Ravi Bopara’s dramatic return to form during the past week has given the man who wants to replace Paul Collingwood in England’s Test side the perfect early birthday present.
Bopara is up against the likes of Eoin Morgan, James Taylor, Andrew Gale and James Hildreth for the probable number six slot in England’s Test batting order, following Collingwood’s retirement from Test cricket at the end of the winter Ashes series.
The Essex player, who is 26 on May 4, turned down a £100,000 opportunity to play in the Indian Premier League for the Rajasthan Royals because of his desire to win the Test place that is expected to be available for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka behind a likely top five of Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell.
Bopara’s medium-pace bowling is another strong plus-point in his favour – he would be a much more credible fifth bowler in a Test attack than Collingwood ever was – but the first fortnight of the new season went poorly for him with the bat as Essex also struggled with defeats against Kent and Middlesex in their first two County Championship matches.
But, against Glamorgan last week, Bopara bounced back to form with a match-winning unbeaten century that helped Essex record their first win of the season. He demonstrated the full range of his exciting and beautifully-timed strokeplay to hit 136 not out as Essex reached a stiff target of 360 with six wickets to spare.
Bopara had also made a gritty 61 in the first innings and his new-found batting form has continued over the extended Bank Holiday weekend with more runs in the Clydesdale Bank 40.
During his Championship hundred, Bopara and Matt Walker set a new record fourth wicket partnership for Essex against Glamorgan, with left-hander Walker contributing 97 to the stand of 217.
“The win was brilliant for the team,” said Bopara. “I’m pretty pleased with my own performance and the half-century in the first innings gave me a bit of confidence but I was disappointed that I gave it away at that point because I was feeling very comfortable. But things work in funny ways and I got another chance and it all worked out well.
“I thought Matt Walker was exceptional; he came in and took the game to them. The only time he looked anxious was when he got close to his hundred, I know that he really, really wanted that but it wasn’t to be. But he did a brilliant job for us.
“We haven’t really hit our straps this year but I think that win will change things around for us. All we needed was to get more runs and confidence from our batters and now we can go out and put the pressure back on opposing teams.
“We were desperate to get that win and it’s excellent that we’ve gone and achieved it at home in front of our home crowd. They had had a good game to watch and the boys are now confident because some of them have now got runs on the board.”
Bopara’s his first six County Championship knocks of the season produced just 92 runs, but the form he rediscovered against Glamorgan will surely go a long way to helping his England Test cause, as well as boosting Essex’s season.
“Hopefully that innings will have put my name back in the selectors’ thoughts but there is still a long way to go before that side for the First Test is picked,” he added. “I’ve got a lot of work to do for Essex yet.”
As for his bowling, Bopara is candid about his noticeably increased workload so far this season. He said: “I’m so glad that I’m bowling overs. I’ll be honest, I get bored out there if I’m not bowling, and I really don’t enjoy just standing around fielding for a session and not really taking an active part.
“I like to bowl and bowl long spells and I’ve been doing that in the last couple of weeks. I really want to play for England as an all-rounder in all forms of cricket and the game is always better when you are actively involved.”