Bopara ready for Finals Day stage


Ravi Bopara can’t really make up his mind if he’s excited about the Vitality Blast Finals Day or not. He probably is, but he has played in four before with Essex and not progressed beyond the semi-final stage, so is phlegmatic about this fifth attempt.

The Eagles play Derbyshire Falcons in the second semi-final (2.30pm) at Edgbaston this afternoon, and the veteran all-rounder, now 34, ponders the question of his level of expectation. “I think it is just me and Tendo [Ryan ten Doeschate], and [Adam] Wheater with Hampshire, who’ve been here before. So it’s exciting for everyone else, it being their first time.

“I am excited, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more the focus, the process of what I need to do. It’s not the occasion. I know I’m probably going to have 20 balls to face. What do I do with those 20 balls? What’s the situation going to be when I come in? I’m rehearsing it all in my mind.”

Bopara’s phenomenal hitting in four of the last five games – during which he hammered 215 runs for only twice out at a strike rate of more than 170 – was one of the major factors in Essex climbing from next to bottom in the south group to qualifying for the Blast’s big day. He launched three sixes off his last five balls to carry the Eagles over the line in the quarter-final against Lancashire Lightning.

In fact, of the 134 balls he has faced in the competition this season, 26 have gone to the boundary, many without hitting the ground first. “It’s been a real push towards being a bigger hitter of the ball this season,” he says, “a more aggressive hitter of the ball.

“Because the roles I’ve been playing around the world, including batting at five, six, sometimes at seven, there’s no space for building an innings. One thing you’ve got to accept down the order is you’re never going to be consistent. You’ve just got to be an impact player when you come in.

“I’ve worked really hard on my T20 game, it’s not something that’s just happened by luck. I’ve focused on T20 a lot. Even during four-day practice I’ve had a white-ball in my hand or I’ve batted against the white ball. I knew that at some stage at the back-end of the season it was going to become crucial.

“I think it helped going off and playing second-team cricket. I love playing T20 cricket and it gave me an opportunity to practise things that I’ve always wanted to practise. The problem you have playing as a professional cricketer is that every game you play has a consequence on it. You never really play games where you can practise your skills. But you can in second-team cricket and I was able to work on things that have helped me a lot.”

Bopara is one of the most experienced T20 cricketers around. He has played 329 games, scored 6,583 runs, taken 219 wickets and needs just seven more sixes to reach 200. It would be nice to pass that milestone today, he admits. “Yes, I fancy that,” he muses. “If I hit seven sixes we’d be doing all right …”

With a trip to Taunton on Monday in the Specsavers County Championship that will decide the title – Essex are 12 points in front – Bopara believes someone is smiling down on the county. “What with Hampshire pulling off that victory against Somerset the other day, and us coming back from the dead to reach Finals Day, it does seem like the momentum’s with us. It can either be a great week or an absolute shocking week. But whatever happens it doesn’t matter, no one’s going to remember it in a few years anyway!”

As far as Bopara’s own future is concerned, it looks like being in white-ball cricket rather than red. That future is bound up in T20, T10 and The Hundred and continuing to spend his winters on the sub-continent. “I love travelling, I love playing in new conditions, new players, new teams, it’s always exciting. Some of the stuff you learn from these guys, like Chris Gayle and Andre Russell, how they approach T20 cricket, it’s fascinating.”