Essex boy's self-confidence puts Bopara in Test frame

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The Independent Online

Essex cricketers rarely lack self-belief. An hour in the company of Derek Pringle, England all-rounder and former member of this parish, more than verifies the theory. It is why Darren Gough, the former England fast bowler, fitted in so well during his three seasons there.

Ravi Bopara, England's exciting 22-year-old all-rounder, is as Essex as they come and he has made an extremely positive impression during the opening two weeks of his first Test tour. Bopara has scored runs, taken wickets, held catches and added vigour to Michael Vaughan's side. His endeavour has left the selectors with a tough decision to make before Saturday's first Test against Sri Lanka do they pick the more proven batting of Owais Shah, or do they go for the all-round package of the uncapped Essex dynamo?

"I back myself to be successful as a Test cricketer," said Bopara, still glowing from the thrill of riding on an elephant following the England team's stop at an elephant orphanage on their journey between Colombo and Kandy, venue of the first Test. Then, when asked whether he felt he was capable of handling Muttiah Muralitharan, the world's most dangerous bowler, he said: "Why not? I've been asked to come away on a Test tour. If I wasn't good enough I wouldn't be here.

"Before the tour my ambition was to come out and play in all three Test matches, and to prepare myself as though I was going to play in all three. I think you have to come away believing you are going to play. I was told that the biggest difference between county cricket and international cricket is the mental side of the game. I was told that you had to be able to back yourself, your ability and your technique. I don't know how big the step is between county cricket and Test cricket, I haven't made it yet, but hopefully in the near future I will find out. I don't have any doubts that I will."

Bopara has a touch of class about him, a fact that was highlighted by the way he batted during Tuesday's win in Colombo. With the game interestingly poised and with only a solitary run to his name Bopara chose to come down the pitch and smite the gentle off-spin of Jehan Mubarak for six. Explaining the shot, he said: "I was watching from the side and saw he tossed the ball up and when I got out there I thought: 'what would Graham Gooch do? He wouldn't keep patting it back, he would be launching him back over his head.' So I thought 'why not?' and went for it."

England's three-Test tour of Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will go ahead as planned despite two bomb attacks in Colombo, the capital. The England squad left Colombo prior to the attacks, which killed 17 people and injured 22, and are currently in Kandy preparing for Saturday's first Test. "We are guided by the British High Commission and we have spoken to them and at present their travel advice remains the same," said Andrew Walpole, England's media liaison officer. "As things stand this will not affect the tour."

Both attacks were thought to be instigated by the Tamil Tigers.