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Ravi Bopara is fast becoming England’s principal dilemma as they near the defence of their ICC World Twenty20 crown.

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England’s number three has endured a dispiriting sequence of single-figure scores, in all formats, since his season was disrupted last month by still unspecified personal problems.

Whether his latest failure, six runs before another fatal outside-edge off Dale Steyn in Saturday’s defeat against South Africa, was still the result of a troubled mind - or merely a batsman out of form - is a moot point.

Either way, England urgently need the Essex player to make some runs - or face the prospect of having to make up for his ongoing lack of productivity on the bigger stage in Sri Lanka.

The question they must answer then is whether to persevere with him in tonight’s second of three Twenty20s against the South Africans in five days, at Old Trafford, or give him a rest and someone else a chance.

Stuart Broad was equivocal about that puzzle as he reflected on going 1-0 down in a series which will conclude in Birmingham on Wednesday night - hours before England head to Colombo to take on the world again.

“Ravi’s struggled the last couple of weeks, but he’s working very hard on putting that right,” said the Twenty20 captain.

“You know as a batsman you can be one shot away from something clicking, and finding yourself back in form - and Twenty20 cricket is probably the perfect format for that, because you can play with a bit of licence and let that freedom come back to your game.

“We hope Ravi can get back to that, because he’ll be an important player for us in Sri Lanka - not just with the bat, but I think his bowling will be useful on those sorts of wickets.”

England do have the reassurance of a near like-for-like - and in-form - deputy in Luke Wright.

The Sussex all-rounder cannot claim Bopara’s batting pedigree, but he has shown himself in an especially good light this summer with a string of fine performances for his county.

“Someone like Wrighty has played some really good knocks in domestic cricket in the past couple of weeks,” added Broad.

“Going into this ‘World Cup’, there will certainly be a chance to have a look at some different options for guys to impress.

“There’s going to be some opportunities available. It’s up to the guys to really grab them.”

There have even been some fanciful notions that outcast superstar batsman Kevin Pietersen could yet find an unlikely late route back into the Twenty20 squad, should Bopara’s personal troubles resurface and prevent him from travelling - and therefore leave England needing an official replacement.

South Africa have significantly fewer concerns, of course.

But like England, the tourists do appear to have an issue at number three - where Faf du Plessis, on Twenty20 debut at Chester-le-Street, continued his poor recent form.

Like Broad, South Africa captain AB de Villiers is unsurprisingly inclined to back his team-mate.

“It was his first Twenty20 game,” he said.

“We all know what he’s capable of - he’s a class player.

“Instead of dropping him, I think it’s important to keep backing him and making sure he gets a bit of confidence going into the ‘World Cup’.

“All I need to know is what he’s capable of - and I know exactly what he’s capable of.

“We all do, so that’s enough for me going into the World Cup for now.”

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