Essex boys the perfect double act
Bopara and Cook are the dynamic duo for county – now they look ideal partners for England
Familiarity has bred content for England so far in the one-day series. Alastair Cook, their captain, and Ravi Bopara, their elevated middle-order batsman, have played as comfortably together as if they were old pals, each sensing what the other is thinking or might do next.
This is because they are. Their partnerships of 131 in the first match and 78 in the second, with Cook making successive centuries and Bopara two fifties, have played a large part in taking England to an improbable 2-0 lead against Pakistan. They have been based on long association.
They were boys of 12 when they first met through cricket and in the years since have regularly found themselves at opposite ends for Essex and England. There is an easy, mutual trust between them at the crease which was forged in the days of innocence.
"I think it does make a difference because you sort of know what's going on inside their head," Bopara said yesterday. "It does make it easier when your batting with your mate because you almost try to start helping each other out and you forget about what's going on around you – the bowlers, fielders, that stuff.
"You just think, 'Let's just help each other out here and make it easier for us' and it's amazing how quickly things change in the middle. We do enjoy batting together, we've done it a lot in the past as well."
The partnership which thrust them into the public gaze was made when they were both 20 and put Australia to the sword one sappingly hot August day at Chelmsford.
Despite the 270 runs they put on for the second wicket, it might have been largely overlooked, except it was a few days before the decisive final Ashes Test of 2005 and the country was going cricket crazy.
For these embryonic batsmen to have walloped the speed merchant Brett Lee around the county ground with such abandon weakened Australia at a crucial moment. A few days later Lee was subjected to the blazing bat of Kevin Pietersen.
Unions between Bopara and Cook have been limited because of Cook's role as opener but they seem to work. They have batted together 64 times in all in senior cricket, covering county and international cricket, and their average partnership is 50.
"Cookie's a really good bloke, I've known him for years and he's just a good mate of mine and somebody who'll be a mate for ever," said Bopara. "All we've been saying when we've been in together is just notch the score up by five runs. We're not speaking too much about what's going on and how difficult it can be in the middle."
For Bopara, who has made 50 and 58, his seventh and eighth ODI fifties embellishing a patchy record, this is also a chance to reclaim his Test batting place. When he made his third hundred in succession, against the West Indies in 2009 at Chester-le-Street, it seemed a long and auspicious career beckoned.
Three months later he was out of the side after a poor run, with England needing to win the final Test at The Oval to clinch the Ashes. He has never been an automatic choice again, but with England's batting having folded so abjectly in the recent Test series – and a tour of Sri Lanka starting next month – his turn might arrive once more.
"I don't expect to be given a chance but I'd like to be knocking on that door so hard they can't ignore it," said Bopara. "A few more runs in this series and, hopefully, I'll get that knock."
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