Ravi Bopara reluctantly happy to apply the finishing touch
Batsman shows his mettle at No 7, but is keen to move up the order
Among the many issues confronting England's one-day team is the role of the finisher. This is the chap with steel nerves and calculating brain who knows exactly how to pace the end of an innings, usually when chasing a target and seeing the team home.
Perhaps the embodiment of the finisher was Michael Bevan of Australia. England have never had anybody in his class, but then few sides have. The finisher now is Ravi Bopara, who offered a mini-masterpiece of the art on Sunday night.
Faced with a perilous position of 81 for 5, which became 107 for 7, Bopara calmly guided England home – much more calmly than his captain Stuart Broad who was a cat on a hot tin roof – in scoring 38 from 59 balls. His task was eased by the number of overs left, complicated by their shortage of wickets in hand.
A calm demeanour and a rock solid temperament are not qualities automatically associated with Bopara over the years but after 101 one-day internationals, England seem content to entrust him with a vital role, though he is being expected to perform it at No 7 rather than No 6, the position traditionally occupied by the finisher. He is some way short of ecstatic.
"I guess that's what my role is," he said before England's practice for Wednesday's deciding match in the one-day series against West Indies. "Let's just say I have been given a role to play at No 7. If I was asked to go up the order, I'd snap off the hand of whoever makes the decision. But I've been given a role for England and play that role of finishing off an innings. I've got to be happy with it.
"I don't know how I ended up at seven. The only thing I can think of is that we're preparing for the T20. I batted at No 7 in the T20s in Australia and maybe they are keeping that same format at five, six, seven that we have in T20s. I'd have been 100 per cent happy batting up the order."
With all Bopara's experience – it is seven years since his first ODI – it is understandable that England should want him in a key position. On the other hand, a batsman with his array of strokes should be as effective at three or four. There is the conundrum for selectors.
Bopara has been there at the end nine times in winning causes in ODIs. He has failed to see it through a little more often even when scoring fifties. But he seems genuinely more settled now, a family man and budding entrepreneur with two fast food chicken franchises in London.
This is a big year for England in the limited-overs game with a World T20 next month and 50-over World Cup next year. Bopara, who intends to go on beyond that, still nurtures hopes of a return to the Test side, for which he may have to take his turn. If he could nail being a finisher, England would have cause to be deeply grateful.
* The injured pair of Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan both trained with the England squad but may not be considered for selection in Wednesday's deciding match in Antigua.
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