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'It gets a bit annoying - quarter-finals, semi-finals, out'

Bopara (left) with his Essex team-mates after winning the Division Two title last season Getty Images

It's the start of a new season, Essex back in Division One of the Championship. What are your expectations?
I don't know, I don't really set goals, but I'm going to take every day as it comes. Excited to play against some different teams as well - we haven't played some other teams for years now, so that'll be nice. New set of bowlers, new set of batters to bowl at as well. It's exciting, should be a good season.

Last year you were captain of the limited-overs sides but have decided to step down. Why was that?
I just want to concentrate on my own game. I think I've got a lot to give as a player. I'm still young, 31, and if I want to go back to captaincy, I can in the future. So I just want to focus on my own game, take some more time out to work on stuff that I want to work on rather than having that tired feeling of organisation and that sort of thing. I just want to play cricket.

Was it about trying get your enjoyment of game back?
I've always enjoyed it, I've never stopped enjoying it. It's just more time to myself, really, so I can fit everything in.

"We get asked this question a lot: what do we need to do? Nothing special: just win. Win as many games as you can. If you don't, you go down. If you do, you stay up. Hopefully, if you win enough, you win the league"

You haven't played for England since the 2015 World Cup. Since then, Eoin Morgan's team has completely revitalised the way England approach the limited-overs game. Do you still think about getting back in the set-up?
It's always in the back of my mind. It would be nice for me to have a good summer and to be knocking on that door. There's a part of me that still thinks about it, yeah. It looks a good environment to play in. So hopefully I can have a good summer. Let's see what happens.

Have you spoken to Trevor Bayliss since he took over?
No, I haven't. I haven't spoken to anyone.

England are one of the favourites for the Champions Trophy this year. Do you ever look back on the 2013 final as a missed opportunity?
No, I don't regret it. We had a good time to get to the final. It's a shame we couldn't chase down 130. But that's cricket for you - you win some, you lose some. We won many games we should have lost, so you've got to take everything as it comes. India deserved it, hats off.

As you said, you're still only 31. Do you see yourself still playing in six, seven, eight years' time?
That's the plan. I've definitely still got the hunger. The plan is to play as long as possible. We're a long time retired as cricketers, so hopefully I can play many, many more years.

There are a few flecks of grey in the beard now - but you're not feeling like one of the old boys?
No, not at all. I'm moving well, moving like a youngster. I'm feeling good - and I'm going to have a little trim as well, so you can't see them!

Essex are in Division One for the first time since 2010. What do you have to do to survive this season? It's something Essex haven't managed before.
We've just got to win games. It's as simple as that. We get asked this question a lot: what do we need to do? Nothing special: just win. Win as many games as you can. If you don't, you go down. If you do, you stay up. Hopefully, if you win enough, you win the league.

Can Essex realistically challenge the other teams?
Yeah, why not. A lot of people question us, but our batting line-up is very strong. We can put runs on the board, I know that for a fact. When you've got runs on the board, you've got a chance. So let's just focus on doing those basics first.

Does the extra attention and focus on Division One give you an incentive to perform?
There is a part that does get you going a little bit. But I've played 16 seasons now and it's another year and I just look forward to going out and playing cricket with some of my best friends up there on a green outfield. It's the best job in the world and the sheer fact that I enjoy it that much and I love the job that much, I don't think about Division One, runs count and runs don't count. I don't really care - just go out and play cricket.

"I'm still young, 31, and if I want to go back to captaincy, I can in the future. So I just want to focus on my own game"

Last year was the third season running that Essex lost in the quarter-finals of both limited-overs competitions. Is it about time you went all the way?
Every year we target a one-day trophy, we back ourselves as a one-day team. It would be nice to go further than the quarter-finals. It gets a bit annoying - quarter-finals, semi-finals, out. It's getting to the boys now, so it would be nice to go all the way this year. It's going to be tough, but that's the best thing about it. We enjoy playing together, turning up to the ground pretty much every day. It's good fun.

You have played in several of the T20 leagues around the world - the IPL, and more recently, the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League. Can that help Essex win a trophy?
Yeah, I think so. The experience of playing in other conditions, as well. Sometimes you come up against similar conditions, dry pitches - and you think, 'I've kind of played on these pitches, so I know what to do here', know what we should do with the bowling and fields. And just playing that many games helps, I think. You're a more rounded, experienced player.

There has been a lot of talk about the ECB introducing a new T20 competition in this country, now slated for 2020 - although it could threaten smaller counties like Essex. What do you think of the plans?
In the big scheme of things it's important for England to have that structure. It's not about individual counties, it's about the bigger picture. We're falling behind. You can look at the stats of youngsters playing cricket in England - they are falling. Traditionally we are always the last ones to do something, I don't know why.

Although England did invent T20.
We invented it, but we do um and ah a lot when it comes to changing things. It's good that we've brought the change in. It would be nice to start it next year but we can't. Let's just wait until 2020 and play it then, but yeah, it was a good decision. I'll be very keen.