This is the latest in our ‘A Day in the Sun’ feature series by Tim Ferrone (@WrappedUpMuso), which focusses on those whose England appearances might have been relatively few and far between, but nevertheless made an impression…
It might seem misplaced to include a man whose England caps number in three figures in a series about those who only fleetingly starred for their country. In the case of Ravi Bopara though, it is the disparity between Test and List A appearances that reveals why this highly gifted and adaptable character justifies his place in this particular feature.
Let’s address that limited-overs career first then, for here is an individual hugely familiar to fans of English cricket in the last two decades, whose IT20 batting average exceeds that of his bowling average, and who has scored over 2,500 runs (not to mention weighing in with a more-than-handy 40 wickets) in ODIs. Though the last of those appearances came in 2015, Bopara is still very much an active player, of course, stating that his recent relocation from long time home Essex, headed west along the south coast at Sussex, was partially inspired by the desire to reclaim a place in England’s List A squad.
That Tom Banton memorably suggesting just last year that England’s one-day side was the most difficult sports team in the world to break into speaks just as much of Bopara’s ongoing capacity to deliver for his respective teams, as much as his continued desire to perform at the highest level.
It is in this context then, as a regular and much-valued contributor to England’s one-day cause, that we consider Bopara’s much more brief Test match career.
It started in the trickiest of circumstances on the 2007 tour to Sri Lanka, culminating in twice failing to trouble the scorers in the heat of Galle, on the latter occasion suffering the ignominy of being run out for a first-ball duck.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bopara returned to the ranks of county cricket for a period, before a much more successful experience once recalled to the team for the 2009 tour of the West Indies, as Andrew Flintoff’s injuries increasingly began to take their toll. Whilst a lifeless Bridgetown pitch yielded over 1,500 runs for the loss of just seventeen wickets, it did however help enable Bopara’s maiden Test match century. The high-scoring nature of the game prevented a definitive indication of the Essex all rounder’s batting abilities but did at least help cement a place in the side for the following return series in England – and it was here that Bopara’s light shone brightest.
Batting amongst the much-vaunted company of the likes of Cook, Strauss, Pietersen, Collingwood, and Prior, it was Bopara who stamped his authority on the game staged at the home of cricket, with a wonderfully crafted 143, the rest of the top order failing to reach so much as a half-century. Bopara countered the early seam movement and infamous Lords slope, growing increasingly in confidence throughout his innings, before memorably marking his century by gesturing for his name to be added to the honours board.
A third successive Test century was to follow in the subsequent match at Durham, having been promoted to fill the often troubling number three spot in the order, and in-so-doing seemingly cementing a long-term place in the side, and a crack at the forthcoming touring Australians.
Yet the Ashes experience was to prove a frustrating one for Bopara. A series of good starts saw him record four out of his first five innings with scores of between eighteen and thirty-five, yet without pushing on to really stamp his authority on any of the matches. By the time of the fourth Test at Headingley, Bopara’s form had deserted him, as he and the rest of the top order folded meekly twice; on a personal level facing seven balls across both innings and scoring just one run, making way for some late order hitting from Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann to briefly divert the crowd from an inevitable innings defeat.
Dropped for the final match at the Oval, it was Bopara’s misfortune to be replaced by Jonathan Trott, who not only scored a highly assured debut century but never looked back as he went on to become the bedrock of England’s Test batting lineup for the next four years, as they went on to become the world’s best team in the five-day format.
Bopara was to return for two further brief stints, but without making a suitably compelling case as a long-term Test match candidate. To some extent he was a victim of his own success in the limited-overs formats, in which he has established a career both for England and various franchises around the world, somewhat over-writing the accomplishment of being only the fifth Englishman ever to score three consecutive Test hundreds.
In an era of central contracts, Bopara’s thirteen tests make no less of a compelling case than many subsequent English Test batsman, but in the context of the likes of Pietersen, Trott, Cook, et al. it is true to say that an average of just under thirty-two was never going to stand out.
So it is then that Ravi Bopara managed an all too fleeting day in the Test match sun, though he, and very many England fans too, will continue to dream of one last crack at international cricket of the limited-overs variety.