went into the middle order.. The middle order was very fragile there but here, Bopara proved to be a able folly and rotated strike effectively and more importantly, didn't allow the spinners to get settled.. Left-Right combination was a additional advantage too.. Good to see England rising above in ODI's.. They need to give the importance it deserves..

  • Valavan on February 17, 2012, 10:20 GMT

    @KillDevil, you can comment on any comments here, but I have answered only those Indians who speak unwanted India's glory here in Eng Vs Pak pages. Even here Bopara isnt hyped here. Ye mate you are right, but in cricinfo you can check stats not just in 2000s, you can see even before 80s and 70s, India have been a good side, but that doesnt mean others are worser than India as the indian fans write here. If Bopara and Morgan are ducks out of water, what can we say about total new indian lineup excluding Tendulkar and dravid, they are too ducks out of water when they travel out of home. BTW, also it was really kinda JOKE when Indian fans compared SEHWAG to SIR VIV. He hit a 200 in ODI in India and yet he looked very very pathetic in Aussie in tests. We answerd only for those guys, who have nothing to do here in this page, KillDevil probably you watched cricket involving India since 90s, but not international cricket, cricinfo please publish

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