Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
England and Sunrisers Hyderabad allrounder Ravi Bopara has said his up-and-down career was largely a consequence of never having a definite role in any team.
"Yeah there have been a lot of stop-starts. I think a lot of that's down to never having a consistent role in a side," Bopara told ESPNcricinfo. "I am mainly a top-order batsman who bowls a little bit, and I may have been viewed as a middle-order batsman, finishing batsman, and someone who bowls a bit. So that maybe part of the reason."
Bopara's international career has never found a rhythm. Even after 120 ODIs and 38 T20Is, apart from 13 Test matches, his place in the England team has not always been certain. "I wouldn't say I am 100% satisfied so far," he said. "I am still only 29 years old, so I have many years to play yet."
The IPL provided an opportunity for Bopara to upgrade his game, and he wants to make the most of it. "IPL is free-flowing cricket. It's a lot of fun, great crowds, it's a great experience as a cricketer. You don't play in this sort of atmosphere anywhere in the world.
"You can even learn from the young cricketers and you can learn from the best overseas as well. There's guys like Murali, VVS Laxman, Tom Moody. It's always good to speak those guys."
As for his role in the Sunrisers set-up, Bopara said his brief was to bat "any number from 3, 4, 5, 6 and bowl at least two overs every game.
"I know I need to do my job as an allrounder. I have played under Tom Moody for a couple of seasons, and I think he knows what I am capable of and what my best role is."
The fastidious approach of some Indian cricketers to sharpening specific limited-overs skills impressed Bopara. "One of the things you learn as a T20 cricketer is being able to hit the ball anywhere in the park, whether it's behind you or in front of you. It's not a joke to be able to clear the boundaries. Even the fans watching know that you just got to be up to play 360 degrees.
"From some of the Indian cricketers I have learnt about the way they bowl in these conditions. They are very adamant about changes of pace and being able to get your yorkers in, because if you miss your yorkers in India you generally go for six. And they are very specific on that so it's nice to see that."
Bopara did not have a huge part to play in England's failed 2015 World Cup campaign; he played one match, against Afghanistan, and didn't bat but picked up two wickets. England's outlook towards limited-overs cricket, Bopara said, was changing, and T20 was no longer deemed lowbrow.
"When T20 first came around, it may have been viewed as a small competition and a just-to-have-fun competition," Bopara said. "The crowds love it; it brings in money for the teams and for the boards, so we all know it's very important.
"I think England do view Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game. I think a lot of cricketers still do. But things are changing rapidly. We have seen how successful T20 has been, how successful IPL has been, and I think slowly, slowly things will go that way. We obviously don't want to forget about Test cricket. A lot of cricketers around the world love Test cricket; I don't think that would change, but there will be more importance on T20 cricket."
Bopara had recently criticised the "institutionalised' culture of English cricket, speaking of the need to develop braver players. "We need to change the culture and be freer as players, stop worrying about the consequences. We need at times to stop being so English," he had said.
Bopara agreed that neglect of cricket in state-run schools, something many observers of English cricket have railed against for some time, was a problem that needed remedying.
"Not enough cricket played around in some of the state schools," Bopara, who studied in a state school himself, said. "The schools I came from, you know, we didn't play cricket. You had to create your own cricket team. It would help if we can bring more cricket to those areas.
"There is a lot of talent in those areas. There are a lot of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi cricketers who love the game, and I am pretty sure there could be some superb cricketers coming over from those areas if we focus in there." Cricket, Bopara said, was instrumental in him being appreciative of a multicultural environment, which in turn was critical to his development as a person.
"Coming from an area where I came from, you can be very boxed and live in a certain way. When you get out and you meet other people who do different things, you learn, you eat different foods. Before playing cricket, I never used to eat things like sushi and fish. But I have learnt so much away from the culture that I have come up in. I have developed a sort of multicultural way of living, and again I owe that to cricket."