Performance of The Day: Ravi Bopara
The Essex batsman's innings of 82 will boost his confidence ahead of the South Africa Test matches
Ravi Bopara’s innings of 82 in 85 balls was the second highest score in 76 games of an unfulfilled ODI career. He has never made a hundred. The one bigger score was his 96 against India at Lord’s last year.
Nevertheless, this was an important innings for England who rely heavily on their middle-order batsmen to compensate for a long tail. It was no less important for Bopara's England career.
At the age of 27, the Essex batsman has not yet cast off the doubts of both the selectors and the England fans. Nor has he attained that fundamental inner belief which only comes through proving yourself at the highest level.
Just ask Ian Bell: In his first Ashes series, Bell resembled a timid schoolboy being thrown to two lions named Warne and McGrath, but he now exudes self-assurance at the crease.
Bopara’s sublime talent is apparent in his natural timing of a ball. One off drive off Mitchell Johnson carried all the lazy elegance that is his hallmark. But, rather like David Gower, his languorous style gives the impression that he’s not trying especially hard.
The truth is very different. Bopara has a deep hunger to succeed at the highest level. If anything, this burning desire was the main factor undermining his performances against Australia in the Ashes Tests of 2009. Bopara wanted it too much, and could not relax and trust his talent. A disastrous series for him culminated in scores of 1 and 0 at Leeds, and he was dropped.
Bopara has since been plagued by injuries and has had just two more innings in Test matches. He has acted so often as 12th man he could have qualified as a waiter. Earlier this summer, another injury meant his place was taken by Jonny Bairstow for the West Indies Tests. Fortunately for Bopara, the young Yorkshireman failed to take his opportunity.
But Bopara knew he needed runs against the Australians to restore the selectors’ faith and boost his self-belief ahead of the South Africa series, in which he will face a greater test of temperament and technique than back in 2009.
Bopara did not have the privileged upbringing of other England batsmen. His mother worked 14-hour days in the family newsagent’s and often had no time to clean the house. He learned his cricket on Astroturf pitches in his native East End of London.
He was a diffident character in his early days at Essex. His cricketing talent was obvious, but he lacked social confidence.
When he moved up to the England squad, it was obvious that the diffidence extended to his batting.
Unlike Bell, Cook et al, Bopara was largely un-coached and has admitted that he did not fully trust his technique during the 2009 Ashes.
Batsmen are like golfers whose fragile techniques crumble under pressure. But Bopara claims to have since acquired confidence in his technique and is convinced he has what it takes to succeed at Test level. His work with England coach Graham Gooch has made up for all the lost time.
This innings of 82 has inked him in for the number six berth against South Africa and it is to be hoped he succeeds. He has had to fight harder than his England colleagues.
He went to comprehensive school, whereas they were all privately educated – with the exception of Trott – and the beneficiaries of great facilities and coaches. Most of the next generation of England batsmen – Bairstow, Taylor, Buttler – were also privately educated.
So, Bopara’s journey is an important one for a number of reasons not least because he is the one representative of English state education anywhere near an England batting slot at the moment, a sorry state of affairs.