Bopara Switches Gears, In The Pursuit Of The 'something' > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Bopara switches gears, in pursuit of 'something special'

"I think I can play both to a good standard but there's a desire to really do something special in T20."

Ravi Bopara apologises for missing my call. After a hectic few days, he had to squeeze in a net session. He had been too long without a hit for his liking and unfortunately it had overrun. "I just want to play the game man," he says. "That's all that matters to me. I want to play forever. I get a buzz out of working on something on my game and see it come good. That's what I get happiness from. Others have holidays and other things they love doing. This is what I love. And that's why I missed your call."

It's been hectic because of the announcement on Wednesday (October 17) that Bopara will swap Chelmsford for Hove after signing a new deal with Sussex after 18 seasons at Essex. Understandably, deciding to leave his childhood club was far from easy. Staying at Essex, where he made his debut back in 2002 as a 17 year-old, was the safer and easier option. A legend of the club, a favourite of the supporters, it would have been comfortable for him to stay, see out another few years, remain a one-club man. He agonised over the decision but deep down knew that a change was needed.

There were many reasons at play. Essex's failure to offer Bopara more than a one year extension had grated for a couple of seasons and there was yet another one season deal offered this time round. Bopara felt that failed to show enough faith in him or provide enough security. He would, he says, "have loved to have committed" to a long-term deal at Essex had they offered one. The club have said their one-year offer was "improved" but for Bopara, it was not a money issue. It was one of being wanted. "If anyone thinks this is a big money move, I can tell them how wrong they are," he jokes.

He also says his dropping from the T20 team during this year's successful Blast campaign was another key factor in his decision, something which came at just the time contract negotiations were heating up. Bopara says he was dropped for "non-cricketing reasons" but new T20 captain Simon Harmer maintains that it was a decision made out of the desire to get everyone pulling in the direction he wanted the team to go. It was no secret, for instance, that Bopara did not want to bat at number six where Harmer wanted him to.

"To be left out of the team was a hard one to take and also to look forward," Bopara says. "This is a format that means a lot to me, one that I love playing. To be left out was worrying at the time because I want to play cricket and I want to drive myself in this format. To not be playing it had a massive impact on my thought process."

Despite these issues, Bopara will not have a bad word said against a club and a supporter base that has been so dear to him for so long. He was particularly pleased that he was able to help the team to the Championship and Blast double as his final acts in an Essex shirt. "It was a more difficult decision than anyone could ever imagine," he says. "Essex are a wonderful club. I want to thank them for the beautiful time they gave me. I couldn't say nicer words about my childhood club. Everybody there, on and off the field, are great people. They will be dearly missed, the players, the fans, the people who work in the offices. I will remember each and every one of them for the rest of my life."

In a message on Twitter, Bopara wrote glowingly of Essex captain and best-friend Ryan ten Doeschate. Perhaps more than anyone, Bopara will miss playing with him the most. "He was with me all the way through," he says. "We spoke to each other every day, so many conversations. It got to that stage where I broke it to him. He understood and he got it. He's been a rock for Essex, one of the best leaders I have played under. He's going to be missed in my heart."

There are other cricketing reasons for the move. The feeling he needed a fresh challenge to invigorate and energise, a desire to play less red-ball cricket in order to develop his T20 game and working with Sussex head coach Jason Gillespie were all parts of the decision. Sussex were one of the first clubs to show an interest in him which was "stood out" for Bopara. "Sussex have got a fantastic team," he says. "You can see the strength in the side. Pretty much every player there is an international and it's an exciting team to be playing for. I've heard some very good things about them."

Sussex were also open to a white-ball only deal where Essex were not. Bopara has, however, not totally given up on first-class cricket. But rather than play both formats to a "good" level, he wants to take his short format skills to even greater heights. Playing all formats, he believes, won't allow him to do that so next season he will focus on the Blast and, if he gets picked up in Sunday's draft, a spot in The Hundred. He may return to red-ball cricket but not in the immediate term. For now, he believes he can become one of the best T20 players in the world.

Improvement is a theme Bopara returns to throughout our conversation. Instead of winding down the clock on a career that has already encompassed far more than most, Bopara says he is driven to play some of his best cricket from now on in. Despite being 34, he wants to play well into his forties. An England recall, particularly for the two T20 WCs scheduled for the next two years, is an ambition too. As is continuing to ply his trade in the various T20 franchise leagues of which he has become part of the furniture. He is off to South Africa shortly to play in the Mzansi Super League.

"I've got that desire to take my game to a new level," he says of the decision to focus on T20. "It's a fantastic format to play, it's exciting. A lot of people around love watching it and there is an opportunity in T20 cricket to move to the next level. Four-day cricket and T20 cricket have become so different that it's tough for an all-rounder to keep up. I think I can play both to a good standard but there's a desire to really do something special in T20. I have to pursue that desire. I just have to."

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