England's new No6 is a fighter
IN A demonstration of their stability and comfort, England yesterday named a predictable squad for the first cricket test against South Africa, which starts at the Oval on Thursday.
The only debate is who will be the third fast bowler behind James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Tim Bresnan had the honour during the 2-0 series win against the West Indies, including a man-of-the-match performance at Trent Bridge after a destructive spell of reverse swing, and is likely to continue. He has a test batting average of 40.22, which adds to England's depth.
Steve Finn could come into the reckoning at the Oval if there is a hard, pacey wicket on which he can use his full 2m height to advantage.
Having established his credentials in England's triumphant Ashes series in Australia in 2010, he reinforced his claim in the recent 4-0 ODI series victory against Australia, taking eight wickets at 19.37.
If off-spinner Graeme Swann, who was rested from the last two ODIs to nurse an elbow injury, is not fit to play South Africa will face a powerful four-man seam attack.
England's batting top five were set in stone once they rediscovered their touch following the embarrassing series against Pakistan in the unique, skiddy conditions of the United Arab Emirates. But that all changed in the home series against the West Indies.
Only the No6 batting slot was up for debate and when Ravi Bopara struck form in the ODI series against Australia - 182 runs and four useful wickets - the talk was ended.
He has played just 12 tests, and has an average of 34.56, with a highest score of 143, but most observers reckon it should be more.
Bopara is a fighter. He grew up in the streets of east London and went to a state school, where cricket is not a priority, a far cry from the privilege of private education and dedicated coaching on pristine wickets enjoyed by most of his teammates.
He told of how he and his mates used to climb over the gates of his primary school to play tape-ball cricket.
"I learnt the basics off them really, but in a way I wish I'd been coached a little bit. One teacher took me for batting in the nets and all he ever taught me was the on drive, day after day after day. He said if you can play the on drive, you can play everything else."
Those basics, though, were enough to get him a trial at Essex, where he excelled. And he knows how to fight.
England's squad: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior (wk), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions.