Monday, December 7, 2009

Gooch offers Bopara encouragement

Graham Gooch’s initial brief is to acquaint himself with and assess England’s batsmen as they prepare for a tough Test series in South Africa.

But Gooch, seconded from his employment as Essex coach to help Andy Flower with England, will doubtless have a remit to keep an eye on the progress of those pushing the current incumbents for an international place.

Among those are a clutch of hopefuls in the England Performance Programme squad, with whom Gooch spent the past week in Pretoria - where they were playing a tour match against hosts Gauteng Strikers.

Further afield, however, is one of Gooch’s own Essex proteges who has temporarily fallen out of the England reckoning - albeit still on a central contract.

Ravi Bopara, dropped from the Test squad after a run of low scores in last summer’s Ashes, is spending the winter playing for Auckland Aces in New Zealand.

Gooch sees that as a sensible move on the part of a player who was pencilled in at number three for England, until his Ashes troubles, on the back of three successive hundreds against West Indies.

“Players’ careers ebb and flow; you have your ups and downs,” Gooch noted, as he considered Bopara’s prospects of returning to England colours at some stage.

“Ravi burst on to the international scene and is a very gifted cricketer. But he had a big dip in the Ashes.”

Gooch remains at a loss to work out why Bopara fared so poorly against Australia - although he maintains he simply did not play like the batsman he has come to know and rate so highly.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” the 56-year-old former England captain admitted. “But I’ve said to him he didn’t look the natural player that I know.”

The passage back to international cricket is feasible, Gooch believes, as long as 24-year-old Bopara takes the right steps.

“You have to handle these things, enhance your game - improve mentally as well as technically,” he said. “I believe he’s good enough to get back.

“Going to Auckland will do him good, challenging himself over there. As an overseas player, they will expect performances from him.”

Should Bopara successfully complete step one, the challenges will be obvious in a new English summer.

“Then he’s got to come back, and I’m afraid you’ve got to put the runs in the book and keep the pressure on,” Gooch spells out.

“If the guys in the side are doing well it might be difficult for him to get straight back in. If he gets the runs and a chance comes along I believe he’s good enough - but he’s got to ‘evolve’ his game.”

Bopara can draw inspiration from Andrew Strauss, who was dropped two years ago but has become one of England’s most consistent batsmen - not to mention captain.

Strauss was left out for the tour of Sri Lanka in late 2007, when Bopara made his Test debut, but returned against New Zealand later that winter - reviving his international career with 177 at Napier.

He has since become a fixture at the top of the order and was appointed skipper of the Test and one-day teams last January, taking over from Kevin Pietersen.

“I’ve been very impressed with Andrew Strauss,” said Gooch. “The captaincy has had a very positive influence on his batting.

“It’s gone to a different level. With Pietersen injured, he’s been the number one player in the England side.”

Flower too, once ranked the world’s leading batsman himself, has all the right attributes in his new role - according to his old friend.

“Andy Flower is a student of the game, is a guy who interacts well with people - and that’s what you need in a management/coaching role,” Gooch added.

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