Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Why it has to be third time lucky for Ravi Bopara

Have started writing a semi-regular cricket column for talkSPORT.co.uk here. Here is my first offering.

***************

With the England Test team set to depart for Sri Lanka tomorrow talkSPORT’s cricket reporter and producer of The Keys & Gray Show JON NORMAN looks at a make or break series for one batsman who will approach the tour with a feeling of déjà vu

***************

Three years ago, on a blazing hot Barbadian afternoon, I watched from the Kensington Oval stands as Ravi Bopara scored his maiden century.

He marked the milestone by mimicking the famous ‘To Di World’ victory pose of the Caribbean’s favourite son, Usain Bolt. Three deliveries later he departed, caught on the hook by Jerome Taylor.

But surely this was the start of a great Test career? Well, no.

Now he will depart again on Saturday as part of England’s 16-man squad bound for Sri Lanka. And this time there is no margin for error and no excuses for failure.

In 2007, as England’s great new hope, he made the same trip. It was a series that would end with him exiled from Test cricket for over a year and sow the first seeds of doubt about his ability to succeed at the highest level.

Back then, Bopara was a brash young Londoner coming through the ranks at Essex. Like the man whose pose he pulled that day in Bridgetown, he’d been quick out of the blocks.

Described by his mentor Graham Gooch as one of the most talented batsman he’d ever worked with, Bopara was called up to the one-day international squad at 21, and now a Test debut later that same year.

Since then, however, his career has been a succession of false starts.

That first Sri Lanka tour ended with three ducks in a row, the last of which typified his increasingly muddled thinking. With England struggling to save the match, Bopara was run out first ball in an over that had already yielded two wickets. After England stuttered to a series defeat on Asian soil (sound familiar?) Ravi was dropped.

When his second chance came in the West Indies in 2009 he knew he needed more than a century on a track flatter than an Ian Abrahams joke to convince the doubters. So he followed it up on home soil with back-to-back hundreds and a man of the series award against the same opponents.

But his second coming was to prove as much of a false dawn as the first. In the most highly pressurised environment in cricket, the Ashes, he buckled; mental fragility and a loose defensive technique saw him average just 15 in four Tests.

Appearances in the pyjamas of ODI and T20 cricket provided some solace over the next two years before the retirement of Paul Collingwood opened the door for another Test return.

It was a straight shoot-out between Bopara and Eoin Morgan, with an England Lions match against Sir Lanka the opportunity for both men to stake their claim. Morgan blasted 193, Bopara failed. Morgan was in and once more there were mutterings about Bopara’s temperament.

He spent most of last summer watching his idol Sachin Tendulkar from the same vantage point I had, before carrying drinks in the UAE as England capitulated to a 3-0 series defeat against Pakistan.

Significantly for Bopara, however, Morgan failed in the recent series, opening the door once again for the Essex man.

It has to be third time lucky for Ravi, because he surely won’t get another chance. A host of young talent is coming through the county scene, while the management is toying with the idea of using Samit Patel as a spinning all-rounder.

So a two-Test series this month may well define his career. He has two weeks to safeguard his international future.

He has been here before. Literally. But his tormentors of 2007, Muralitharan, Jayasariya, Vaas and Malinga, are no longer around.

So Sri Lanka have changed. The question we’re about to have answered is whether Bopara has.

As he flashes his passport at check-in this weekend, he’ll know that if he hasn’t, then he’s on a journey that will start and finish in the same place. This time for good.

No comments: