Joining an England batting line-up that has outperformed its Indian opponent and, over the last 12 months, has essentially been centered around its resolute, old-world No. 3 Jonathan Trott, is a batsman of sparkling strokeplay, cheeky personality and a careering Test record. Ravi Bopara, named as the replacement for the injured Trott, has said he thought his chances of international cricket in the summer had gone before he found himself in a role reversal from two years ago.
Bopara was dropped after the 2009 Ashes Test at Headingley, after scoring 105 runs from seven innings, and replaced by Trott, who has since then cemented his place.
"When Trotty came in for me in the Ashes, he got a 100, and I'm coming back in for Trotty so hopefully I can go in and get a 100 and do the same what he did a couple of years ago," Bopara said at Edgbaston on his return to the England dressing room for what he knows could well be a short stint. "At some stage Trotty will come straight back in. He is a class player and he's proved himself for England many times. But this little window of opportunity for me is to go out and score some runs."
When Eoin Morgan was picked for the series against Sri Lanka and then India, Bopara said he thought, "my chances might have gone for the summer..." and so turned his attention to scoring heavily in first-class cricket and think of England's winter tours in Asia, with ODIs in India, Tests in Sri Lanka and an 'offshore' series versus Pakistan in the UAE. "I still knew that I still had to perform very well if I want to travel with the team during the winter as a spare batsman... I still knew I need to be scoring runs to get the nod ahead of anybody else," he said.
Bopara believed his second-innings century against Leicestershire at Southend proved crucial in convincing the England selectors that he was ready for a return to Test cricket. He considered the 178 one of his best four-day knocks, which put him in good nick. "I certainly enjoyed that innings... I got into a zone I felt where I honestly felt I couldn't get out... Eventually I had to come out of that bubble, when we had to set a score to put them in... Leicestershire bowled to sort of different tactics and it worked in my favour as well. I'm very glad that that innings happened, I learnt a lot from that innings alone."
Bopara's fitful first-class season with Essex before that knock - with two centuries and two fifties in eight games - was not, he says, the result of being ignored by England even though it had had left him "frustrated". The time he chose to spend in county cricket, as opposed to playing in the lucrative IPL, he said, had been a very useful investment as the summer has worn on. His early form in the season came from the typical demands of the first half of the English season. "Maybe I didn't I prepare as well for those conditions, I didn't think it was going to be as tough as the conditions really were... I didn't certainly expect those conditions early season and I'm glad I did invest that time into my game. Not going to the IPL, it sort of gave me an insight into how tough conditions can be early season in England. I certainly learnt my lesson."
Part of that learning has come from handling the Tiflex ball used in the second division of the county championship. Bopara first found himself in the news not for scoring runs off it, as much as for critical tweets. On April 15, he had tweeted, "no heavy rollers and tiflex balls is a recipe for low scores. Crap cricket!"
When asked why his international appearances had been so sporadic for a cricketer once considered the next big thing for English cricket, Bopara said, "It might have been that I wasn't a well-rounded enough player to have survived at Test cricket in that time but you never will know until you go out and have another opportunity... and eventually when you do crack it, that's the only time you will know."
Even as Trott's replacement in the England batting, Bopara is not a prime candidate for the No.3 spot with there being a possibility of Ian Bell moving ahead and Bopara being slotted in at No. 6. When asked where he would like to bat Bopara said, "Anywhere. I don't care. I'm not saying I can't bat at No.3 because I've done so for the county many times. I've got two Test hundreds batting at No.3, it's not like I can't do it. It just didn't happen for me against Australia. Anyway, I'd be happy to bat anywhere and as long as I go and get runs, I'm not too fussed."
Bopara said he wanted to ensure that he did enough with whatever opportunities he was given in the series against India to get his spot back in the England dressing room. "I have to put pressure on other people for me to get in and there's only one way to get in and that is to knock somebody out. Regardless, I have to go out and score runs, whether it be county cricket, Test cricket... any cricket. This little opportunity here is a great little opportunity for me to get some runs and to prove to the selectors and the coaches that hopefully that I am the next man."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo