Struggling Ravi just can't duck the facts as curse of No 6 slot strikes again
21:12 GMT, 20 July 2012
At some point fate may cut Ravi Bopara a bit of slack. But not quite yet.
Arriving at the crease for his long-delayed return to Test cricket, he walked straight into the kind of perfect storm that is apparently etched into his contract: South Africa had shaken off the first day's rust, Dale Steyn was pawing at the turf, and the ball was singing songs under grey skies.
To his fifth delivery, Bopara narrowly survived Steyn's wild-eyed shout for leg-before. To his sixth, he thought about hooking the world's fastest bowler, changed his mind halfway through the shot, and edged the ball through to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers with the bat resembling a periscope.
Duck: Ravi's wayward stroke saw him return to the hutch without scoring
And that was that: in only his third Test innings since he was put out of his Ashes misery in 2009, and his first since last August's fourth Test against India, Bopara was out for a duck – his fifth in 18 knocks at this level.
It came with a hapless predictability, confirming his reputation as a man who might successfully avoid the cracks on the pavement and then trip over a black cat.
England's No 6 slot is the closest thing in this side to a poisoned chalice.
Eoin Morgan was dropped after a horror tour of the UAE, while Samit Patel wasn't even trusted to bat there in Sri Lanka, where Bopara picked up a typically untimely injury. Bopara is far from the default selection.
Steyn on his copybook: Ravi must wonder when his luck will change
He has been in good form this summer, and looked the part in the recent one – day thrashing of Australia. He even picked up a few cheap wickets.
But he has spent most of his on-off Test career trying to come to terms with the fact that he followed three successive ducks in Sri Lanka in December 2007 with three successive hundreds against West Indies – and then a disaster of an Ashes series in which he managed 105 runs in seven innings from No 3.
If his Test career has been the story of an identity crisis, then at least most people agreed this time the stage was set. That, though, is when Bopara seems to run into trouble.
Ashes to ashes: Bopara endured a torrid time during the 2009 series