Bopara to play for Essex as he fights to save his Test place

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Three months ago Ravi Bopara left Lord's with the No 3 position for England seemingly secured for seasons to come. Today he returns there to play for Essex against Middlesex with perhaps two innings to save his place for the final Ashes Test at The Oval next week.

Bopara is one of five of the England side thrashed in seven-and-a-bit sessions at Headingley who have been released for county duty. Alastair Cook also plays for Essex, while Graeme Swann will turn out for Nottinghamshire against Warwickshire, who include Ian Bell, as well as squad member Jonathan Trott. Graham Onions has been made available for Durham.

Bopara made his highest Test score of 143 against West Indies at Lord's in May, the second in a run of three successive centuries, but the Ashes has proved disastrous for the 24-year-old. He has scored 105 runs in four Tests and, at 15, averages less than James Anderson and 13 of the 14 Australians to have featured in the series.

"He's coming back to some familiar faces and a dressing room he's very happy with," said Paul Grayson, the Essex coach. "He's still a top-class player but he's just lost a bit of form and a bit of confidence."

That loss of confidence was plain to see at Headingley when he limply hung his bat out to Ben Hilfenhaus and was caught behind. In the second innings he was unfortunate to be given out lbw and looked a forlorn figure as he trudged off. "Ravi's going to need some loving this week," summed up Grayson.