London: Ravi Bopara reckons both he and England are playing the best one-day international (ODI) cricket of his career. The Essex all-rounder made an impressive 82 as England beat Australia by six wickets with more than four overs to spare at The Oval on Sunday to go 2-0 up in a five-match ODI series.
Opener Ian Bell continued his recent good form with 75 but it was a bowling attack without injured spearhead James Anderson who put England in a position to win by restricting Australia to a below par 251 for seven.
Bopara did his bit with the ball too, the medium-pacer taking one for 16 in five overs as he captured the prize wicket of Australia captain and star batsman Michael Clarke, out for just 10.
Victory was England's eighth successive ODI win and left them on course for a 5-0 clean sweep of their oldest rivals that would see them simultaneously topping the world rankings in all three major formats, with the side already at the summit of the Test and Twenty20 standings.
"I think this is probably the best side we've ever had," said Bopara, a veteran of 76 ODIs. "The bowlers are performing really well, putting pressure on (opposition) batsmen - and then there's always someone in the top six (for us) that goes on and gets a big score.
"England have managed six individual centuries in their last eight ODIs, with Eoin Morgan making 89 not out in Friday's series opening win over Australia at Lord's before Bopara took centre stage across London at The Oval.
"The amount of hundreds we've scored in the last however many games has been incredible," said Bopara, who was understandably pleased by his latest innings. "I enjoyed myself out there," he said of an 85-ball knock including eight boundaries.
"I told myself just to watch the ball, and hit it, and I play my best when I do that. I think I'm batting the best I ever have. A few changes that I've made over these last six months have really worked for me.
"England captain Alastair Cook, while saluting Essex team-mate Bopara for "playing really well", praised his bowlers for the way they choked off Australia's run supply. For example, Australia added a mere 24 runs coming in a 10-over spell from overs 21 to 30 inclusive on Sunday, with off-spinner Graeme Swann taking a miserly one for 27 in his eight overs.
"Where we were really quite strong today was when Swanny came on," explained Cook. "We squeezed really, really well - with a few overs from Ravi as well. From 20 to 35 overs, we did that really well, picked up the odd wicket, and never really allowed them to get that momentum going to get a big score.
"At The Oval, 250 is always gettable. We chased 230 against West Indies, and tried to stick to that same platform - and it was another really solid batting performance," the left-handed opener added.
Clarke, who insisted Australia had been flattered by only losing at Lord's by 15 runs, said there was no disguising England's margin of victory at The Oval and called for a rapid improvement ahead of Wednesday's match in Birmingham, where another loss would give the hosts the series. "I think the scoreboard at the first game probably hid how far away the teams were," Clarke said.
"I think England outplayed us at Lord's and they certainly outplayed us here, so we need to get better quickly. We've got the talent, that's something I've spoken about for a while. It's now about turning the talent into performances," said Clarke.