Bopara admits Essex were underprepared for Vitality Blast campaign
PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 August 2018
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As Essex wind up what looks certain to be their worst Vitality Blast campaign in the 16-season history of the competition, Ravi Bopara admits the Eagles were underprepared from the start.
Essex have managed a solitary win in their dozen Vitality Blast games to date, and have just tonight’s fixture at Lord’s against fellow back-markers Middlesex (6.15 start), and Kent’s high-flying Spitfires at Chelmsford tomorrow (6.30 start), to improve that record.
The Eagles’ previous lowest number of victories in a season is two, and that in both the first two years when they only played five group games. Since the short-format programme increased to 10 and beyond from 2008, Essex have always won at least five qualifying games, and in a good year as many as 10.
This year’s tally of six points, which keeps them off the bottom of the southern division from equally-woeful Middlesex and Hampshire, is bulked out by three no-results and a tie.
From the opening game it has looked as if Essex had no discernible plan, and the T20 season had caught them on the hop. “It was a bit like that,” says Bopara.
“It happens a little bit just after you’ve won the Championship. You start giving a lot of thought to red-ball cricket, naturally, because you’ve just won the league and you want to defend your title.
“Your focus is red-ball cricket during the winter, how you can improve and win the league again, back to back. You can almost forget about white-ball a little bit and not pay it that much attention. It crept up on us and the campaign shows we were a little bit behind.
“We’ve been below-par throughout. Hopefully we can pick it up next year. I back the guys to come out better. We’re going to hopefully focus a lot more on white-ball cricket during the winter, spend more time on it; that would be good for us.”
With the exception of Varun Chopra, who has five fifties to his name, no other batsman has made a consistent or significant contribution. There is a compelling case for one of the two overseas signings to be a specialist, big-hitting batsman in the mould of Michael Klinger at Gloucestershire or Colin Ingram with Glamorgan.
Bopara disagrees. “Look,” he says, “they are great to have, but I think we’ve got the batters in our squad to do that. Certainly I would back myself in the top three or four to do that job. I feel like I am a player who can go in and get seventies.”
Unfortunately, Bopara has been sent in at No5 or 6 with little time to settle into a decisive and destructive innings. At Cardiff last week, he arrived at 123 for three, 66 required and six and a half overs in which to score them; his valiant 20-ball 45 not out left Essex seven runs short.
He says: “With someone like myself coming in at six for the last seven or eight overs, it’s only really effective if someone is there with me. It gives me an opportunity to get my eye in and then go hard at the back-end. We haven’t had that, and that is where it has hurt us.”
Instead of a Klinger-Ingram type, Bopara prefers the two overseas bowler option. “It suits our team better,” he says. “We’ve got a good batting unit. I’m a fan of always having two overseas bowlers because you’ve got people to close it out.
“I don’t think we’ve got the bowlers at this stage to close an innings out, and that’s shown through the competition. We saw how different it was when Amir was playing for us [in 2017] – he could do that, and that’s where we’ve been lacking.”
Opposition teams have often gone to town, putting the game beyond Essex, in the final over, which has too frequently gone for 20-plus. Indeed, Bopara himself went for 21 in one game.
“Bowling, say, 18 balls at the same batters can be very dangerous,” he says. “You keep bowling and they’re set, they know what’s happening, they know the pace of the wicket, they’ve got the pace of your bowling, and that’s when it’s a good time to change the attack. That’s why sometimes you can end up with bowlers bowling three overs rather than their full allocation.”
Assuming he plays these final two matches, Bopara will reach 300 career T20 appearances at Chelmsford tomorrow. The former England all-rounder, now 33, also needs just one wicket for 200 and 63 runs for 6,000. Then the reigning champions can concentrate on their six remaining Championship games, starting at Taunton against Somerset on Sunday.