Mark Ramprakash May 10, 2006

As inevitable as the rising sun

Andrew Miller looks at Mark Ramprakash, Cricinfo's top performer of the week

Mark Ramprakash: a career-best after 19 seasons© Getty Images
The beginning of a new era for English cricket gets underway on Thursday, when Andrew Flintoff takes charge of his first home Test at Lord's, at the helm of a team containing just seven members of the side that won the Ashes. It's a reminder of the fleeting glories of sport - time just keeps on rolling, regardless of the memories that are left behind.

For some old stagers in the game, however, time stood still long ago. Take Mark Ravin Ramprakash, for instance, 36 years old and counting, who has just recorded a massive 292 for Surrey against Gloucestershire, his highest first-class score in his 19th season as a professional cricketer. Plenty has been said about Ramps' shortcomings in Test cricket, in which he averaged just 27.32 in 52 matches, but at county level he remains a force as inevitable as the rising sun.

Ramprakash's gargantuan innings was his 81st century in first-class cricket, and took his overall tally to 26932 runs at 49.78 in 375 matches. Like Alastair Cook, the latest boy wonder to be handed his chance with England, Ramprakash was 21 when he played his first Test. That came against West Indies at Headingley in 1991, and in a spooky precursor to his final Test average, he made twin scores of 27, as England won a famous match by 115 runs.

His runs have been accumulated with a balletic athleticism, the product of a graceful technique that remains one of the most enviable in the game. A key member of England's wasted generation of the 1990s, Ramprakash will always have a "what if?" attached to his name. Like Graeme Hick, Chris Lewis and countless others whose returns failed to match the potential, he might have achieved so much more had the team ethos that now permeates the England set-up been in place in his own day.

Instead Ramprakash was left fearing for his place after every new failure, a high-profile victim of his own highly-strung nature. In 2001, in search of fulfilment, he made a much-criticised move from Middlesex to Surrey, and duly celebrated with a century against Australia at his new home at The Oval. That was, however, his only hundred in 31 home Tests - a mind-boggling contrast to his conversion-rate in other first-class games; 79 hundreds in 322 matches, or nearly one in four.

But now, with his Test days firmly behind him, Ramprakash is contently harvesting county runs in the autumn of his career. The young guns will be taking centre stage this week at his old stomping ground in St John's Wood, but south of the river, the old'uns remain the best.

He says
"From a young age the media like to present a picture of you, using certain words. Some of the words and phrases used to describe me I don't agree with. For those words, I would suggest ambitious and professional. I think I'm hard-working and conscientious and I left no stone unturned, to try and be as good as I can be." The synopsis of his autobiography describes Ramprakash as one of "cricket's most intense and interesting characters." He doesn't quite see it like that.

They say
"Even by his own very high standards, Ramprakash's eleventh career double-hundred, reached in 324 balls, was special. A beautiful spring day, not to mention a peerless pitch and the shortcomings of Gloucestershire's attack, made for an avalanche of runs but to witness such flawless batting was a privilege. For it was very close to being the perfect innings." The Times correspondent, Geoffrey Dean, waxes lyrical.

What you may not know
Like most cricketers, Ramprakash is prone to his superstitions, one of which is that he'll always chew the same piece of chewing gum throughout an innings, and stick it to the top of his bat-handle if he's not out overnight. Given that he batted for ten hours spread over three consecutive days during his 292, his gum must have resembled a prop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by the time it finally reached the bin.

What the future holds
He's much more at peace with his game these days. Fatherhood has mellowed him, and in 2005 he stood in as Surrey's captain while Mark Butcher was recovering from a wrist injury - a stint that formed the basis of his autobiography, Four More Weeks. For someone with such a healthy appetite for runs, however, four more years might seem a more appropriate title. His enthusiasm for the game shows no sign of wavering.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo