Ravi Bopara braced to fill Kevin Pietersen-shaped hole
England are within touching distance of reaching the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1992 ahead of this week’s World T20 climax.
Paul Collingwood’s men face New Zealand today in their final group fixture with a semi-final place nearly assured following convincing wins over South Africa and defending champions Pakistan.
And since squeezing through the first group stage in Guyana, England have resembled potential champions for the first time in recent memory.
But they will have to get there without their talisman after Kevin Pietersen flew home, as long planned, to attend the birth of his first child.
Pietersen hasn’t enjoyed his most prosperous twelve months as an England cricketer but his form against Pakistan and his native South Africa was a joy to behold.
The dazzling knock of 55 which set up England’s crushing 39 run defeat of the South African’s showed why he can still be one of the most destructive batsmen in the world game.
It carried with it an element of luck but suddenly here was the Pietersen of the Oval in 2005, batting with unabashed joy and attacking instinct regardless of the quality of bowling.
He saved his best hitting for Dale Steyn, arguably the most fearsome quick in the world, striking his former compatriot for a massive six over mid-wicket and literally out of the Kennington Oval.
How England hope without him will be the key to their success for the remainder of the tournament.
He might still be the most prized dismissal in the England order but KP is no longer the sole attacking threat since the emergence of players such as Eoin Morgan.
Morgan and Luke Wright were brutal in compiling 189 against the West Indies on a painfully sluggish Guyana track and Ravi Bopara, Pietersen’s likely replacement, will be keep to perform again in a region where he seemed to have established himself a year ago.
Bopara is experienced at T20 level, having performed consistently for Kings XI Punjab in the last two IPL’s, and is expertly adept at timing his innings in the shortest format.
However, with the Ashes nightmare his last major exposure at the highest level there will be some, particularly those in gold, who will fancy their chances against the Essex right-hander.