If there was an audible sigh heard across the country at about 10:31 on Friday morning, it was because at that very moment the nation discovered a man named ‘Bopara’ was heading to the Champions Trophy. Once everyone had checked it was genuine, and not another jape from a selection panel notoriously fond of practical jokery, the initial disgust and despair became a more general fog of confusion. Why, they cried, is that useless bastard back in again? There were murmurings of bias – favouritism, no less – from the Essex contingent in the higher echelons of English cricket. But, and whisper this quietly save you be overwhelmed by hordes of angry Englanders with pitchforks, his inclusion isn’t as ludicrously stupid as it initially seems.
Rewind 11 months or so and the very same Ravi Bopara would be flaying an (admittedly crap) Australian attack to all parts, looking in superb touch and ripping through sides with his military medium mortars. Yes, his form subsequently careered over the edge of a cliff, as it is wont to do, but there were mitigating factors in the form of personal problems which can excuse him. Refreshed after a winter away from the international stage he has begun the season in reasonable bowling form even if a little short of runs. His all round game and the fact he can (theoretically) bat virtually anywhere in the order mean he’s a useful player to have in a 15-man squad.
Once England had picked their first XI, and supplemented it with a spare batsman (Bairstow), bowler (Woakes) and cover for Graeme Swann’s knackered elbow (Tredwell), that left only one spot to play with. Once they had decided to take an all-rounder, to give them the option of playing seven batsmen, it was a straight shoot-out between Bopara and a less experienced name. If they felt they wanted a man they could trust (rightly or wrongly) (probably wrongly) rather than risk throwing a new guy in at the deep end, it’s much easier to understand his selection.
Of course, the most important point is that he probably won’t even play. He is the 15th man in the squad and it would take something special for him to get on the pitch in the first place. He probably won’t even be drinks-carrier in-chief, having had a winter off while others accrued valuable experience. In fact, this might all be an elaborate wind-up from the selectors, leading poor Ravi a merry dance as they have with Stuart Meaker throughout the last six months. Ultimately how important is the selection of a reserve back-up drinks carrier? There are far bigger things to be concerned about; like conceding centuries to sixth-rate Australian batsmen and losing home matches to Gloucestershire. Now that is an absolute disgrace, Charles.