Bopara's confidence remains undimmed
After the comprehensive ODI defeat against India, many theories and stratagems have been proposed as to how England's World Cup chances might be improved. One of the few things everyone agreed on was that England currently are not very good at one-day cricket. The other, perhaps surprisingly but with an unmistakable, even impassioned, fervour, was that Ravi Bopara should not have been dropped.
Bopara, so often the nearly-but-not-quite man of England's middle order, the back-up bowler of liquorice allsorts medium-pace, was uniformly painted as a wronged party. His omission was a surprise, caught in the undertow of Alex Hales' ODI coming, but so egregious was it made to look that Bopara has returned, little more than a month later in the squad for Sri Lanka, having not had to do much in the interim other than give a few interviews and look soulfully into the camera.
That does not mean Bopara is guaranteed to make it to a third World Cup, however. James Taylor has been included in the 16-man squad - one more than will go to Australia and New Zealand next year - and Bopara could still find himself in competition for a spot with the out-and-out pace-bowling allrounders, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan. But he is relaxed about the suggestion his England career could be on the line.
"The first aim will be trying to get in the eleven now and get playing and make some contributions to win games for England," he said. "The important thing is to play well in Sri Lanka because that's the first challenge ahead of us. We can't look too far ahead to the World Cup.
"I wouldn't say it's the last chance. I never look at things as a last chance. You can always get back in, no matter how old you are and how you've played because if you keep getting runs on the board for your county you can't be ignored - it's impossible. So I'll always fight for my place in the England side and try and win games for them.
"I'm going to be confident until the day I retire about doing the job because it's just how I am. I can never settle for giving up on England. I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror if I'm honest. I'll keep working hard on my game and keep knocking on that door no matter what happens."
The move away from using Bopara as a fifth bowler, after a three-year period when he had averaged 34.00 with an economy rate of 4.68, was seen as part of England's World Cup planning. Bopara was informed of the selectors' thoughts and does not take issue with their decision now but, tellingly, notes "it didn't work for us during the India series". The old saw about players getting better when out of the side comes to mind but Bopara took no pleasure in seeing England's 3-1 defeat.
"It's never nice seeing England lose," he said. "A lot of my mates I've played with for a long time play in that side and I know how it feels because I've been on the end of it before. But we've got to put that behind us and work on the things we've spoken about - like playing spin. I know it doesn't usually play a major part in Australia but it may do this time. With so many games going on there might some worn pitches so it may play a big part."
England squirmed painfully at times against India's R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and even Suresh Raina, albeit on unusually slow pitches, but they will get plenty of practice against spin in Sri Lanka - as long as the seasonal rains stay away. The conditions will present markedly different challenges to those for the World Cup and Bopara's canny bowling might seem more likely to thrive; still, his record in Australia (he has never bowled in an ODI in New Zealand), from a small sample size, does not suggest a disaster in waiting.
It is perhaps more important for Bopara to make a statement with the bat, having scored just one fifty in 13 innings. Named England's ODI Player of the Year for 2013, his form fell into a hole in Australia, where he only averages 19.40. The debate about his job in the side will probably continue for as long as he is selected but he expects a familiar all-round brief, providing some gunpowder in the closing overs as England seek the scores of 300 that are "almost par now". Of course, he wouldn't turn down a move up the order, reflecting where he bats for Essex. "But if they want me as a finisher I'd be happy in that role too."
Bopara believes England will not look much beyond the players taken to Sri Lanka - "It wouldn't make any sense to pick a completely different side for the World Cup, especially with it just around the corner" - and he also thinks they were right not to look beyond his long-time Essex buddy Alastair Cook for the captaincy, despite the nagging debate about his suitability.
"I think they've made the right call," he said. "It's difficult now to bring in someone new - it would have been a brave decision. But he's got a lot of experience behind him and we've seen Cooky go through tough patches before and come through the other side. This is just another one. It's just time for him to come out the other side now and hopefully he will very, very soon.
"He's always been very good with me - up front and honest. That's the type of character I like. I don't like wishy-washy characters so he's been good with me. I suppose it's easy for him to be like that with me because I am his mate and I've played a lot of cricket with him. It's good to be honest with your mates."
Cook had the last few weeks of the county season off, though he will doubtless have juggled his duties as a first-time father with some time practising in the nets. Bopara is not planning a holiday either, though he will soon be packing his bags again.
"I've got to work really hard too. It's not about end of season and resting. It's not in my make-up, I don't do holidays. I want to work on my game, I've got a lot of good years ahead of me in cricket and a lot to prove to myself."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick