Ravi Bopara is the favourite to replace Eoin Morgan for the Sri Lanka series, but he is running out of time to make his mark with England

England’s decision to drop Eoin Morgan from the squad for the two-match Test series in Sri Lanka this month has opened up the number-six spot in the batting order, and although there are other names (the uncapped all-rounder Samit Patel, or seam bowler Tim Bresnan) being touted as possible inclusions, the line-up will most likely be completed by Ravi Bopara, the Essex all-rounder who has been battling for over five years to establish himself in the England Test squad.

Bopara’s main problem is that his skills have always been viewed as more suited to the shorter forms of cricket, specifically one-day internationals. The 26-year-old is a fixture in England’s ODI squad, having now made over 70 appearances in that discipline, and has played 19 Twenty20 matches. But in the long form of the game, Bopara seems to struggle.

Batting at number six has often prohibited Bopara’s chances of making big innings – you’re the last batsman in, and after the wicket keeper, you’re usually left to try and protect the bowlers and prolong the innings. That said, in the 2009 Ashes, Bopara made seven appearances batting at number three – and averaged a paltry 15 runs per innings.

Other than three matches earlier in 2009 against the West Indies, when he hit three centuries (104, 143, 108) in as many appearances, Bopara has never reached a half-century in a Test international. His inability to produce runs on a regular basis – or at all, for that matter – will concern anyone considering throwing him another lifeline in Galle and Colombo.

And if anyone is wondering whether Ravi’s all-rounder status will rescue him… it probably won’t. Bopara is no more a bowler than Kevin Pieterson or Paul Collingwood. In his 12 England Test appearances, Bopara has bowled in nine matches. He has taken one wicket in his 55 overs, at a decent economy of 3.90 runs per over conceded. Not bad, certainly – at least he doesn’t throw runs away with clumsy or sub-standard bowling. But my point is that this is no Andrew Flintoff we’re talking about here.

Patel, who although a year older than Bopara has never been capped by England, would be an interesting selection. His first-class batting average (41.11) is almost identical to Bopara’s (41.63); he is a slightly more experienced bowler, with a better economy, but has taken three fewer wickets in almost 1000 more deliveries. The older man’s form – or rather, lack of it – in the spring ODI and T20 series with Pakistan may concern the selection committee. Bresnan, who is the most established of the three at Test international level, seems unlikely to be in the frame as England will already have three seam bowlers in the squad.

There are now many doubts over where Morgan’s Test career goes from here. Having committed to appear in this season’s Indian Premier League, which uses a one-day format, the Irish-born batsman will have to wait some-time before playing four-day matches again when he returns to Middlesex later in the year. By that time, it may be too late to work his way back into the Test squad this year.

“He’s had a tough tour of the UAE, we’ve been here for two months and it’s been hard work for him,” England coach Andy Flower told the BBC.

“He has got some work to do I think on his Test game – that’s going to be quite difficult for him considering his next cricket is going to be IPL  cricket. When he comes back he’ll have limited exposure to opportunities to get four-day cricket under his belt so he has got to go away and give some serious thought to his method in Test cricket.

“I still think he has a very exciting future in Test cricket, he’s only 25 years old and he’s a very talented player, very confident and very dangerous.”

While Morgan refocuses and competes in the IPL, though, Bopara could be about to get another chance to stake his claim for a regular role in England’s Test squad. The pressure is piling up on him to make use of it this time.

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