Ravi Bopara: ready to dogfight for England.
Right at this precise moment, Michael Vaughan is probably not putting too much thought to his Test comeback, but if he is, then the identity of his successor in England's middle-order might give him a grain of comfort. Back in December last year, Ravi Bopara made his debut in Sri Lanka, and was dropped after a frazzled return of 42 runs in three matches, including ducks in each of his last three appearances. He's now preparing for his comeback at The Oval on Thursday, as Vaughan steps aside with a series tally of 40 runs from same number of games.
Since that disappointment, however, Bopara has reinvigorated his credentials in a prolific year for Essex. He has made 976 runs at 51.36 in first-class cricket, including three centuries, and is averaging over 100 in the limited-overs game. "It's fantastic to be called back into the Test side," he said "It is something obviously I had a goal for, I aimed for, and I worked hard towards it in the latter part of the winter. I knew what I needed to work on and I went for it. It is nice to be called back to this arena again."
"This summer has been very good for me in all forms of cricket," he said. "It has all been pretty prolific compared to the rest of my years. The biggest change for me this season is I have been in fearless mode, I have just been going out to play in the way I want to play, and I've not thought too much about the game. I know people say 'think about what you are doing' but I haven't done too much thinking, to be honest. I have just played the ball, and if it's there to hit, hit it, if it's not, don't."
That sort of an attitude carried Bopara to the World Cup in the Caribbean in March and April last year, where he was one of England's few successes in a disappointing campaign. By the time his Test debut came around, however, the tension of his elevation had got to him, and he was unable to reproduce such free-flowing form.
"The challenge for me is to continue it with an England shirt on," said Bopara. "The thing that all good Test players do is take what they do for their counties and replicate it on the international stage. That is what I am going to do if I get a chance to play Test cricket again for England. I am going to go out and do what I do for Essex, nothing different, it's the same ball game, just different players."
"I don't have many regrets about Sri Lanka, to be fair, because it happened all so quickly," he said. "I didn't actually go out and change the way I played, but the Sri Lankans were too good for me. It just didn't go the way I imagined it to go, and that was because of good pieces of bowling sometimes, and other times my own error. But it is important to move on quickly. If you hang on to it too long you find yourself in a hole and dig yourself deeper and deeper. You just have to assess what you need to do, pick out the little points and go and do them. Don't look back, just move forward."
To that end, the current climate couldn't be better for a young player seeking to make his mark in the international game. The series is gone, but there's a new captain in situ, and a chance to make a fresh impression. "For me it is a fantastic opportunity," said Bopara. "We know the series is over, but we still have pride to play for and if I play it will give me the chance to put something on the board, and go into the winter with something positive under my belt."
As for Kevin Pietersen's new role, though he has been cautiously welcomed in some quarters, Bopara has been an instant convert to his style. "He's the new captain and he's already rubbed off on me," he said. "You learn off guys like that and I have been lucky to have had very positive people around me. Mr Gooch has been with me for a very long time, and I have been around in this England changing room with the likes of KP next to me. He's a good mate of mine and we talk a lot."
"I am going to go out and play for Kev," said Bopara. "He has a tough job on his hands, because we all know the England captaincy is not an easy job. I want to do well for Kev and do well for England, so that is all I am thinking about. The vibe in the dressing room is very positive and very honest. Kev has been around a lot of good captains, to learn off them. We know he is a positive bloke and that he likes to play his cricket positively, so that's a nice thing to be part of."
A positive approach is certainly something that Bopara intends to take to his second coming in Test cricket. "When you go through lows you come out a different person," he said. "You become a more positive person, I wouldn't say careless person, but a more fearless person because you've been there.
"It's just like if you let a dog roam on the streets eventually they become fearless, you know? They are out on the streets, they know the streets, and you become fearless because you have been through so many downs. That is how I feel right now. I am not saying I have been through a lot of low stuff, but I feel as if this time I just don't fear this."