David Lloyd: Bopara must now drop down order in shake-up

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The Independent Online

Choosing Ian Bell to replace Kevin Pietersen in next week's second Ashes Test is the easy part. Deciding that he should take over from Ravi Bopara at No 3 will need a bit more thought from England's hierarchy.

As a general rule, it's a good idea to keep changes to a minimum when trouble strikes. And there is no doubt captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, when they are given a squad of players for Edgbaston, will be tempted to ease Bell into Pietersen's No 4 slot and then, Andrew Flintoff's fitness permitting, leave well alone.

After all, if it ain't broke then don't fix it. But while Bopara is by no means broken in the vital position of first wicket down, he has been showing signs of mental and technical wear and tear that would be solved, most probably, by a move down the order.

Many people were surprised to see the Essex youngster handed Test cricket's most difficult batting place when England warmed up for the Ashes series by playing a two-match series against West Indies.

After all, the 24-year-old was winning only his fifth cap. Not a problem, though, for the new No 3. A blockbusting innings of 143 was followed by 108 at Chester-le-Street. Well done England, well done Bopara.

Cricket, especially Test cricket, is seldom quite that simple, however, and when the word "Ashes" is inserted before "Test" then we are talking about a completely different ball game – as Bopara discovered in Cardiff and at Lord's. He played frenetically in the first innings of both of those matches, determined to take on bowlers who were happy to give him enough rope to hang himself. And the bowlers won.

Then, second time around at Lord's, Bopara tried to rein himself in while England were batting for a declaration, but looked horribly unconvincing and should have been out twice before finally departing.

Bopara is a terrific talent who looks destined for a long and successful Test career. But right now, Bell – with a much tighter technique – looks a better bet for No 3, a move which would allow the team's least experienced batsman to drop down a place or even two. Whatever their preferred order though, England's selectors (who are due to meet today) must also identify a spare batsman to take to Edgbaston in case of further injuries. And while the cupboard is not bare, candidates are hardly falling off the shelf.

The Kent pair of Joe Denly and Rob Key come to mind, so does Worcestershire's Stephen Moore. And maybe there is some mileage left in Owais Shah. But Bell's Warwickshire colleague Jonathan Trott is a man in form at just the right time, having scored a century in difficult conditions against Hampshire yesterday.

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