Related Pasts, Different Futures

Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook are both still young men, but they have played together for a very long time. For a string of Essex junior sides, for England Under-19s, for Essex, and for England.

Bopara's career remains in an uncertain place: inconsistent but occasionally dominant at county level, unfulfilled and flatteringly deceptive at international level. Cook is one of the most prolific batsmen in the world.

So you have to wonder what was going through each of their minds when Bopara came to the wicket yesterday afternoon, on the hiding to nothing to end them all, and with Cook already 247 not out.

Bopara doesn't appear the type of person to lack confidence or retreat in the face of others' achievements, but, this time, he could be forgiven the odd stray thought about where, in their 27th years, each of their careers is heading.

Bopara, out cheaply, will, as night follows day, return to Essex and a doubly uncertain future. Such is the stature, stability and brilliance of this England team that opportunities are not going to come along very often these next few years. And by the time one does, it is likely that someone else - Taylor, or Stokes, or Bairstow - will be chosen. There is a strong possibility that Ravi Bopara will never again bat in a Test match for England.

The way in which both men returned to the new Edgbaston dressing rooms said much for their fates. Bopara was ushered from the field by an uncertain smattering of applause, people displacing their embarassment by rummaging in bags or chatting to their neighbours. Cook, in his turn, received an unconditional standing ovation, but there was also a certain poignancy to it.

Bopara looked unemotional, but was, you suspect, quietly shattered. Cook, his iron concentration having for once slipped at the last, was more visibly disappointed, his failure to reach 300 for a brief moment all he could think about. For all his peerless appetite for batting and hatred of dismissal, Cook knows that few players get more than one chance to make a triple-hundred in Test cricket. He is certain to make many more centuries for England, but, in all probability, he won't quite pass this way again.

But at least he will be there. And soon, as England's next captain, the team will be his. For Bopara, life on the county circuit (perhaps embellished by an IPL contract and some one-day international appearances) may be all there is.

Bopara and Cook have played together for a very long time. But for the next few years they may not be seeing very much of each other.


Anonymous said...

Poignant moments, as you say.

Hard to see Bopara as the confident young player who made three successive hundreds for England (even against WI). Almost immediately after this run of success, his batting against the 2009 Australians was a muddle, both of attitude and technique (sometimes inappropriately cautious, almost too side on, sometimes too agressive).

Yesterday's confused cameo didn't advance his cause, sadly. The selectors will find it hard to choose him again.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Anon.

We're entering a period where the England team is going to be very hard to get into. And it's going to be doubly hard if you've failed in the past.

I think there are going to be similarities between Bopara's career and that of Robert Key (who has a Test double century to his name, don't forget), although I can see Bopara continuing to figure in ODIs if he can make a convincing case for Essex.

I think they'll go Taylor next time, though.

TM said...

How right C.L.R.J. was to see the similarities between Greek tragedy and cricket - beautifully considered and conveyed, Brian.
Cook's 14 year old ton (was it for MCC v his Bedford School 1st XI?) shows how early the character of his batting developed.

Brian Carpenter said...

I will have to dust off my copy of
'Beyond a Boundary', TM.

Yes, MCC were short and were given Cook to make up the numbers. He proceeded to take a hundred off his own school's First XI.

As I've said many times before, batting is simply what he was put on earth to do.

Russ said...

Bopara might come back. He can take some solace from the career trajectories of Langer and Martyn, both blooded early (and perhaps prematurely) but eventually finding their way to a permanent place. It really depends on how much he wants it.

John Halliwell said...

I wonder what Gooch's view is of Ravi's future? I do wonder if it was Gooch who persuaded Miller, Flower and Strauss to give him a further chance, rather than go with Taylor, at least at this time. I also wonder what Cook was thinking as Ravi took guard and then quickly perished. I suspect they were thoughts of hope and then despair for his friend. I somehow think they would have been different thoughts and emotions to those of Boycott as he watched a struggling 'friend' quickly come and go. I felt for Ravi as the umpire's finger went up, and even more so after reading Brian's evocative description of the long trudge back.

Backwatersman said...

What puzzled me was why they chose Bopara rather than Taylor in the first place. Bopara clearly had nothing to gain, Taylor nothing to lose. No doubt I'm biased, but I'd say JAWT is a much better player than RB and has potentially got a 10-15 year test career ahead of him. Giving him a debut here would have been risk-free from everyone's point of view, and made it clear who's next in line.

RB's bowling, perhaps? His connection with Essex? A justification for forgetting about him in future?

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks all.

Russ, I wouldn't deny that Bopara could come back, but I have my doubts that he will because of the amount of good younger talent coming through in England. He'll need to be a lot more consistent for Essex to have any chance.

John, thanks for your appreciative words about the writing. I think Gooch was probably a key figure in Bopara's selection. It's known that he has a very high regard for Bopara's talent and his views clearly have weight within the England set-up, but eventually there must be a realisation that some of the alternatives might be better. Talent or proficiency at lower levels of the game are no guarantee of success at Test level (just ask Mark Ramprakash, a much better player than Bopara will ever be), and Bopara has rarely impressed me for England. His three tons were against the West Indies (one on an absolute featherbed) which is hardly a guarantee of quality these days.

Backwatersman, although I haven't seen Taylor in the flesh, everything about his pattern of consistent run-scoring suggests a major player. The fact that he hasn't made a Championship ton this season was advanced by some people, but I think his runs in the West Indies for the Lions and his runs against Sri Lanka A and his runs over the past three seasons (starting at the age of 19), should have counted for more.

Yes, as I've said, I think the Gooch/Flower/Essex link does have an influence, but it would have taken a pretty desperate spin doctor to advance his bowling as a factor. With England' attack and India a shambles he was never going to get a bowl in a month of Sundays!

Brian Carpenter said...

All the above can be ignored as it looks as though Bopara will be playing at The Oval. Unless they decide to include Tremlett and play five bowlers to see what it feels like in a dead rubber.

I look forward to posting about Ravi's comeback century this time next week!

Russ said...

Brian, I don't doubt the talent coming through. What I meant was, regardless of other talent, if a good player keeps their name in front of selectors their chance comes. Between when Langer and Martyn were dropped in '93 and their eventual returns in 2001 Australia tried 5 or 6 batsmen.

Anonymous said...

Hadn't seen a previous reference to Bopara at the Oval. It had struck me that the selectors might have decided to give Trott "more time to recover". They would then have the opportunity to forget about Bopara for the last time, if he fails, or to keep him on the edge of the squad, if he succeeds. One can remember other selections which had this sort of thinking behind them.

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