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August 14, 2009
Mark Butcher, the recently retired former captain of Surrey, has dismissed as "madness" the speculation surrounding a possible recall for his county team-mate Mark Ramprakash, and believes there is no way that England will resort to a one-off call-up for a 39-year-old batsman who has not featured in Test cricket since 2002.
Speaking to Cricinfo at an MCC Chance to Shine event in East London, Butcher believed that Ramprakash would undoubtedly rise to the occasion if named on Sunday morning in England's squad for the decisive fifth Test at The Oval, but added that the whole issue had been drummed up by a "panicking" media, following England's humiliating two-and-a-half day defeat at Headingley that left the Ashes all-square with just next Thursday's Oval Test to come.
"Of course he could do a job for England, he's a fabulous player. I just don't think he will," said Butcher. "If he's so highly regarded, why hasn't he been playing for the past four years? However good a player you are, it's an enormous call to be pulled out of the wilderness after seven years, and told: 'Right, go and win us the Ashes ... oh, and by the way, we're not going to pick you for this winter's tour.'"
Ramprakash himself spoke briefly on Wednesday, telling Surrey's website that he would be "thrilled" to be given another chance to impress at Test level, having previously managed just two centuries in 52 matches dating back to 1991. "You wouldn't expect him to say anything less," said Butcher. "Should he get picked he'll do a great job because he's a good player. But they won't pick him, so it's almost pointless talking about it."
In Butcher's opinion, one man who will undoubtedly feature at The Oval is Andrew Flintoff, in what will be his final appearance before his retirement from Test cricket. Earlier this week, a bulletin from Flintoff's specialist, Andy Williams, revealed that the swelling in his right knee had "eased considerably", and given how abjectly England performed in his absence at Headingley, that ought to be sufficient to usher him straight back into the starting line-up.
"There's no way he won't play," said Butcher. "They'd have to restrain him not to play. With one of [Kevin] Pietersen or Flintoff playing, you notice the difference in the confidence of our side, and more importantly in the confidence of the opposition, because they know they are up against individuals who can hurt them. KP was to all intents and purposes knackered at Lord's and yet England still won there, and they did well at Edgbaston too. It's just without either that they have struggled."
Butcher, like Flintoff, has suffered from chronic knee problems in recent seasons, and last week's retirement, at the age of 37, came in the wake of his third operation. He appreciates the reasons why Flintoff has seen fit to call time on his Test career, but warned that England should not expect miracles in his valedictory appearance, regardless of claims made through his agent, Chubby Chandler, that adrenaline alone could have carried Flintoff through last week's Headingley Test.
"There comes a point where, physically, any amount of adrenaline isn't going to help," said Butcher, who had watched with concern as Flintoff laboured through 30 wicketless overs in the drawn third Test at Edgbaston. "It was obvious to me in that match that he was operating at 70% of what he can do, and even for someone like Fred, that's not enough."
Butcher's latest knee operation took place in mid-July, and the demands of yet another bout of rehab persuaded him that it was not worth battling on. "Right now I'm struggling to walk, and I'm not even a bowler, so of course, I can fully understand the decision Fred's made," he said. "He's got a young family, and he's potentially got another ten years of playing the Twenty20 stuff, so it's the kind of trade-off he's got to make. It's a shame for England, but it's the right thing to do.
"Personally, I know I've made the right decision as well," said Butcher, whose professional career has spanned 19 years. "The reason you start playing cricket is to bat, bowl and field. It's not to spend every God-given hour in the gym, trying to make your knee work. It wears you down after a while, and any sportsman in any sport will know what that's like. You get a serious injury, you have an operation, and then there are all the hours that you have to do in the gym, behind the scenes, just to get back out on the park again.
"I'm 37 this week, and time is short enough anyway, without spending most of your life in a gym sat on a bike trying to walk back down the stairs again. It was a painful decision to have to make, but the club need a captain who's going to be on the park, and that wasn't going to be me. The time was right to do it."
Mark Butcher is a Chance to Shine ambassador and was appearing at an MCC Spirit of Cricket summer camp where children learned the 'play hard, play fair' messages endorsed by Marylebone Cricket Club. For further details visit www.lords.org.
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