May 8, 2009

Ramps keeps a-rolling

Mark Ramprakash stands out in the county championship because he chooses to
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There are no cheerleaders at The Oval. No DLF maximums. No mid-over bursts of Jimmy Soul. And no Ravi Shastri patronising the crowd with cries of "Kennington, you've been amazing!" But phenomena come in all shapes and sizes, and Mark Ramprakash's first County-Championship innings of the season has been a reminder that they don't have to be glitzy, glib, garish or ghastly to leave an impression.

Ramprakash is 39. He will be at least 42 before he retires, which is the kind of age when most sportsmen are already deep into second careers as coaches, commentators or after-dinner wits. That makes it hard to look beyond the question posed by Nasser Hussain in his perceptive essay on Ramprakash and Graeme Hick in the recent Wisden Almanack: "Mark," he asks despairingly, "how can you still have the appetite for this?"

It is one of the questions of English domestic cricket, and the answer may tell us a lot about both Ramprakash himself and the game he plays. Ramprakash's mediocre Test career and its psychological repercussions have been raked over often enough. Yes, he was too tense. Yes, he lived in a bubble. Yes, it was a crying shame for English cricket.

But not even the desire engendered by 2350 Test runs at a mere 27.32 can account for the sub-Bradmanesque nature of his performances in the last few years. The most remarkable aspect of his 133 here at The Oval was that it was not remarkable at all. Shaun Udal, the Middlesex captain, plainly regarded it as so inevitable that he was giving Ramprakash singles as early as the 60s.

Stats can spoil the view, but in Ramprakash's case they enhance it. This was his 51st first-class hundred for Surrey alone - and he's only been here since 2001. In that time he has averaged 75. His overall county championship average, taking in his years at Middlesex (against whom, incidentally, he now averages a cathartic 104) is an all-time record 59, which places him one run ahead of Geoff Boycott, and three ahead of slouches such as CB Fry and Wally Hammond. And all this in an age where cricketers struggle for credibility unless they're milking the Twenty20 cash cow.

Ramprakash feels like an anachronism, both a beneficiary of the system in which he has grown up and its greatest victim. It's unlikely, after all, that any other domestic set-up in the world would encourage a man nearing 40 with no hope of an international recall to keep churning out the runs and ticking off the victims (104 first-class hundreds pulls him one clear of Glenn Turner and John Edrich and up alongside Tom Hayward in 19th place on the list; three more and he's rubbing shoulders with Andy Sandham, another Surrey great, and Colin Cowdrey).

Ramprakash's brickbats at Test level and bouquets with Surrey are flipsides of the same coin. The intensity that paralysed him when playing for England turns into a precious commodity in the domestic game, where intensity is a Platonic ideal rather than a fact of life

But it's also unlikely that any other country would have messed Ramprakash around as much as England's selectors did in the pre-central-contracts days of the 1990s. This was the man who, after a quick warm-up against Zimbabwe, was brought back to face Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in 2000 and asked to open the batting, for goodness' sake. His failures that summer were painful and possibly unfair. County cricket has subsequently provided him with a home, and the spectators who show up are all the luckier for it.

The truth is that Ramprakash's brickbats at Test level and bouquets with Surrey are flipsides of the same coin. The intensity that paralysed him when playing for England turns into a precious commodity in the domestic game, where intensity is a Platonic ideal rather than a fact of life. Ramprakash stands out in the championship precisely because he chooses to. And because the bowlers aren't good enough to apply the consistent pressure that can mess with minds in Test cricket, the tension inherent in his game loses its edge.

He has matured too, despite the blow-up at Murray Goodwin last year when the stresses of his pursuit of 100 hundreds took their toll and earned a two-match suspension plus a £3500-shaped hole in his pocket. Ramprakash remembers bumping into a friend on a train in 2005, who told him about the multi-million dollar deal he was working on. "Christ, that is pressure!" wrote Ramprakash in Four More Weeks, his diary of that summer. "Here I am fretting about being eight not out in a game of cricket." It's an observation that's hard to square with the man who once told Darrell Hair he was "messing with my career" following a decision in a Test at Lord's.

In his own focused, driven way, Ramprakash seems to have found a kind of tortured peace. He is playing a sport that tolerates individualism - indeed, which cannot thrive without it - and so accommodates the man wrapped up in his own world. When Hussain tries to answer his own despairing question, he comes up with this: "The moment he gets that bat in his hand, it is as if he is still cashing his first hundred." Twenty20 tournaments come and go, but Ramprakash's continued pursuit of yet another notch in the record books may be a more profound wonder of the age.

Lawrence Booth is a cricket correspondent at the Guardian. He writes the acclaimed weekly cricket email The Spin for guardian.co.uk

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mukesh on May 10, 2009, 1:51 GMT

    The trouble with the English is they just dont know how to be winners and for that matter spot winners. Yes Ramps didnt make it as a Test batsman but only because the morons at the time didnt know how to manage a genious! Look how Brian Clough was totally disregarded by England and he would have won the World Cup!! No one talks about Gatting or any of the other players because despite playing for England they achieve zippo! Carry on Ramps your doing well.

  • Sahil on May 9, 2009, 15:19 GMT

    Sure he's got some great achievements at the domestic level, but as ElectronSmoke said, if Tendulkar or Ponting were not picked for their international sides imageine how many hundreds they would have? Tendulkar has 69 First Class hundreds in 412 innings, and an average of 58.70 and that of course includes international innings. While Ramps has 103 hundreds in 684 innings (Tendulkar scores more hundreds per innings). If the Laras, Pontings and Tendulkars of the world played as much domestic cricket as Ramprakash does, all records would be theirs.

    It's what you do at the highest level that counts, no one cares how good Jordan was in college at UNC or no one will care in 15 years of Tim Tebow's accomplishments in college football, in the end your achievements at the highest level of the sport are what matter.

  • Jo on May 9, 2009, 7:45 GMT

    Excellent article. People forget that Ramps averaged over 40 against Australia, which just adds to his enigma. Agree with Tricia99's comments regarding the Murray Goodwin incident - he'd already passed the 100th hundred by then.

  • Alex on May 8, 2009, 20:54 GMT

    So what's the big deal? How about this: Ramps was always a great batsman to watch. A purist, a timer of the ball, with nothing ugly in his technique. For county audiences, he's been a flash of sheer class amongst the rest for years. In statistical terms, as the article points out, his first class record is nigh unassailable. And there's always the wonder, and the hint of regret, so that everytime he scores a hundred, you stand up and applaud and say, "now why couldn't he have done that for England". Cricket is a game of characters, and the more going on, the better. No-one's saying he's as good as Ponting or Tendulkar or whoever. But personally, I'd rather watch Ramps than either of those players, great though they are. Why is he special? Come on, do you really have to ask?

  • PRASH on May 8, 2009, 19:58 GMT

    very good article, but i am surprised at the number of positive comments Ramps has received from those that chose to comment. Why am I surprise? well for a start most of you have a tendency to downplay or denigrate cricketers of asian origin.

  • Deepanjan on May 8, 2009, 14:55 GMT

    For all his achievements and talent ( and its considerable .. a hundred first-class 100s, no less!), i think the most pertinent point was made by KP himself during that infamous 'Murray Goodwin blow-up'. It was just a landmark, the hundred 100s thing and he fretted and lost his focus and temper. In international cricket the bowlers are up at you far more, consistently looking for chinks in your technique and temperament. You are tested like that every ball, every match. There is no enigma about Ramps - he simply was never international class. He is a domestic giant, as were scores of others. And please, lets not get too excited about him overcoming CB Fry, Hammond, Cowdrey, Glenn Turner or Boycott -- all of whom were greats because of the bowlers who lorded the county scene in that era, and ALSO because they were equally prolific at international level. Ramps only plunders runs for county because England don't pick him anymore. Imagine how many a Ponting or Tendulkar would've ?

  • Ashok on May 8, 2009, 13:25 GMT

    One always has an appetite for Cricket as long as he enjoys playing it.Mark is in a different class to most cricketers. It is unfortunate that England did not treat him right by exploiting his weaknesses rather than nurturing his strengths. He is an ideal #3 or #4 batsman not an opener. Even today he is capable of assuming that role for England in the tests based on his form and consistency. The middle order for England is extremely fragile and needs players like Mark to provide some degree of stability. The recent test match against WI proved this point when both KP and Collongwood failed. Mark will certainly be amongst the great batsman of all time, at least in the county cricket, similar to what Shackelton was in bowling. I wish Mark all the best in his county cricket. I am sure as long as one enjoys the game there is every reason to carry on playing it. Mark has a few more years of the game in him and is sure to rank amongst the greats like Hammond and Fry.Good Luck Mark.

  • Jairam on May 8, 2009, 11:29 GMT

    Bravo Ramps, how encouraging to see someone like him soldier on manfully and keep contributing to the game. An extremely refreshing change to the bazaar that goes by the name of the IPL shamelessly hawked by the egregious Ravi Shastri and other shillers.

  • Louis on May 8, 2009, 11:14 GMT

    Quite simply...... not good enough

  • Rajesh on May 8, 2009, 10:49 GMT

    I cannot imagine what the big deal is with Mark Ramprakash. There must be innumerable so-called great scorers/wicket-takers in every country's domestic leage who somehow did not quiet cut it at international level. In the past few years, India has had WV Raman, Raman Lamba, Venugopal Rao, Sanjay Manjrekar, Kambli, Chetan Sharma, Maninder Singh, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. I just do not get the media's obssession with Ramprakash and Graeme Hick. These guys were given gazillion chances and still could not get test cricket right. Somehow the press gets itself into a bind when discussing these what-could-have-been stories. And consistently contradicts itself. The press argument goes like - 20-20 is a joke, test cricket is the most important, notwithstanding this MR is a genius. Or, the other line - English county standard is really poor, it is just not in the same league as test cricket, but hey look at MR's county record. Isnt he a genius?

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