The nerveless 99-run partnership between Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara to secure an incredible victory for England contained much for fans to be excited about. The two youngest players in the side eschewed risk, and played with skill, calm and, above all, common sense. In all probability, their brilliant partnership has secured the one-day series.
Broad and Bopara embody the new England ODI era: they are young, fearless cricketers who can contribute in all three disciplines of the game. Bopara, of course, scored a tremendous, valiant 52 in England’s exhilarating World Cup loss to Sri Lanka, displaying a fine, if slightly unorthodox, technique and a relish for the big occasion. He is capable of constructing larger innings, too, and averages 62 for Essex in the championship this season. Bopara's bowling is not yet as good as Paul Collingwood's but, with 15 wickets at 23 in domestic one-dayers this season and a yorker learned from Darren Gough, he should one day be a useful fourth seamer in Tests and good enough to regularly bowl 10 overs on ODIs.
Yet Broad could be even more pivotal for the England side in the next few years. The Man of the Match has formed a terrific opening partnership with the improved James Anderson this series, and today took a career best 4-51. He uses his 6ft6in frame to get good bounce and pace in the mid-80s, generates significant movement off the seam, is aggressive and is constantly improving his control.
With the new white ball, he has done very well. Though he has sometimes proved too profligate bowling towards the end of the innings, and may be better off bowling out before the final slog, Broad is also working on his variety, as his superb yorker to Yuvraj Singh illustrated. Crucially, however, Broad is learning to walk before he can run – credit to both himself and the team management – unlike Sajid Mahmood, say.
So the maturity displayed by Broad and Bopara bodes very well for the future of England’s limited-overs and Test sides alike; both will surely make their Test debuts within the next twelve months or so. Broad already looks a good enough batsman to fill the problem position of number eight in the Test team and, given that he also made 40* and 91* in his last championship game for Leicestershire, could one day bat higher still.
Yet their outstanding partnership should not detract from the woeful display of England’s top order. It was a performance bereft of any coherent thinking; virtually the entire top order got themselves out though, as Broad and Bopara showed, all that was required was sensible accumulation. Of particular concern is the continued batting travails of Andrew Flintoff, who, in his desperation to impose himself on the opposition has lost all selectivity with the bat. He could certainly learn much from the disciplined accumulation exhibited by Broad and Bopara.