Bopara: The man of the summer?

After a horror start to his Test career, Ravi Bopara is reeling off centuries for fun. He could be England's star of the world T20 but he already has one eye on the Ashes

For such an apparently modern cricketer, there is something slightly old-fashioned about Ravi Bopara. In fact, listening to him talk, you might almost charge him with being a traditionalist. Seated on a bench in front of the pavilion at his home ground, the County Ground in Chelmsford, the 24-year-old Londoner is discussing the relative merits of the various forms of cricket.

"Look, I like all forms of the game – they all need a different type of skill, and if you're someone who wants to push yourself, you're going to enjoy the different challenges. But a Test match hundred, that really does cut it for you as a player. Everybody has their eye on a Test, wants to know about it, wants to play in one, and you work so hard for it, you really get stuck in. That moment when you raise your bat, it's a real proud moment, because everyone grows up dreaming about playing in white clothes, at Lord's or wherever, and raising your bat for a hard-worked hundred." Bopara pauses, and laughs at himself. "Well, I did, anyway."

Six Tests Ravinder Singh Bopara has played for England, and in each of the last three, he has experienced that moment of dream fulfilment.

In the first three, in Sri Lanka in 2007, he made a total of 42 runs and his last three innings were ducks. It is hardly surprising that of the three centuries he has scored against West Indies this year, he considers the first, in Barbados, to have been the most important. "Lord's felt great, but Barbados was unbelievable because of what happened in Sri Lanka. Before I went in I knew it was my time, I told myself I'd got myself back in the Test squad, now go in and nail it. But have fun, make sure you enjoy the experience, because it might never happen again.

"In Sri Lanka I think I put a little bit more pressure on myself because I was so desperate to do well. I'm not saying I'm not desperate to do well now, I am, it's just in a different way.

"After Sri Lanka I thought a lot about what had happened, and sort of reminded myself to enjoy it, because I love playing cricket, but it could be taken away just like that. I could have a car accident tomorrow and never play again. So I told myself make sure you go out and do your best, but do it the way you want to do it. And that means enjoy it. At the end of my career, I want to be able to say I did it the way I wanted to do it. I wasn't something somebody else wanted me to be; I was always myself."

It is an attitude he insists he will take into the Ashes series which starts in July. "When I had that experience in Sri Lanka, I just thought you know what, I'm just going to go out and have fun when I'm playing. I'm going to do my best for Essex and for my country, but I'm going to have fun, I'm going to do it the way I want to do it.

"My approach nowadays is more, if it's your day it's your day, and if it's not, it's not. Even in a Test match, if you've done all the work and prepared yourself as well as possible. So if I'm facing Mitchell Johnson, I've faced left-armers in the nets, round the wicket, over the wicket, I've done everything I can to prepare. Then if it's my day, great, and if it's not, then maybe it will be next time."

What the Australians will make of this remains to be seen. Last week Johnson said that Bopara might find big scores harder to come by when the opposition were a motivated Australia instead of a disinterested West Indies. The advent of the World Twenty20 notwithstanding, Bopara admits he is already thinking of the Ashes challenge to come. "I have got one eye on it, yeah, and I'm starting to prepare a little bit now, because that's the next Test match I'm going to play. I don't want to get so into one-day mode that I kind of forget about Test matches, I still want to keep that rhythm I had in the Tests. I want to take it through the one-dayers, and start again in the Ashes, if I get my chance."

Which, fitness permitting, he surely will, though the memory of being left out after scoring his maiden Test century remains fresh enough for Bopara to point out that there are no guarantees. In the meantime he admits he has relished a few days back with his county. "I love my county cricket, and I'd always rather be playing than be in the nets because that's where you learn most, out there in the middle. You can do anything you want in the nets, but it's never the same. I know I have to be sensible about it, and if I was playing a one-day international tomorrow, I probably would not come out and play the day before, but basically I want to be out there."

He picks up a battered white ball and examines it. "Plus it's a chance to get a bit of a bowl. I haven't done much recently, and it's important to keep that going. And it's always good to be with people who've known you a long time. The banter is a different sort to the England dressing room – not better or worse, just different – and there's some very fine cricketers here, people I really look up to like James Foster and Ryan Ten Doeschate, guys who have done great things for Essex."

The calm before the storm? "This lot, calm? I don't think so."

Opening up: Gooch's lowdown on Essex boy

Former England captain Graham Gooch, Essex's batting coach, is cited by Bopara as one of the biggest influences on his career...

"Ravi has had a couple of good knocks, and that's all he's had. He's had a good time against the West Indies, they didn't look particularly motivated, but that won't be the case with the Australians.

"The important thing for Ravi is to know people believe in him, and here at Essex we believe in him. I gave him his debut when he was 17, and by and large he hasn't looked back.

"From the early days you could see he was a very gifted batsman. He's got time, he's got balance, he's got good shot selection, he can do a few things other players can't, but he's still learning, he's not the finished article by any means.

"His bubbly character is part of his make-up, and a good part. He plays with a smile on his face and really enjoys his cricket, always has since the first time I knew him, but he's 24 years-old, and nowhere near his peak."

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