Varun Chopra, Essex’s talismanic batsman of this season’s Royal London Cup campaign, recognises the void left by the absence of captain Ryan ten Doeschate from today’s quarter-final against Yorkshire at Chelmsford.
Ten Doeschate misses the 50-over showdown, the first of a two-match suspension for an outburst during the Specsavers County Championship win at Old Trafford earlier this week.
Chopra said: “It’s going to be a big loss. He’s our leader out there. He’s a big-hitter as well, coming in at six. His scoring ability when you are in a hole, and also the acceleration he can provide at the back-end, is great for us as a side.
“He probably didn’t hit his straps in the group stages, but he is one of those guys who you know when it’s a big game – a quarter-final, a semi-final – you want in your side. But we’re still going to go out there with a strong side, and if we play well we’ll get the result.”
The blow will be softened somewhat by the availability of Alastair Cook for his first game in the competition this year, to open the batting with Chopra. “Tendo will be a big loss,” said Chopra, “but it’s not a bad replacement coming in. Cookie was our best player in this format last year, he’s been in good touch this summer, and hopefully he’ll put in a big performance for us in the quarter-final.”
Cook’s return will mean a halt to the prolific first-wicket partnership between Chopra and wicketkeeper Adam Wheater, which has been worth 537 runs at 67.12 in the eight Royal London matches so far. It has provided the platform for Essex to win five of their matches and snatch second place – and this home quarter-final – from Kent in the last match.
Chopra said: “Me and Wheater have worked well together. We run well, him being shorter, me being taller, perhaps helps. We complement each other at the top of the order. It’s been nice to bat with him.
“In this format, if you do set a base in the first 10-20 overs, with the extra fielder in the circle, with two white balls, a good wicket and the sun out, you can really capitalise. If we’re 50-60 for no loss, or even if 60 for two, we feel quite comfortable. Wheats and my job is to get the side off to a solid start. We do that by playing strong cricket shots and being positive, not having a dash like some pinch-hitters have in the past.”
Chopra has slotted consummately into Cook’s role this season totalling nine runs short of 500 runs, with a career-best score of 160 and three fifties, one of them unbeaten and just shy of a second hundred, and an average of 61.37. He admitted: “It’s been a good tournament for me, no doubt. The longer you play the game, you do have good months and bad months, good seasons and bad seasons. I’ve played long enough not to take anything for granted out there. But, yes, this competition has been good for us as a batting side, and for me personally.
“The 160 against Somerset was particularly pleasing, just the way I managed to construct it. I think I was 40 off 25-30 [balls] to start with, and was going really well. Then we lost three quick wickets. Somerset bowled really well and Ravi [Bopara] and myself had to absorb a lot of pressure for a period of time. We managed to get in and free up after reaching 100 I then hit something like 60 off 30 balls in the last 10 [overs]. It was satisfying as a batter to play an inning where you’ve had to put a lot of thought into it. To get the win as well made it extra special.”
Yorkshire inflicted Essex’s only Championship defeat of the season last month. “That Yorkshire game was disappointing after the first innings [when Yorkshire were dismissed for 50]. But you’ve got to give credit to the opposition sometimes, and also accept that as sportsmen you’re not always going to have your best days.
“But we’ve won three on the bounce now and if we put in another good performance tomorrow we can move on to another semi-final. Then we’re two games from Lord’s.” And ten Doeschate would be back to lead them in the final.