Bopara proves his worth to revive ailing England
England 289-7 West Indies
Thursday 07 May 2009
The first time Ravi Bopara scored a hundred for England he was rewarded by being dropped. That will not be happening on this occasion and from the manner in which he played yesterday it will not be happening for some considerable time to come. Preferably, say, 10 years.
Indeed, the conviction and bravura he exhibited in his first Test match in England made the previous decision look like a piece of selectorial madness. Bopara's unbeaten innings of 118 was not flawless but it was confident, measured and attractive and had the significant additional virtue of extracting England from the mire.
There was a general suspicion that the West Indies were hardly ready for the first match of the npower series. In their three warm-up matches the tourists had been lacklustre and had been much worse than that in the last of those games, against England Lions.
But then they did not have Fidel Edwards, the fastest bowler in the world. Like four other players in this match he has been playing in the Indian Premier League in South Africa and joined the tour late. The difference he makes to the team was as plain as his bowling was rapid and that England finished the day on 289 for seven was because of his incursions.
In a blistering spell of authentic pace bowling after lunch, ignoring the sleepy pitch, he undermined England's cause and began to justify the West Indies' odd decision to field. Bopara spent most of the time at the other end during this potent burst which yielded four wickets in all in 36 balls. But he too might have been the fifth victim, dropped as he was at square leg when he was 76.
That was merely the first of the West Indies catching lapses and five more followed in the last session of the day – in all a sextet which may yet mean the difference between victory and defeat and certainly illustrated the gap between proficiency and incompetence. Blame the light, blame the ball, blame the alignment of Mars with the sun, it was not good enough.
Perhaps the surface was not quite as flat as was predicted or as it seemed, perhaps England did not bat as astutely as they should have done – but without Bopara's contribution the new management team might have looked a little pale round the gills. As it is, the decision to recall Bopara in the troubled No 3 position looked a masterstroke.
Since Michael Vaughan made a hundred there against New Zealand at the same venue last summer, the berth has been less blue riband than red alert. After Vaughan's initially voluntary exit, both Ian Bell and Owais Shah had failed to nail down the position. The selectors turned to Bopara in desperation as well as need and optimism.
In his solitary Test appearance of the winter, Bopara made an assertive hundred in ideal batting conditions in Barbados. Taking into account the conditions and the sentiment that other players ought to be offered a proper chance, he was left out for the final match.
There had been much talking up of his ability and his presence in the few days leading to the match and he has plenty of both. Bopara talks the talk because he is passionate about batting and batsmen but sound judges have said for years that he can also walk the walk.
Some of his cover driving was beautifully timed but he can also play the on-drive with some style and he pulls with alacrity. West Indies had an understandably confident appeal against him turned down when he was 42 but there was something about his bearing yesterday which made a century inevitable.
That is Bopara's way: he goes out every day expecting a hundred and when he got there he made defined a rectangular shape with his arms and then made to write something. This was the dressing room honours board and his name that will now go on it.
His colleagues were assailed by Edwards. He had bowled four overs from the Pavilion End early in the day but his line was awry. Returning from the Nursery End after lunch, he found the slope immediately to his liking.
England had lost only one wicket in the morning – Andrew Strauss edging a flat-footed drive behind – but suddenly their top order was all gone. With only four added, Edwards found one which just swung enough to take the inside edge of Alastair Cook's bat and bowl him.
Next ball, he produced a peach to Kevin Pietersen which squared up the batsman, nipped away and took the edge, which Denesh Ramdin took one-handed to his right. This was an extremely smart catch, but it was not a portent of things to come. Shortly after, Paul Collingwood nicked one to slip and England were 109 for four.
Much responsibility has been placed on Matt Prior to bat at six, a position he may well retain when Andrew Flintoff returns to the side, assuming his wicketkeeping is up to it. He played briskly until he gave Edwards his fourth wicket by smacking a short, wide ball, Prior's first after tea, to cover. A key partnership of 84 was curtailed before its time.
That was after Bopara had been put down at square leg but before the subsequent shelling began. Stuart Broad and Bopara put on 69 for the sixth wicket, and how they did will be pushing for a place in the top 100 mysteries of life.
Broad was put down at nine, 13, 22 and 37 at gully, slip, wicketkeeper and by Sulieman Benn off his own bowling. Bopara was given another life just after he had reached his hundred when Devon Smith, nominally the tourists' safest pair of hands, let slip another eminently catchable opportunity.
At last Broad was snaffled at point and there was just time for Tim Bresnan, one of two debutants in the England side along with Graham Onions, to experience Lord's and Test cricket before he was rather harshly judged lbw. There were no more alarms and Bopara finished the day unbeaten. He has the power to add and for England to get the result they need he must do so.
Moment of the day
Ravi Bopara's century-completing single, followed by a restrained but significant act of celebration. England's new No 3 drew the Lord's honours board in outline with his finger, then added a squiggle as if to say: Get my name up there now! He achieves a feat that eluded such luminaries as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Michael Atherton and Shane Warne, who failed to take a five-for in NW8.
Statistic of the day
The West Indies grassed six catches yesterday, giving Stuart Broad four chances and Bopara two. Their recent record shows that they spill one in three catches – when compared to Australia and South Africa with one in five – which helps explain their lowly Test ranking.
Ball of the day
Fidel Edwards' 91mph thunderbolt which squared up Kevin Pietersen and found the outside edge. And, just for once, the West Indies held a catch, with keeper Denesh Ramdin clinging on to a right-hander.
First npower Test at Lord's
West Indies win toss
England 1st innings
*A J Strauss c Ramdin b Taylor 16, 34min, 24 balls, 2 fours
A N Cook b Edwards 35, 138min, 96 balls, 4 fours
R S Bopara not out 118, 349min, 246 balls, 14 fours
K P Pietersen c Ramdin b Edwards 0, 2min, 1 ball
P D Collingwood c Smith b Edwards 8, 29min, 20 balls, 1 four
†M J Prior c Simmons b Edwards 42, 80min, 56 balls, 8 fours
S C J Broad c Taylor b Benn 38, 93min, 71 balls, 5 fours
T T Bresnan lbw b Benn 9, 16 mins, 16 balls, 1 four
G J Swann not out 7, 20min, 15 balls, 1 four
Extras (b 1, lb 2, w 7, nb 6, pens 0) 16
Total (7 wkts, 384min, 90 overs) 289
Fall: 1-28 (Strauss), 2-92 (Cook), 3-92 (Pietersen), 4-109 (Collingwood), 5-193 (Prior), 6-262 (Broad), 7-275 (Bresnan).
To bat: G Onions, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Taylor 17-2-57-1 (nb2, w1) (7-1-29-1 2-0-8-0 4-1-8-0 3-0-8-0 1-0-4-0), Edwards 19-4-53-4 (nb4, w1) (4-0-18-0 6-2-15-3 7-2-18-1 2-0-2-0), Baker 18-4-59-0 (w2) (10-4-15-0 1-0-12-0 3-0-16-0 4-0-16-0), Benn 26-4-80-2 (8-2-25-0 9-0-32-0 9-2-23-2), Nash 2-1-2-0 (one spell), Simmons 5-1-24-0 (w3) (3-1-12-0 2-0-12-0), Gayle 3-0-11-0 (2-0-5-0 1-0-6-0).
Progress: First day: 50 in 60min, 12.1 overs. Lunch 88-1 (Cook 34, Bopara 33) 29 overs. 100 in 154min, 35.2 overs. 150 in 215min, 49.4 overs. Tea 182-4 (Bopara 72, Prior 42) 58 overs. 200 in 262min, 61.5 overs. 250 in 295min, 77.2 overs.
Bopara 50: 148min, 102 balls, 6 fours. 100: 282min, 207 balls, 12 fours.
West Indies: *C H Gayle, D S Smith, R R Sarwan, L M P Simmons, S Chanderpaul, B P Nash, †D Ramdin, J E Taylor, S J Benn, F H Edwards, L S Baker.
Umpires: S J Davis and E A R de Silva.
TV replay umpire: I J Gould.
Match referee: A J Pycroft.
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