Bopara picks up where he left off
Ravi Bopara returned to the England side in the same manner he departed it, hitting a brilliant century to mark the start of the international summer.
The all-rounder was dropped for the final Test of the recent tour of the West Indies, despite reaching three figures in the previous match in Barbados.
But he justified the selectors’ faith in recalling him for the opening npower Test against the same opposition courtesy of a splendid unbeaten 118 in his first first-class innings since that century in February.
He reached three figures midway through the evening session on an absorbing day which also featured a stellar contribution from Fidel Edwards, whose four wickets - including two in two balls shortly after lunch - had threatened to undermine England’s first innings.
The efforts of Matt Prior, who contributed a rapid, counter-attacking 42 to a stand of 84 with Bopara for the fifth wicket, and Stuart Broad, who helped add 69 for the sixth, should also not be overlooked as England closed on 289 for seven.
There can be little argument that Bopara and Edwards were the central figures today. If the former enjoyed the odd slice of fortune - he was dropped on 76 and 100 - it is worth noting that Edwards’ figures would have been even more impressive had he not had three chances put down off his bowling.
It was symptomatic of a woeful fielding display which saw West Indies spill six catches, all in the final session.
While West Indies will no doubt be glad to have captured seven England wickets, their feelings will also be tinged with more than a hint of regret at having failed to make further inroads in conditions which favoured the seamers.
There was movement through the air and off a pitch tinged with grass for the majority of the day, yet Edwards was the only bowler to learn from a disappointing morning session in which they failed to maintain the fuller length required at this ground in May.
Andrew Strauss was the sole casualty before lunch, the captain falling for 16 after he had lost the toss and been asked to bat.
He had looked noticeably composed during his brief innings, which featured successive boundaries off Jerome Taylor before he was caught behind attempting to force the same bowler off the back foot.
That provided Bopara with an early chance to stake his claim for the number three spot, having been preferred to the likes of Owais Shah, Ian Bell and Michael Vaughan.
Recently returned from Twenty20 duty in the Indian Premier League, Bopara overcame his initial nerves to work Edwards off his legs and drive Lionel Baker back past him for four, while Alastair Cook took boundaries off Taylor either side of Strauss’ wicket.
If England allowed their thoughts to drift towards a sizeable first-innings total during the lunch break, they had been blown away within minutes of play resuming - thanks to Edwards.
Cook, anchored to the crease, was bowled for 35 via an inside edge, and Pietersen did well to even get an edge on an immaculate delivery which was directed to middle and leg, swung out late and left him off the seam. Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, initially wrong-footed, held a superb one-handed catch diving to his right behind the stumps.
Collingwood survived the hat-trick ball, but managed only eight before he edged Edwards low to Devon Smith at second slip.
That wobble took some of the shine off Bopara’s half-century, which he reached when whipping a Sulieman Benn full toss through midwicket for four. He had faced 102 balls and struck five further boundaries.
Given the situation, one may have thought England’s priorities would shift towards self-preservation, but Prior, in particular, led a stirring fightback.
He rode his luck somewhat, edging Baker wide of the slips and miscuing Lendl Simmons over point, but there were also a handful of forceful strokes through the covers as the bowlers’ discipline began to desert them.
Bopara continued unfussily, an exquisite cover-driven boundary off Benn a rare sign of aggression as he reined in his natural attacking instincts.
His concentration appeared to wane during a spell after tea which saw him flick Edwards to square-leg, where Nash spilled a straightforward chance, but Prior received no such reprieve when he slapped a long hop to Simmons at cover.
It mattered little to Bopara, who collected another regulation single into the leg side to go to a 207-ball century containing 12 fours. Ever the entertainer, he marked the moment by miming signing his name on the dressing room honours board.
Though he was put down by Smith, moving to his right at second slip, off Baker without addition to his score, Bopara stood firm while Broad seemingly did his best to get out.
The left-hander was dropped four times before he finally cut Benn to Taylor at point, and the slow left-armer provided West Indies with a further tonic late in the day when he trapped Tim Bresnan - one of two debutants alongside Graham Onions - lbw on the back foot.