Essex boy shows Pietersen the way
Thursday 07 May 2009
Ravi Bopara staked a solid claim for the No 3 spot in England's Test team with his century here yesterday. But if all else fails he could always contemplate a career as batting coach, having last night put forward a suggestion or two on how Kevin Pietersen might deal with 90mph outswingers. Yes, the Essex boy is now brimming with confidence on and off the field.
Having just proved himself as the most successful member of England's small Indian Premier League contingent with some good performances for King's Punjab XI, Bopara readjusted to the long form of the game well enough to score an unbeaten 118 out of the home team's 289 for 7.
True, he was dropped on 76 and 100 – two of six chances spilled by the West Indies yesterday – but a near six-hour innings suggests he could have a long future in what has become a problem position.
Other batsmen were less successful, Pietersen among them. Dismissed by the bowler of the day, Fidel Edwards, for a first-ball duck, England's most recent former captain looked to have received an almost unplayable delivery. "It's not a great ball to get first up – 90 mph and swinging out," agreed Bopara, who saw it all from the non-striker's end. "It's a horrible ball to get. But I'm sure he will learn from it."
A gaggle of reporters assumed Bopara's final comment was meant as a joke. As the laughter subsided, though, he insisted with a face as straight as many of his defensive strokes: "There are ways of combating that. You can lower your backlift and that sort of stuff. When you've got someone like Fidel bowling 90mph and swinging it away you can just leave your bat quite low and not go so hard at the ball."
Back to the nets with you, Kevin lad, and see what can be done. Whether or not Bopara was jesting, England will be no doubt be thrilled to see the 24-year-old full of himself, in the best possible way, on and off the field. Only 18 months ago he looked horribly forlorn after finishing his debut Test series, in Sri Lanka, with three consecutive ducks. And there were some who feared for him at Lord's, simply because he had played nothing but Twenty20 IPL cricket since end of the Caribbean tour a month ago. Fret no longer.
"I've felt very relaxed over the last couple of days and I'm glad it's gone my way," said Bopara. "I think sometimes it [playing Twenty20 cricket] works to your advantage. If you come from a place where you've been trying to play positive then, as a batter, you get into better positions. If you are a bit negative you get tentative and start poking at the ball. So I think it worked to my advantage.
"I hope I go into the next Test batting at No 3 and, hopefully, for the Ashes as well. It's a big thing for me and I'm looking forward to it." Bopara's name is already on the honours board at Lord's, albeit handwritten on a piece of white tape, after he joined the list of batsmen to score a Test century at the home of cricket. "I'm really proud of that," he said. "When you come to Lord's and you play county matches you wonder whether your name will ever be up there. So I'm very happy."
The man of the moment gave his colleagues a hint to get cracking with the pen and masking tape, drawing an outline of the board with his finger and then making a squiggle sign immediately after reaching three figures. And, had there been any justice, Edwards could have done something similar last night. He took four wickets but also had three catches dropped and must try again today to claim the fifth victim that will put his name up in lights.
Thanks to Edwards, a crowd of around 16,000 witnessed a good contest between bat and ball. And while the day belonged to Bopara, the match remains open.
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