England Return to Bopara to End Slide
To say that England are in poor ODI form heading into November’s series in Sri Lanka and the World Cup next February would be an understatement. This summer Alistair Cook’s men were comprehensively beaten first by Sri Lanka and then by India and they have not won an ODI series of more than three games against a test playing nation since beating Australia back in 2012. Having briefly reached the top of the ODI standings a couple of years back England have now dropped down to fifth and questions are being asked of the selectors and captain Cook. In an attempt to arrest England’s decline the selectors have turned to a familiar face, naming Essex’s Ravi Bopara in their 16-man squad for the tour to Sri Lanka, and he is confident that he can make a real difference ahead of the World Cup.
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Bopara initially made a name for himself as both a test and ODI player, making his debut in both forms of the game back in 2007. In recent years, however, he has come to be seen as more of an ODI specialist and his three test centuries in 13 matches are easily overlooked. His promise as a limited overs player even saw him signed by the Kings XI Punjab in the IPL back in 2009 but his recent form has not attracted so much attention and he was ignored in the 2014 IPL auction.
Bopara last appeared for England in this summer’s series against Sri Lanka, playing in all five games of the 3-2 defeat before being dropped for the series against India. In dropping Bopara it became clear that the England selectors did not see a place for him in the team, opting to go with more specialist batsmen and bowlers than to stick with Bopara as a bowling all-rounder able to hold down one end with his military medium style. The decision to go with a fifth specialist bowler backfired on England, as they lost the India series 3-1, but Bopara holds no grudges; “It’s never nice seeing England lose,” he said. “A lot of my mates I’ve played with for a long time play in that side and I know how it feels because I’ve been on the end of it before. But we’ve got to put that behind us and work on the things we’ve spoken about – like playing spin,” he added, hinting at the England top order’s difficulty in getting to grips with the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and part-timer spinners Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu.
The biggest criticism for England’s recent performances was saved for their batsmen, with the team passing 250 just once in their four ODIs against India and with Joe Root notching England’s only century (113 in the fifth ODI at Headingley). Similarly to the test team earlier in the summer, captain Alistair Cook came under the microscope and his personal top score of 46 was not enough to stop the calls from pundits and former colleagues alike suggesting that he should stand down. Despite the series defeat against India, Cook is standing firm and will remain as captain for the World Cup. For his Essex colleague Bopara that can only be a good thing. “I think they’ve made the right call,” he said. “It’s difficult now to bring in someone new – it would have been a brave decision. But he’s got a lot of experience behind him and we’ve seen Cooky go through tough patches before and come through the other side,” the 108 ODI veteran added. As for Bopara himself, he will need to find some form with the bat, having made just one half century in his last 13 England ODI innings and averaged just 19.5 in the series against Sri Lanka.
The decision to bring Bopara back in to the fold so quickly after dropping him could be viewed in a number of ways. It could be viewed as a sign of weakness from the selectors and an example of them not having the courage of their convictions to stick with the new faces or it could, in a more positive light, be viewed as an acceptance that they got things wrong against India and that they are willing to lose face to put them right. Either way it will not take long to find out whether the decision to recall Bopara will give England the boost that they need, the first ODI against Sri Lanka takes place in Colombo on 26th November.