Few players have had as many chances in an England shirt as Ravi Bopara: despite making his Test and ODI debuts in 2007, he has never truly nailed down a place in either side.
In just over six years, he has accumulated 87 caps in one-day cricket, as well as 13 test appearances and 22 in Twenty20. While his place in the t20 side is currently occupied by Luke Wright and a Test recall looks a long way off, Bopara has been making waves with his latest return to the ODI side.
Once seen as something of an enigmatic figure in the England side in all forms of the game, a player for whom good form was often undone by chastening troughs, Bopara has this time shown a degree of quiet consistency with bat and ball that bodes well for his future in the ODI side.
In the past, Bopara has been used as a specialist batsman who could bowl a bit, but his role now is different. Coming in at no.7, he is one of England’s middle order power hitters in the later overs alongside Eoin Morgan and keeper Jos Buttler. Just as crucially, he is required to bowl 10 overs in conjunction with Joe Root in order to take the role of the 5th bowler. He tends to make up the majority of these overs with his underrated swingers.
Thus far in the final match of the series against New Zealand and the Champions Trophy, Ravi has acquitted himself very well in both disciplines, going about his business with panache and a calm head. His batting at the death has on more than one occasion elevated England from an under-par total to a competitive and defendable one, while his bowling in the middle overs with the old ball has seen him swing it, keep it tight, and even pick up his fair share of wickets.
Bopara has more than justified the England selectors’ latest round of faith in him. When recalled against the Kiwis at Trent Bridge (the only one that England won), he contributed a very useful 28 and then bowled six extremely tight overs to strangle New Zealand’s momentum in their search for a series whitewash.
This was a solid, if unspectacular return, but having been out of the side in all forms of the game since last summer, and following a decidedly negative reaction to his recall, it can be seen as a step in the right direction.
In the Champions Trophy, Bopara has gone from strength to strength. In the opening game, his 46* off 36 propelled England to 269 after a slow start and the subsequent failure of the other big hitters. He followed this up with 33* off just 13 against Sri Lanka at the Oval, including three maximums. This was of course in vain, but Sri Lanka’s chase would have been considerably easier without Ravi’s late flurry.
Against New Zealand on Sunday it was his bowling that took centre stage. After just nine with the bat, he picked up two wickets, including the prize scalp of Brendan McCullum, while bowling the maximum five overs. In conditions that suited his medium pace perfectly, he swung the ball and alongside James Anderson, was England’s biggest threat.
Bopara also appears to be as key a member of the team as he has ever been. His fielding, as usual, has been excellent and he has also taken over the ball shining duties - a role so critical for England’s quicker bowlers searching for the lateral movement that sets them apart in home conditions.
When all is said and done, however, cricket is a game in which it is impossible to hide from statistics and averages. In this regard Bopara once again shapes up very well. His two not outs have helped him to a batting average of 88 and an outstanding strike rate of 144.26; the highest of any batsman to have batted in all three of their teams matches. Only Darren Sammy has matched his four sixes. In the bowling stakes he boasts a healthy economy under six and a decent average of 31.
So, for a much maligned player whose most recent recall was lambasted in many quarters, Bopara is enjoying a rather good time of it upon his return to the side. He has quietly gone about his business, carving a niche for himself as England’s all rounder, a position that Chris Woakes and Tim Bresnan before him had struggled to fill.
He remains far from the complete article - he is yet to string together a truly great performance with bat and ball in the same game, but if Bopara continues his excellent finishing with the bat and steady middle over bowling, England may have yet found the answer.
The greatest tests are yet to come - a semi-final with pre-tournament favourites South Africa awaits - but Bopara has slipped under the radar and is fast becoming the key man in England’s pursuit of their first major ODI title.
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