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Bopara well worth the entrance fee

Posted in England in West Indies 2009

Ravi Bopara

Ravi Bopara marks his maiden Test century with a tribute to sprinter Usain Bolt

Barbados recently came out top in a national newspaper survey of the world’s most expensive holiday destinations.

Those who have ventured to the Caribbean on all-inclusive deals will no doubt return with significantly lighter wallets, but even the thriftiest of holiday-makers cannot complain about value for money today.

England’s performance with the bat on the second day of the fourth Test in Bridgetown was nothing short of faultless, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara and Tim Ambrose playing central roles as the tourists posted a daunting first-innings total in a match they must win to keep their hopes of a series victory alive.

Collingwood hit a fine 96, Bopara made a brilliant 104 in his first game since 2007, and Ambrose blazed his way to 76 not out off 95 balls on his return to the side.

They were responsible for the bulk of the 299 runs England harvested in just 63.2 overs, allowing Andrew Strauss to declare on a formidable 600 for six not long into the evening session.

Throw in the 85 runs West Indies scored in 22 overs possible before the close of play, and it all added up to a day of supreme entertainment in glorious conditions, the only semblance of a black mark from an English point of view being their failure to take more than a solitary wicket.

That only four fell in more than six hours today - and seven over the first two days - on the flattest pitch seen in the series suggests this match is not a fair context between bat and ball, a feeling no doubt shared by the likes of Jerome Taylor, Daren Powell and Sulieman Benn.

They claimed a scalp apiece at a cost of more than 100, having spent much of the second day being carted around the Kensington Oval by England’s middle order.

Ravi Bopara

Bopara is given another opportunity to hone his pull stroke on the second day

If Collingwood was the early instigator of England’s barrage with the bat, and Ambrose outscored Bopara almost two to one during their sixth-wicket stand of 113, only one name will occupy the morning headlines.

Bopara deserves all the acclaim that comes his way, for he performed with immense skill and, almost as importantly, great panache on the grandest stage.

He came into this game having spent 41 hours in transit after joining from the Lions' tour of New Zealand - not that it showed when he made a hundred in the warm-up game before the Test.

He was also charged with filling Andrew Flintoff’s hefty boots, despite not having played a Test since making a pair against Sri Lanka in Galle in late 2007.

A single into the leg side off the first ball Bopara faced would have pushed that memory to the back of his mind, and almost four hours later it was safe to assume it had been erased completely as Bopara helped another short delivery around the corner to bring up his maiden Test hundred.

There were no over-the-top celebrations - just a relaxed smile and a cheeky impersonation of Caribbean sprinter and double Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt in victory pose, another illustration of a man at ease in his surroundings.

A miscued hook early in his innings - put down by Jerome Taylor at deep fine-leg - and a blow on the helmet from a Fidel Edwards bouncer were rare aberrations in an innings of the highest calibre.

Though praise of his scintillating strokeplay should be accompanied by mention of the favourable batting conditions, it is impossible not to be impressed by this most talented of 23-year-olds.

Tim Ambrose

Tim Ambrose, deputising for Matt Prior, celebrates an entertaining half-century

Wristy to the point of sub-continental, Bopara ran with urgency, worked the ball off his legs with ease and drove crisply - one checked drive down the ground bore all the hallmarks of Sachin Tendulkar - throughout his 143-ball stay.

But no stroke brought him greater reward than the pull, which morphed into the hook when Edwards managed to extract extra bounce out of the pitch.

Their duel made for captivating viewing - Bopara has a shiner under his right eye to remember the time he failed to connect with one well-directed bouncer - but it was the batsman who emerged victorious despite eventually perishing going after another short-pitched delivery from Edwards.

With Flintoff ruled out of the fifth Test in Trinidad, Bopara’s place appears secure for the series finale, but the mischievous readers amongst you will be wondering what impact Ambrose’s innings will have on the selectors’ thoughts.

Handed a chance to impress with Matt Prior on paternity leave - he comes back into contention in Port of Spain - Ambrose scored with an ease unmatched by any other England player over the first two days, although the West Indies bowlers should shoulder a large proportion of the blame.

Edwards excepted, they were little short of woeful in the afternoon session - and as the boundary count soared during Bopara and Ambrose’s blistering stand of 113 in under 22 overs, one could not help wondering how England were bowled out for 51 by the same attack at Sabina Park.

It may have been cheaper in Jamaica, but England fans will not begrudge paying a little extra in Barbados if they are treated to days like this.

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