By Martin Smith
One of cricket’s unlikeliest statistics was laid to rest at Chelmsford: that stylish batsman Ravi Bopara finally scored his first Specsavers County Championship century in nearly three years.
It has been an intensely frustrating time since Bopara added the two runs to his overnight 98 against Gloucestershire on the morning of July 1, 2014.
Few would have thought that his drought without a three-figure score would last until the middle of June 2017, and few also could have anticipated the contribution that South Africa off-spinner Simon Harmer would have in this huge victory over a hapless Warwickshire side.
Bopara said of his 192: “It has been a monkey on my back. It has played on my mind a lot. Even when I get into the 20s or 30s, I’m thinking, ‘this is my day, I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it’.
“And I don’t think that’s helped my focus out there.”
“I’ve had this monkey on my back for a while now and I think a couple of 99s really set me back mentally.
“You get really anxious. Even when you first go in, you’re thinking about hundreds. You make yourself anxious. I’ve been anxious over the last 12 months, and it doesn’t help when you get out in the nineties.
“But it doesn’t matter, I’ve just got to get on with it and score runs. At the end of the day, whether it’s 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, whatever’s meant to be will be.
“My plan was to be positive against their spinners. Don’t let them settle into a length because there is always a good ball around the corner. One can spit or you can play down the wrong line. You’re better off scoring as many as you can, as quickly as you can.”
Bopara’s inner turmoil doesn’t show on the surface. James Foster, with whom he put on 229 for the sixth wicket, said: “It was a bit of a relief for him, but Ravi is a bit like an iceman: he’s very calm and cool.”
But after Bopara’s early heroics it was Harmer who took centre stage and strengthened Essex’s position at the top of the table.
He grafted for his 6-92 in the first Warwickshire batsmen in generous mood on the final day as his career best 8-36 gave him match figures of 14-128.
Impressed Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate told Cricinfo: “Harmi is a turning spinner and there’s not much more you can say about 14 wickets in the match.”
Harmer himself just said gratefully: “The English summer has arrived.”