Bopara to focus on Test spot
Ravi Bopara has gone the way that Eoin Morgan may look back and wish he had, by searching for early County Championship form rather than financial lure of the IPL. Morgan is the player that is probably in pole position to replace Paul Collingwood in the Test side after being the spare batsman in the recent Ashes series, yet his decision to play T20 cricket in the early months of the domestic season may affect the selectors thoughts when the squad for the first Test of the summer against Sri Lanka is made sometime in the middle of May.
I personally am perplexed by Morgan's decision, barring the obvious financial advantages, perhaps that is a good enough reason. It is indeed a lot of money (he was signed for Kolkata Knight Riders for $350,000), but surely it goes against all cricketing logic for his own career. Morgan is only 24 years old, this is a critical stage for his Test career where he can forge a real convincing case that he is the man to bat at number six for the England Test side, but by going to the IPL he would basically be hoping to be selected for the opening Sri Lanka Test on the back of a few cameos in a T20 competition. Surely Andy Flower and Andy Strauss cannot select someone that will ultimately have played zero First-Class cricket in 2011 ? It seemed logical for Morgan to turn his back on the IPL, albeit for just one season, while he establishes himself in the Test side, should he do so, ensuring he receives an even healthier pay packet in the IPL 2012 version. Maybe it's unfair of me to criticise his decision, the cricket world is changing and there is less emphasis on the importance of Test cricket in the eyes of some of the players.
Bopara certiainly won't have a clear run on the vacant middle order slot, Morgan may have certain assurances his decision will not harm his case for the Test team, though it surely has to. James Hildreth of Somerset, in my eyes, is another fierce competitior after another highly impressive season in 2012 and a successful campaign leading the England Lions in the West Indies domestic four-day tournament. Hildreth finished as the second highest run-scorer in the competition before they returned home prematurely in order to prepare for their own domestic seasons. The Lions finished in 3rd place and would have qualified for the knockout stages.
Hildreth scored 546 runs at an average of just over 60 including two centuries. Bopara will indeed be under pressure from the Somerset man to succeed in the early stages of the County Championship where several matches are shoehorned into the opening couple of months.
Bopara initially was not selected by any of the franchises for this year's IPL, but following Collingwood's injury, Rajasthan Royals displayed an interest and were willing to pay £100,000 to secure his services. Now if the reprting on this is accurate and Bopara has turned the opportunity down to focus on that Test spot, then he deserves praise for putting his career ahead of swelling his bank account. When Bopara returned from the IPL last year his technique was set in IPL mode, so his back foot was automatically moving in the direction of square leg which would have been a modification aimed at giving himself room to flay the ball through the offside. Not so handy against the moving ball back on England's early season seamers where patience is a more worthwhile attribute.
He may not have a roaring start to the season, but at least he is giving himself the best opportunity to impress the England selectors, and doing so in the right format to gain Test selection. As I alluded to earlier he did initially put himself up for auction in the IPL, so let's just hope the reason he has now turned the IPL down is solely about looking after his cricketing career and no alternative external factors.