Paul Sheldon, the Surrey chief executive, has tempered speculation of a Mark Ramprakash recall and suggestions the ECB could influence the character of The Oval pitch for the Ashes decider. Reports that Ramprakash could make a return to the Test arena after a seven-year absence gathered momentum on Monday after Geoff Miller, England's chairman of selectors, refused to rule out the 39-year-old batsman.
Ramprakash, ever the model of first-class consistency, has scored 1,209 runs at 100.75 for Surrey in the county second division this season, including scores of 80 and 130 not out in his most recent match against Derbyshire. As of Monday evening, more than 47 percent of readers surveyed by Cricinfo rated Ramprakash a superior option at No. 3 to Ravi Bopara (19 percent), Rob Key (18 percent) and Ian Bell (14 percent), however Sheldon was not confident of a one-off call-up for the 52-Test veteran.
"I think it's very unlikely that the selectors will turn in that direction," Sheldon told Cricinfo. "Mark has probably been the most complete county player on the circuit for the past two or three seasons, and this year he is in the form of his life. He would do England proud if they picked him, but I think it is unlikely it will work out that way and Mark would probably agree with that assessment. If it were to happen, I'm sure he would so his country, his county and himself proud. But I think Mark would be reluctant to comment on speculate on what might happen."
From August 20, The Oval will play host to the most talked about 22-yard stretch of real estate in the greater London area. Nothing short of a victory will do for England in their bid to wrest back the Ashes from Australia, and recent history bodes well for them in their task. Only three draws have been recorded in the past 13 Test matches at The Oval, and England's record at the venue since 2000 stands at six wins and three draws.
Of some concern is Surrey's home record this year - four draws from as many first class matches - moving Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain to comment on the likelihood of England's authorities pressing for a "result wicket". Atherton, writing in The Times, said the "call must be made" to produce a pitch that will assist England in their pursuit victory, while Hussain noted "England would want an absolute dustbowl that turns from day one if they want a result."
Sheldon, however, insisted neither he nor his head groundsman, Bill Gordon, would be swayed by the requirements of the England team in producing the pitch for the fifth Test.
"Before a Test we always have a good chat with the ECB, and their pitch inspector has a look at the wicket," he said. "This has been a pitch that favours the bat for the first few days and takes spin later. I am not sure if the ECB have anything in mind, but we will do what we always do. I expect The Oval will play host to another fine contest of bat versus ball.
"You can't compare a Test strip with a four-day one. There is more time and less interruptions to prepare a Test strip. There have been difficulties in getting results here in Championship matches this season, but I believe that is irrelevant to what the Test strip will play like."