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April 16, 2008
Surrey 242 for 2 (Ramprakash 102*, Butcher 80*) v Lancashire
For Ramprakash it was as though 2007 had never finished, but he should have been marching off with a duck. The over after Flintoff struck with his 20th ball Ramprakash edged the lively Oliver Newby behind, but Luke Sutton could only palm a regulation chance through the slips. There will have been a feeling of déjà vu in the Lancashire camp; during the match last September they had a chance to remove Ramprakash twice in single figures. History repeated itself when Ramprakash, on 24, pushed the ball towards mid-off and set off for a single before slipping mid-pitch. Flintoff collected, turned but missed his shy at the non-striker's end with Ramprakash stranded.
From then on it felt inevitable that Ramprakash would reach three figures, and the second half of his innings was markedly quicker. He brought up the hundred off 164 balls with a meaty pull through midwicket. It was just one of a string of imperious shots with his driving a stand-out feature. Before this game Ramprakash spoke about a couple of soft dismissals he'd suffered in pre-season and how it warned him to keep working. Faced with the first real serious challenge of the season it was enough to focus the mind.
However, regardless of how many runs Ramprakash makes - and today's came in front of Geoff Miller, the national selector - an England recall seems to have passed him by. Miller, though, was really here to watch Flintoff, playing his first first-class match since last August and he produced spells of five and four overs before bad light cut short his third stint. Play had been delayed by two hours by heavy overnight rain, but the surface was unaffected and Mark Butcher was happy to bat.
Flintoff came on in the 13th over and worked up a decent head of steam from the Pavilion End on a typically true Oval pitch, following through nicely and getting the ball carrying to Sutton at waist height. His first spell ended with the impressive figures of 5-3-9-1 and he remained the pick of a Lancashire attack that struggled to contain except when Gary Keedy wheeled away from the Vauxhall End.
The ball that gave Flintoff his first first-class wicket since August 11 was one of his more undisguised efforts as he dragged the delivery down short. Scott Newman quickly latched on with a pull, but didn't keep the ball down as it spiralled towards long-leg where Newby sprinted in and held a fine, low catch. Newby had taken the opening wicket in the previous over, trapping Jon Batty lbw with a full delivery.
Newby should have also been involved in a third wicket and Lancashire were made to pay for giving Ramprakash a life. Butcher joined in an entertaining third-wicket stand of 186 and was actually the more fluent early on. He crunched a couple of pleasing early drives and reached his half-century off 89 balls. His chance to open the hundred account for the season must wait; Ramprakash has already started and the countdown is on.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?