Bopara responds to tough love
Posted in England v West Indies 2009
Sentimentality is not a trait associated with professional sport, but Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss must have felt a twinge of guilt when they dropped Ravi Bopara for the final Test of the Caribbean tour in March.
Bopara had, after all, made a stunning century in the previous match in Barbados, his first Test since 2007, yet he was overlooked for the series finale in Trinidad as England opted for a fifth frontline bowler in a bid to force victory.
If Flower and Strauss demonstrated their ruthless side in dropping a man still celebrating his maiden Test ton, they showed today that they had not blocked the episode out of their memory.
Indeed, by picking him at number three in the batting order - ahead of Owais Shah, Ian Bell and Michael Vaughan - for the first Test of the summer, coach and captain provided Bopara with the ultimate seal of approval.
If Bopara’s axing at the Queen’s Park Oval seemed harsh, his inclusion at Lord’s may just be a psychological masterstroke.
Then again, it might not. For one wonders how much of a mental boost Bopara needs.
A supremely confident cricketer at ease with himself and his game, the 24-year-old gives off the impression that he knows how good he is - and doesn’t need anyone to tell him. And that is meant as a compliment.
From the way he plays - exposing his stumps early in his innings by stepping away to leg - to his admission after play that he wanted to reach three figures with a single rather than a boundary, it is clear that Bopara does things his own way.
It is the sort of un-English approach which can attract accusations of arrogance, but it would be unfair in the extreme on a player who was regularly seen sporting a wide smile during his innings.
He claimed that he did not feel any pressure, but you can be sure that the Indian Premier League and a lack of preparation in English conditions would have been received more than a passing mention had Bopara failed today.
You could almost hear the knives being sharpened when Kevin Pietersen, another IPL representative, fell first ball, and Paul Collingwood’s demise for eight served as further ammunition to those critical of England’s preparation for this Test.
But Bopara, in his first first-class innings since Barbados, made light of a hiatus of more than two months to underline his wonderful natural ability by making 118 not out.
His innings was valuable not only in terms of his own career - even taking into account his previous experience, Bopara can now reasonably expect a run in the side - but also in the context of the match.
He watched Fidel Edwards remove Alastair Cook and Pietersen with successive deliveries in a phenomenal post-lunch spell that yielded three wickets for seven runs in 20 balls, but he refused to be deterred in his mission to bat out the remainder of the day.
If Bopara’s century in Bridgetown was an example of fluent strokeplay as England amassed 600 for six on a pitch that resembled a runway, his effort here was notable for its steady tempo.
It says much for which team had the better of conditions that West Indies claimed seven England wickets despite managing to spill six catches, but Bopara’s presence at the close of play was a measure of both his technique and temperament.
He was the beneficiary of two of those drops - on 76 by Brendan Nash at square-leg and on 100 by Devon Smith at second slip - and he survived an lbw shout off Sulieman Benn which could easily have been answered in the affirmative on another afternoon.
England's position - and the tone of tomorrow's newspapers - would have been different if Jerome Taylor’s outswinger had located rather than missed Bopara’s outside edge first ball, while he was grateful he did not get more bat on a sliced drive that landed just short of cover.
However, it would be churlish to rue the near misses when the vast majority of Bopara’s innings, which spanned all but half an hour of the day’s play and has encompassed 246 balls, was nigh on faultless.
There cannot have been many people in Lord’s or watching at home who could suppress a grin when Bopara unveiled his century celebration.
Having copied Usain Bolt’s archer impersonation after reaching three figures in Barbados, Bopara marked his hundred today by tracing the outline of the Lord’s honours board before miming writing his name on it.
Scoring centuries seems to come easily to him. Inventing a new celebration each time he does so may prove more difficult.