Bopara further whets Miller's appetite
National selector Geoff Miller could barely contain his excitement about the Investec series with South Africa and Ravi Bopara’s inclusion for the opening Test when he spoke to ecb.co.uk.
Bopara is set to play in his first Test since last August when the eagerly-anticipated three-game rubber begins at the Kia Oval on Thursday.
The 27-year-old Essex batting all-rounder has long been recognised as a prodigious talent and, having overcome a couple of injuries this year, is fulfilling his talent against the best opposition.
Bopara’s form in limited-overs internationals over the last year - when he has hit six fifties - has been impressive and, going further back, he can count three centuries among his 12 Tests.
On the back of two match awards in the 4-0 NatWest Series demolition of top-ranked Australia, he has been selected in a 13-man squad for the opening contest of a series whose winner will be the number-one Test team.
“It doesn’t get much better, does it? Two top sides going head to head with the number-one ranking at stake should be pretty enthralling,” Miller, who also spoke glowingly of Bopara, enthused.
“He’s a talented player and he’s shone both in these last one-dayers that he’s played and also what he’s been doing for Essex; he’s playing good cricket. So it’s fully justified, his selection.”
Bopara has been unlucky in his wait for a 13th Test cap. It would likely have come in Sri Lanka during March but for a side strain and then against West Indies in May save for a thigh injury.
“He’s been good. He’s worked really hard on his fitness and his body so that’s not been an issue at all," Miller said. “And that coincided with good form as well.”
Bopara’s useful seam bowling and athletic fielding are other feathers in his cap, both skills he demonstrated versus Australia.
“It opens up opportunities and avenues for us and gives us that little bit of flexibility. So that could be vital as well, together with the fielding which is always spot on,” Miller added.
“So we’re quite excited the way he’s going and I’m sure he will be an integral part of our team.”
Making way for Bopara after mixed batting returns in the 2-0 defeat of West Indies is Jonny Bairstow, the 22-year-old Yorkshire batsman.
“We know that Jonny’s a young and talented player,” Miller, who played 34 Tests from 1976 to 1984, said.
“He’s had a bit of a hiccup and we all have those. Every Test player has those at some stage and he needs to go back to Yorkshire and score some big runs again and work his way back in, but he still remains very much part of our picture.”
Eoin Morgan, dropped from the Test team after the winter whitewash to Pakistan, was also considered.
“We talked about him,” Miller continued. “We need to see a little bit more from Eoin but it’s nice we’ve got people, as we’ve had for quite a while now, knocking on that door and trying to get into this side. At this moment in time the justification was for Ravi.”
Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, who were rested at the end of the Australia series due to elbow problems, are part of a bowling selection conundrum for captain Andrew Strauss and team director Andy Flower.
“We wouldn’t have selected them if there was any doubt on that. No problem there,” said Miller, who has every faith in Strauss and Flower picking the right attack.
“I’ll leave that to the captain and coach on the morning of the game. They always make the right decisions so I’m quite happy to be in a position where I can give them that flexibility.
“It’s a good fast-bowling unit at the moment so it depends on conditions. It depends on surfaces that we’re playing on and we’ve got different bowlers that could bowl on different surfaces. So we’ll wait and see what it’s like on the morning of the game.”
Until then Miller is sure England will prepare for this Test as they would any other, despite their year-long status at the summit being on the line.
“It’s pretty important to concentrate on our preparation for the first Test match rather than getting distracted by rankings,” he explained. “If we prepare well and execute our skills like I know we can, then the rankings will take care of themselves.”