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Alan Gardner in Chittagong
March 26, 2014
England go into their second match of the Super 10s in a position where defeat could effectively spell the end of their World T20 campaign after little more than a week in Bangladesh. They face Sri Lanka, ranked No. 1 in the format and on the back of two wins from two; England, meanwhile, have won two of their last eight T20s. The good news is that Ravi Bopara has been dreaming of hitting sixes.
Bopara may eventually command a place in the order higher than his current station at No.6 - it would likely have been seven had Joe Root not suffered a broken thumb in the Caribbean - but he has gamely adapted to the role of a gun-slinging six-shooter coming in below Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler. He knows that the pressure to start clearing the ropes is almost immediate, even against as fiendish a late-innings bowler as Lasith Malinga.
"Obviously you have to hit sixes in T20 cricket to push the run-rates up. I can only speak for myself but I do need to practise hitting the balls over the ropes," he said. "I'm going to face roughly between 10-20 balls, at most, batting at number six, so I really need to be ready to hit a six after my third or fourth ball."
What about needing to hit a six off the first ball? Off Malinga? Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka's captain, almost creased up at the idea, saying he had never seen it done. "I can't hit a six against Malinga," he said.
Bopara has only been dismissed by Malinga twice in 13 encounters, both on England's tour of Sri Lanka in 2007, although that is not necessarily proof of mastery. Just hitting Malinga is what some batsmen dream of - ask Netherlands - and Bopara said that his match strategy may involve resorting to something a little smarter.
"I have been lying in my bed at times and thought: why don't I just hit the first ball for six?" he said. "Because more often than not, the bowler just wants to land it on a length and hopefully get a dot. So it's probably the best ball to hit out of the park. Yeah, I have thought about it.
|I have been lying in my bed at times and thought: why don't I just hit the first ball for six? Ravi Bopara|
"It is tough to hit someone like Malinga out of the park consistently, which is why he's probably the best in the world. The best way to approach Malinga is to try to deflect him, past the gaps behind point, hopefully get bat on it behind square, that sort of stuff. That is the best way to approach him, because he does have a very, very good slower ball and if you're looking to have a big swing at him, that slower ball can do you as well. Personally, I'd try to deflect him."
England's sketchy recent form with the bat comprises several factors, not least being injury-enforced changes to personnel. Michael Lumb and Alex Hales, one of the most successful opening partnerships in the game, have only twice produced significant stands since August - 111 at Chester-le-Street and 98 at Bridgetown - and both times England have won.
Eoin Morgan, meanwhile, appears to have struggled with the extra demands being made of him as England's marquee short-form player. His average dipped below 30 for the first time since his second T20 international innings, earlier this month and a careworn 12 from 15 balls on Saturday maintained the slump. He seems more at ease in the finisher role he performed at the start of his career and tellingly averages 19.00 at No. 4 compared to 45.84 at No. 5.
With Moeen Ali showing an apparent flair for batting at three against New Zealand (soft dismissal notwithstanding), perhaps Bopara, who showed his affinity for this part of the world by finishing as top-scorer in last year's Dhaka Premier League, could provide a solution.
"I'd love to bat a little higher, but that's not my decision," he said. "The conditions in the Dhaka Premier League were slightly different. We didn't play any of the games in the night. They were slightly drier and lower wickets, but in terms of batting up the order, yes, I'd love to bat higher up but that's not my decision, and that's probably not my role in the team."
Stuart Broad talked before England's opening game about the need for continuity of selection and players to know their roles. Bopara seems to know his and, following a nomadic international career that has involved more comebacks and reinventions than the line-up of The Fall, it may serve current purposes to keep things that way. Hit sixes, win the match, nothing more complicated than that.
"It is a must-win game for us. I don't think we know the mathematical side of it - we have to win. Winning against Sri Lanka would be a big thing for us, a big confidence boost and that's how we're looking at it."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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