Untimely Bopara setback opens door for Bairstow
England will almost certainly havea new batsman for the start of the international summer on Thursday. Both Jonathan Bairstow and James Taylor have sound reasons for expecting the invitation to become the country's 652nd Test player, with Bairstow perhaps the selectors' preferred option.
The late amendment to a squad for the First Test against West Indies that was picked on Thursday and will be announced this morning has been prompted by a leg injury to Ravi Bopara. It could hardly have been more untimely for Bopara, who was to be recalled to the Test side for what promised to be a run guaranteed to last the summer and far beyond if he scored runs.
This is the second successive season that his return has been spoiled at the last moment. He was all but in the team for the First Test against Sri Lanka last year until Eoin Morgan scored a dashing hundred in the England Lions match, which prompted the selectors to change their minds.
Bopara felt discomfort in Essex's match against Kent at Chelmsford and an overnight scan revealed he had a slight tear in his right quadriceps. With his thigh heavily strapped, he eventually batted at eight with a runner yesterday and was run out after leaving his ground.
It is unthinkable that an England side which leaves no possible injury untreated, unscanned and unnoticed would take a risk with a damaged player. The chances of aggravation or enforced withdrawal during the match would be too great.
Perhaps the selectors may name Bopara with another batsman as cover, which was not their original intention in a party of 13. But sad though it is for Bopara, who has worked diligently for this renewed opportunity, the needs of the team must always come first. It is possible that a Test career of 12 matches which has been played in three segments may not resume if he cannot make it to Lord's on Thursday.
A new generation of batsmen is starting to mature and their advent is genuine cause for excitement. Taylor and Bairstow both made telling points to the selectors, who were all present, in a partnership of 107 for the Lions against West Indies at Northampton on Friday.
Taylor completed his second century of the season (his first was against Loughborough University) and if the Lions team is properly to be the final stepping stone to senior international honours he could hardly do more. Last season, he had scores of 76, 16, 76 and 98 and is now their captain to boot.
But Bairstow has also deeply impressed knowledgeable observers and if many of them are also from Yorkshire, that should not necessarily devalue their judgement. He has scored two hundreds in Division Two of the Championship and has undoubted class.
It is eminently possible to think that both he and Taylor will have durable international careers but England's batting order is hard to break into. Four of the top six – Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen – have played together 54 times.
The one batting vacancy now is available because Paul Collingwood has yet to be replaced long-term since he retired following the2010-11 Ashes series. Morgan was given the first opportunity, Bopara was to have the second.
Bairstow's position is slightly complicated by the fact he keeps wicket. Perhaps the selectors have that position in mind for him eventually, but the present incumbent Matt Prior is only 30 and the best wicketkeeper batsman in the world.
The dual role meant that Bairstow batted at seven for the Lions in Northampton. There is the added consideration that it will not be straightforward for him to slot straight back into the field. It is a high intensity, specific occupation these days and Bairstow would be short of practice wherever placed.
He was detained behind the stumps for longer than he might have expected yesterday as West Indies at last showed their resolve on the third day of the final practice match. An overnight 28 for 3 was transformed by an innings of 108 from 235 balls for Kieran Powell and half centuries for Darren Bravo and Shiv Chanderpaul.
Such resistance, which was promised by the tourists' estimable coach Ottis Gibson, enabled them to take a lead into the fourth day. West Indies may not be going quietly after all.
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