It sounds like a weird fairytale, but Ravi Bopara may have just been slain by the dragon. Not an actual giant lizard thing with wings, but the term some cricketers use for a drag on (see what they did there?).
It was a perfect ball to drag on. Short enough to encourage a back-foot shot, slow enough for the batsman to go a bit early, wide enough to be played with an angled bat, and Bopara played his part to perfection. It was as if Terry Gilliam had meticulously directed it.
If it wasn’t Ravi Bopara, I wouldn’t be writing this.
The good Ravi has a swagger, hits the ball beautifully, looks like he’s indestructible, has a cheeky grin and is so confident he scripts his hundred celebrations. The man has slammed a double century in a List A game and averaged over 90 in the last ODI series against Australia. Ravi has the tools to be a Test match batsman.
The bad Ravi has little more than a sad face.
In the Ashes of 2009, Shane Warne got in his head before the series and it appeared that Bopara just could not get Warne’s voice out. Gone was the swagger, confidence and batsmanship, in its place was a confused man who looked he was about to cry at any moment. I’ve never felt more like running out on the field and hugging a player.
England played perhaps the most evil role in this; they kept Ravi in the side. While Warne the pundit demolished him mentally and Ben Hilfenhaus dealt with him physically, England forced him to play four Tests. They would state that this wasn’t torture, but it looked like cricket’s version of water boarding to me.
It wasn’t even Ravi’s worst series. Sri Lanka on his debut was a massacre, three ducks in five innings, a best of 34, and yet he fought back to score three hundreds in three Tests against West Indies shortly after. That was before his shocking Ashes in ‘09.
In the first innings against South Africa at The Oval, Ravi was horrible. From the moment he stepped out on the ground he looked like he wouldn’t last long. The South Africans sensed this and howled at him like angry dogs. They were right to do so. His faux pull shot was dreadful in every single way. Hopefully no analyst or assistant coach made him watch it again.
Then in the second, he looked fine. One pull shot off Dale Steyn was so good it made people in the member’s cry. He toughed out the hard times, handled the bowling well, and had set himself up for the sort of knock that allows you a few ups and downs without the threat of being dropped.
And then he dragged on.
The hate on the internet at Ravi was as immense as it was predictable. In a team like England’s, he’s a very easy target.
While you can question Ravi’s technique at times, it’s definitely strong enough to survive in Test cricket. His mind on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be. There is something not quite firing for him. Something’s holding him back. Something in his head.
It’s not a dragon, as they can be stopped with a sword or by sacrificing a virgin. Ravi’s problems are far more complicated than that. Maybe he needs security, maybe he needs a rest. But he needs something.