Bopara returns to Test squad
Ravi Bopara is set to play in his first Test match for almost a year after being named in England's squad to face South Africa at The Oval.
Bopara is one of the six batsmen in a 13-man squad announced on Sunday morning and the list also includes Steven Finn and Graham Onions, who can therefore still hope to oust incumbent Tim Bresnan as the third seamer.
It was last August, at the same venue, that Bopara won his 12th Test cap - when Jonathan Trott was injured, for the innings victory over India which completed a 4-0 series whitewash.
Following Eoin Morgan's loss of form last winter, the Essex batsman seemed certain to return at the start of this summer - only to injure his thigh playing for his county the day before the squad was announced for the first Investec Test against the West Indies at Lord's.
Jonathan Bairstow was therefore chosen to make his debut.
But the young Yorkshireman did not do enough in that 2-0 series win to retain his place for the first of three matches against South Africa, starting on Thursday and which will decide who tops the International Cricket Council rankings at the end of this summer.
National selector Geoff Miller noted 27-year-old Bopara's hard work to push himself back into the Test reckoning for such a high-profile match.
"We have played some very good cricket over the last couple of months in all formats to win series against the West Indies and Australia - and after a month of limited-overs cricket, preparations are now under way for what is sure to be a very competitive Test series against South Africa.
"We know we will need to play excellent cricket to win this three-match series, and the squad will be determined to start with a strong performance this week during the first Investec Test and set the tone for the rest of the series.
"Ravi Bopara has worked hard to regain his place in the Test squad, following some injury concerns earlier in the season, and is the only player included who is yet to play a Test match this summer."
England have kept their options open among the bowlers, by including Finn and Onions - both involved in the most recent Test, a rain-ravaged draw at Edgbaston last month for which James Anderson and Stuart Broad were rested.
With those two first-choice fast bowlers back, the only decision remaining for coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss - given England's long-held policy of a four-man attack - is to pick between Bresnan, Finn and Onions to complete the team.
Concerns over the fitness of Bresnan and off-spinner Graeme Swann, both nursing sore bowling elbows and therefore missing the final stages of England's NatWest Series win over Australia, appear to have proved unfounded.
Miller admitted he wanted to see a big performance from Bopara against the
He told Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme: "We always hope for something big from all our players when we select them in the England side and over the last few years they've produced on most occasions.
"Yes, we would like to see something big from him, but he's only part of the
side so he needs to actually perform to cement his place.''
Miller added: "Jonny Bairstow obviously had a bit of a tough time, we know
he's a young and a talented cricketer, that goes without saying, so he just
needs to go back to Yorkshire and score some big runs and fight for his place
England squad for first Investec Test v South Africa, starting at The Oval on July 19: AJ Strauss (Middlesex, captain), JM Anderson (Lancashire), IR Bell (Warwickshire), RS Bopara (Essex), TT Bresnan (Yorkshire), SCJ Broad (Nottinghamshire), AN Cook (Essex) ST Finn (Middlesex), G Onions (Durham), KP Pietersen (Surrey), MJ Prior (Sussex, wicketkeeper), GP Swann (Nottinghamshire), IJL Trott (Warwickshire).