Ravi Bopara's England recall a surprise, say Hussain and Atherton
Nasser Hussain admits that he thought Ravi Bopara's time as an England player had come and gone.
Last Updated: 03/05/13 5:20pm
Bopara, who turns 28 on Saturday, is included in a 15-man party for this summer's NatWest Series against New Zealand and the ICC Champions Trophy.
The Essex all-rounder - who averages 24 in Championship cricket this season - played the most recent of his 83 ODIs against South Africa in September and Hussain told Sky Sports News that he thought Bopara's time might have been and gone.
"I was surprised they picked him, to be honest, because he hasn't got any runs this season at all," reflected the former Essex stalwart. "It is usually feast or famine with Ravi Bopara and at the moment it's famine and at the moment he's playing on a pretty good pitch here (at Essex) in division two.
"Maybe one-day cricket will free him up a little bit - he can go and play his shots.
"I thought the selectors had moved on to the Root/Bairstow era but as we know in English cricket, cricketers come good late, so maybe Ravi Bopara's best years are still ahead of him."
Bopara notched up just 22 runs in four innings against South Africa and was subsequently left out of the one-day series against India and New Zealand this winter.
While Hussain believes the right-hander is capable of producing world-class performances, he feels that Bopara is sometimes guilty of putting too much pressure on himself.
"Mentally, at times, he does get very down on himself - he does occasionally complicate the game a little bit because he cares so much about it.
"Sometimes you have to play these mind games where you say to yourself 'it's not that important' even if you know it is. I think sometimes Ravi makes it too important.
"So when he's going well and getting those hundreds for England, he plays like a world-class player. We have seen him play some of the best knocks on Sky in the last two or three years but other times you will pick up a paper and think 'what's going on here? You need to be a bit more consistent'."
Hussain's fellow former England skipper Mike Atherton, also part of Sky Sports' commentary line-up, says this will be a pivotal season in Bopara's career - and insists that he'd like to see Bopara put the pursuit of a 14th Test cap and more thereafter at the top of his priorities.
"In his rather cool and understated way I think he's thrilled to be back in the [one-day] team and a little bit surprised too because at the back end of last summer he had a very difficult time, both on and off the field.
"He hasn't started the season in particularly good form, either, so it's a bit of a surprise that he's picked. I guess his career is at a bit of a crossroads - he's 28 years old, he's not quite established himself yet. How many chances can a cricketer be given?
"He must know that this is a critical season for him. The question for Ravi at this stage of his career is which route does he want to go down?
"There's Owais Shah, who is a kind of travelling Twenty20 salesman, and then there is Alastair Cook at Essex who is a committed international cricketer.
"Ravi has had a taste of both and he quite enjoys both. He likes playing Twenty20 cricket but for now I really feel he has got to really commit himself to being the best international player he can be."
England have also named Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, who are back playing after elbow operations, in their 15-man squad while Joe Root will have a key role to play in the absence of Kevin Pietersen, who was already ruled out with a knee injury.
Atherton believes that the inclusion of the two bowlers is a clear sign that the selectors are confident that the duo will be fully fit for the ICC Champions Trophy because neither could be replaced if they suffer a relapse once the tournament gets underway.
"That's why England didn't take a risk on Kevin Pietersen, because of that inability to replace a player," mused Atherton.
"All I can say is that England must be absolutely confident that Swann and Bresnan are 100 per cent fit. Both have been playing at the start of the season.
"There is still a long way to go before the start of the tournament and England must be confident that they'll see it through."
On Pietersen's absence, Hussain added: "Obviously, England are a worse side without Kevin Pietersen. Any opposition turning up at the Champions Trophy and seeing no Kevin Pietersen on the team-sheet will be grateful for that because he can turn a game.
"But England have sort of got used to living without Pietersen a little bit in 50-over cricket for a variety of reasons.
"The squad reflects where one-day cricket has gone - it has gone more towards Test match cricket with two new balls and playing in English conditions. It is virtually a Test match side.
"I don't think it is right, actually. I think one-day cricket should be different. But now one-day cricket has gone down the road that's closer to Test cricket, I think England have got a great chance."
Watch the ICC Champions Trophy on Sky Sports, starting with India v South Africa from 10am on June 6 on Sky Sports 1 HD.