The worst kept secret in English cricket was revealed on Sunday. Ravi Bopara, a man that polarises opinion in the same way as a Ramprakash or Hick, was recalled to the test side in place of Jonny Bairstow. But in the words of Gary Barlow, a man with no relevance to cricket whatsoever, will Ravi be back for good?
This is a golden opportunity for Bopara to cement his place. He’s been in great form with the bat (and also with the ball) in recent weeks, and there are no real contenders for his spot breathing down his neck. Bairstow looked too wet behind the ears against the West Indies, a team Bopara has scored test centuries against, and there are no other viable options for the sixth batsman spot; England’s batting cupboard is as bare as our bowling cupboard is stacked.
Bopara has a great chance because he’ll be joining a supremely confident unit. Hick and Ramprakash never had that luxury – nor did they have such a professional backroom staff helping their cause. If Ravi can’t make a success of himself this time, I doubt he ever will.
So how will he fare? Personally I find it difficult to tell. His supporters will claim that he played beautifully against Australia in the ODIs and he looks mentally stronger. His detractors will claim that there is still a vulnerability to his batting – sometimes he has that Amir Khan ‘please don’t hit me’ look – and that test cricket against a potent South Africa attack is a completely proposition than ODIs against a pedestrian Australian outfit. Both camps have a point.
All we can do is keep our fingers crossed for the lad. He’s obviously got talent – not as much as the aforementioned Hick and Ramprakash – but then again Steyn and Morkel are not as good as Donald and Pollock. His bowling will also be extremely useful to England’s cause.
Bopara’s bowling is a little bit quicker than it looks, and I personally believe he is well worth six to ten overs a day. That’s just enough to reduce the workload on Anderson and Broad. It might also enable England to get the best out of Steven Finn, if he ever gets a chance.
As we saw in the ODI series, Finn is a real handful in short spells, but struggles when asked to increase his workload to twenty plus overs a day. Bopara is no Simon Jones (obviously) but he has more potential than anyone else to balance the England test side.
Then again, this debate is probably a tad academic. If Bresnan is fit, the reliable Yorkie will surely play. Much to the South Africans delight I’m sure.
Steyn and Philander are better than Donald and Pollock.
Remember, Donald and Pollock got their (net inferior) bowling averages against chumps like Atherton, Crawley, and Hick. Imagine – Rhodes, Cork or Ealham coming in at number 7, Salisbury at number 8. Or Cork and Gough at 8 and 9. A game of skittles. That would give you some impetus to get past Ramps.
And they played weak WI and Zimbabwe sides too. (Williams, Lambert, Wallace, Ganga, Hinds in the top 3?) Despite Lara, and Chanderpaul – who is a better player now – those were hopeless WI batting line-ups).
If they were so superior, they’d have far better stats than Steyn and Philander, but they weren’t and they don’t.
Philander has played a handful of tests on green seamers. He is a dean headley type, and to put him in the same class as Donald or pollock is quite extraordinary. Let’s see how good he looks on flat decks. Steyn is a class act, but Donald and pollock are all time greats. Ever thought that Atherton etc looked poor against them because they were bloody good?! The standard of bowling around the world is much poorer these days. No wasim, waqar, Ambrose, Walsh, McGrath, Warne etc. That’s why 40 used to be a benchmark average for a batsman, but now its more like 50. Ps steyn, philander and morkel were dispatched around the park by northeast and Bell Drummond at the weekend (two Kent youngsters). Do you think they’d have done the same against Donald, white lightning, one of the fastest bowlers ever?!
and Rhodes, Cork, Ealham, Gough, Salibury, Craig White, Russell..? The England middle order (!) they played against (they all batted 8 or higher), were they hidden batting titans too, superior to Prior, Bresnan, Broad, and Swann, the current England tail? Does the special pleading for Atherton (one tiny century in 66 innings against Australia) apply equally to Crawley? Yes, of course Donald and Pollock were great, but the England team they played against was rubbish, and the current one is immensely superior in every position. Amongst the batsman, only Gooch, Stewart and Thorpe from the very long stretch of Atherton’s tedious career might have got in the current team. All are unquestionably better than Atherton, and somehow evaded his rubbish statistics.
Steyn and Philander have an immensely harder task than Pollock and Donald did, and if they come anywhere close to maintaining their existing records in the coming series, they will be showing themselves superior to their illustrious countrymen. In Steyn’s case, I think he’s already proved his place in history with his incredible strike rate. Philander just has to keep going.
To be fair to Cricket Insider, you mention Gooch, Stewart and Thorpe, but that’s half a batting line-up! What’s more, Cork and White were pretty useful with the bat. Certainly no worse than Swann (although Broad is a little better). I’m also not convinced that Atherton was so poor. He carried the England team on his shoulders when he was captain, and his overall stats suffered because he struggled with a chronic back condition that has basically crippled half his family. He was having regular injections in the last couple of years of his career, and should have really retired earlier. However, he was convinced to carry on because there were few alternatives available at the time. Also, it would be interesting to see how the likes of Trott, Cook etc would have performed against the all time great bowlers, However, it’s probably impossible to compare eras – so maybe a pointless debate.
One more thing. The England team with Gough, Atherton, Stewart etc actually beat South Africa at home in 1998, so they can’t have been that bad!
Thorpe and Gooch’s careers barely crossed – Gooch played more with Boycott! Stewart was the best England player of his generation because he was such an excellent wicket-keeper as well as a solid batsman. These guys proved themselves better than Atherton (who contributed nothing but his modest batting), and showed it was possible, but were naturally never enough to make England world-beaters whilst surrounded by nearly-men like Larkins, Atherton, Hick, Ramprakash and Crawley.
Despite Donald and Pollock, SA were never the side to beat in the 90s. That was the Aussies, against whom even they were severely blunted. Atherton failed miserably against the best of his own time (the Aussies and Windies bowlers).
When Steyn takes on Cook et al, this will be the elite contest of our era; as Donald vs the Waughs and Ponting was in the last. The Aussies won that battle. If Steyn wins this one, he will be amongst the all-time greats.
Cork and White better than Swann with the bat? Yes, White was. Cork about the same. And White proved it by averaging more. (I always liked Craig White as a cricketer, and Cork as a bowler). But Swann bats 10 for today’s England – he’s a tailender (if one of the most fearsome no.10s in history). White came in at 6 quite often, and averaged between position 6 and 7. Cork often batted out of his depth at 7 and averaged 8.
The England batting line-up that SA will face today is immensely superior to the ones that Pollock and Donald were up against.
The only current England batsman that would get into my best england team from the late 80s to the present day is Pietersen. I really don’t believe the likes of trott, cook and Strauss would be nearly as effective in another era. Pitches are slower and truer, and the bowling certainly less fearsome. England are supposed to have one of the two best attacks in the world atm. I’m sorry, but you can’t tell me that broad and bresnan are anywhere near as good as McGrath, Gillespie, Donald, Ambrose, wasim etc. And that’s coming from a die hard England fan!
Eng have got better because they are far more professional now. Central contracts and s larger management team have done wonders. Talent wise, however, they have benefited from playing weaker opposition than Stewart, Thorpe etc. My eng team since the late 80s would be gooch, Vaughan (capt), Gower, Thorpe, Pietersen, Stewart (wkt), botham, Flintoff, gough, swann, Anderson. You’ll notice only three representatives from the current England team.
if you wouldn’t pick Cook ahead of Atherton, Larkins, Morris or Crawley, you are insane.
Or Prior ahead of Russell or Rhodes.
Or Swann ahead of Eddie Hemmings.
Or Anderson ahead of Fraser, Chris Lewis, Pringle, DeFreitas (although he had his moments, they were not generally “since the late 80s”), Richard Illingworth, McCague, Illott, Such, Malender, Munton, Igglesdon, Martin, Ealham, Emburey(!), Croft, .. The reality of England in those days is that every team contained some very modest players. England were rubbish. The current England side would have annihilated any of them in tests. (Though there were times we weren’t a bad one day outfit, e.g. Knight & Ealham and many others were much better at that format in those years).
Bresnan today is miles better than Botham was in the late 80s. If you cut Botham’s career in half, the first half would make him the greatest or second greatest cricketer of all time; the second half he would be fighting with the likes of McCague for a spot.