Why are we still talking about Bopara?

The England squad for the first Test against South Africa is set to be announced tomorrow morning at 09.30 BST. There is not much of note, England are untroubled by injury, and the only discussion is about whether Ravi Bopara will be included. The media seem to think it is a fait accompli that he will and I fear they may be right. The apparent reason for this is utterly absurd, however: it seems that Ravi Bopara will be given what will now be a fourth chance due to a combination on Jonny Bairstow’s failure (note that Bopara has three of those to Bairstow’s one) and Bopara’s good form in the ODIs.

The notion that ODI form should be a reason for Test selection is utterly maddening, yet it is seemingly very common. The England selectors seem to have overlooked the fact that there is no number six at the moment precisely because the first person they tried there, Eoin Morgan, failed at the Test level after excelling at ODIs! In fact, Morgan was picked almost purely on his ODI record; his first class record is distinctly average. The fact that he is not batting at six himself shows the folly of picking players on limited overs runs. It is all well and good to say that a player looks ‘assured’ or whatever adjective one prefers, but the fact is that the styles of batting are very different and ought to be incomparable. Just look at how England (and Cook and KP in particular) fared against Pakistan’s bowling in the Tests and ODIs in the UAE in January and February. They are different games.

The other argument for why Bopara ought to be picked is a more reasonable, but still flawed, one. It is that he has done well in the County Championship this season, which he has. He averages 66 from five matches with two hundreds. However, this must be balanced against his previous Test failures and the fact that he is playing against second division attacks this season. There are two players in the first division, and even Joe Root in D2, with a better average than Bopara and who have not yet had a chance at Test cricket. Nick Compton is the obvious one with his incredible start to the season and Rikki Clarke even averages 70. Slightly below Bopara, Joe Denly averages 57 for Middlesex. There is no reason why one should give a fourth chance to Bopara when there are better qualified candidates who have never had a single chance. In fact, there is little reason to even drop Bairstow. Morgan was given over a year to prove himself; it would be very harsh on the much more talented Bairstow to discard him after only three real innings.

If Bopara is selected, as seems very likely, I will hope he does well. I would like him to repay the selectors seemingly insane faith in him and prove me wrong. But I am not at all confident and I think it is very unfair on other players. We will have to see what happens starting on 19 July, but if Bopara fails again, this has to be his last chance.

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