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Ravi Bopara: A tale of burgeoning promise not yet fulfilled

Ravi Bopara at his best is an attractive stroke-maker © Getty Images
Ravi Bopara at his best is an attractive stroke-maker © Getty Images

Essex and England cricketer, Ravi Bopara was born on May 4 of 1985. On his day, Bopara  can play shots that can bisect the minutest of gaps in the field and leave fielders motionless. He can also frustrate you by losing his wicket when set. Bharath Ramaraj traces the career of Bopara.

When Australia toured England in 2005, there was considerable hype surrounding the Ashes series. England finally had a mettlesome squad that looked set to give Australia a run for their money. It turned out to be a rip-roaring and action packed series with some fine performances from England players that went onto be glittered in gold in the history of their cricket helping them to wrest back the Ashes urn after 19 long years. The likes of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen became instant heroes and were the toast of the entire nation.

During that time, Australia also played a two-day game against Essex. It was not counted as a First-Class match. But it was still an important fixture for them in the sense that Australia would get some valuable practice, before the crucial fifth and final Test to be played at the Oval.

However, on a flat deck at Chelmsford, they were greeted by a couple of hundreds from two youngsters with burgeoning potential. Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook met fire-with-fire against the likes of Michael Kasprowicz, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Shaun Tait and Stuart MacGill to send Australian fielders on a leather hunt. If Cook compiled a double hundred then, Bopara helped himself to an eye-catching century full of majestic brilliance. Both young batsmen were rightly hailed as the future of English cricket.

More than eight years have gone by since then. Bopara who was then 20 is now nine years older. Sadly, the Essex wonder kid still finds himself on the fringes of England setup. At a time when he should be at the peak of his prowess, he is known as a One-Day specialist, who can play quickfire innings down the order, and bowl a few overs of his medium pace.

If we trace his early days, Ravi Bopara was born into a Sikh family. He went to Brampton Manor School, followed by East Ham and Barking Abbey School. Even during his younger days, he was looked as a prodigy, who could climb up the ladder and become a world-class cricketer.

When England management sent a strong Under-19 squad to play in the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2003-04, Bopara was expected to be one of the stars of the tournament. Even though, it was his good mate, Cook, who shone like a beacon in the tournament, it was clearly evident that Bopara during his brief stays at the crease too had truckloads of talent. By then, he had even made his debut in the Frizzell County Championship for Essex.

Despite Bopara wading through marshes and bushes in terms of performances in County cricket, England think-tank plumped for him when Kevin Pietersen suffered a rib injury during the first game of the Commonwealth Bank tri-series played against Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 2006-07. In his very first game at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), when Bopara stepped down the wicket to the fierce pace of Shaun Tait, and played a sweetly timed stroke with a touch of silky grace down the ground for a glorious boundary, cricket pundits wowed at his ability to pick the length early. He showed more glimpses of his unruffled elegance when he almost took England to a thrilling victory over Sri Lanka in the Super Eights of ICC World Cup 2007.

In 2007, Bopara also made mountains of runs in the County circuit.  Yet, he had to bide his time to make his debut in Tests. The big moment finally arrived at Kandy against Sri Lanka by the end of that year. In what turned out to be a see-saw battle between two evenly matched sides, Bopara struggled to make a vital contribution. Even during the next two Tests of the series, Bopara flopped miserably, and question marks were raised about his temperament. It has to be said that it is hard to face the likes of wily spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga in their own den.

It was only in 2009 that Bopara penned his mark in Test cricket. Replacing the enigmatic Owais Shah in the line-up against the West Indies at Bridgetown, Barbados, he scored a terrific century. He followed that up with two more hundreds against the same opposition at home. However, it proved to be a false dawn for him. His tendency to play across the line early in his innings led to his downfall when England came up against a superior unit compared to the West Indies, Australia. Actually, more than playing across, those jangling nerves seemed to be affecting his concentration prowess.

Unfortunately, since that century against the West Indies, he hasn’t even amassed a Test fifty. By 2012, he withdrew during the middle of a Test series against South Africa due to ‘personal reasons’. Yes, he has made a successful comeback from that difficult period he faced into the England limited overs setup, but it doesn’t seem like he will play another Test for his country in the near future.

In the abridged versions of the game, especially in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he has on occasions come up with heart-stirring performances. Who can forget him compiling 96 against India at the Oval in 2011 with poise and equanimity, or his blistering knock in the ICC Champions trophy last year against Sri Lanka.  The level of disdain he showed against hapless Sri Lankan bowlers bordered on arrogance. With 34 wickets to his name, he is also a useful medium-pacer and can generate contrast swing. Yet, you get the feeling with Bopara that he hasn’t fulfilled his potential.

Bopara still has a few years left in him to leave an indelible mark in the world of Test cricket. But for him to make a comeback into England Test team, he needs to convince the selectors that he has the temperament to take on the best in the business. From his point of view, hopefully, he can do it, as he is a batsman who oozes class when he gets going.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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