Despite a fine season on a personal level, Mark Ramprakash's Surrey had a dismal year. Will Luke spoke to him ahead of his first published book, Four More Weeks, about central contracts...and golf.
Was there a specific reason you can pinpoint for Surrey's poor form this season?
Well, put simply, we didn't play well enough. We had a lot of draws, and lost a lot of players through injury. I think what told in the end was a lot of injuries to key bowlers; and we had a few games where we played very well, but couldn't quite finish off the opposition. For examples, it had happened against Gloucestershire on two occasions - we just couldn't bowl people out on the last day.
Tim Murtagh, though, seems to have come on in leaps and bounds this year hasn't he?
Tim's got a lot of things going for him; he fields well and bats quite well. His bowling has always been line and length. He's always been an accurate bowler - a bit like Martin Bicknell - but now he's moving the ball around. He's probably grown in confidence, which has helped tremendously.
You had a brilliant season in 2005. On a personal level, did you have any pre-season plans or objectives?
In the past, from an early age, I was always very careful about setting targets. But I still always look for five centuries in a season, and if I achieve that I should be getting comfortably over 1000 runs.
Only two players scored more runs than you in Division One of the Championship -Owais Shah and Ed Joyce. Both of them are former team-mates of yours and have been talked as potential England Test players - which do you think will make it to the top?
I've played more with Owais Shah, and know his game a lot better; he's a very heavy run-scorer and came into the first team at a very young age. Ed Joyce is different in that he came through a different system, from Ireland. But Owais Shah, I think in the last three years, has scored very heavily...plus the fact that he's now batting at No. 3 which is a very important position. I thought he was very unlucky not to be selected for England this year
Do you have any regrets about leaving Middlesex?
I had very, very good reasons for leaving Middlesex and I'm very, very happy that I came to Surrey. We won four trophies in the first three years. It's a nice dressing room, and I've been playing with some exceptionally good players. I'm happy, relaxed - and I think that shows in my results since crossing the river. I've scored heavily in the last three years, and I don't think that would happen unless I was happy with life.
Did you enjoy captaining Surrey in Mark Butcher's absence?
I did - it was hard work, but yes, a great experience. I'd done three years at Middlesex, and had ups and downs there. So, I went into this season thinking we had a really good side and a quality bowling attack but, unfortunately due to injuries and other complications with Harbhajan Singh not coming over, our attack found things difficult, so it was a great challenge captaining. But I enjoyed it, and I think my experience captaining Middlesex in previous seasons helped a lot.
Your book, Four More Weeks is released next month. Why did you want to write a book at this stage of your career?
I just thought it'd be an interesting thing to do. I was approached by a publisher, and it had been on my mind for the last few years to write one. I just felt the time was right and that it would be an interesting experience - which it was. With cricket books you're not going to make enough to retire on. So it's just an experience to learn from.
What of its title, Four More Weeks? Is that a less-than-subtle hint at your opinion of the length of English seasons.
No! Mark Butcher was given four more weeks to recover from his injury, at the start of April. We were told, throughout the season, that he has "four more weeks."
The book's synopsis says you are one of "cricket's most intense and interesting characters." How do you respond to that?
Well, 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.
And your performances in county cricket would suggest that, too...
Well, yes - in county cricket I've always scored heavily. Test cricket was different for me, yes. I really struggled, and I only made a breakthrough in 1998.
With that century in the West Indies?
Yes, in 1998. That was, really, the start of my second Test career; pre-1998 and post-1998.
Did England's aggression this summer against Australia surprise you at all?
What surprised me was, after losing at Lord's, how well England came back [at Edgbaston]. That's what I admire most; the way they came back at Edgbaston, scoring 400 on the first day...that really did take the fight to Australia. We now have five bowlers, all of whom are on top of their game; Matthew Hoggard swings the ball, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff have height and bounce and Simon Jones offers his reverse-swing, so they hunt in a pack. They're all very good.
How important has Duncan Fletcher been to England's resurgence?
Vital - he's been key to England. He's brought stability, and a quiet confidence to the set-up with consistency of selection which helps players coming into the side settle down more quickly. The players are much more relaxed, and of course it helps when they're winning. They won seven Tests against a pretty poor West Indian side - but they still won, and this bred confidence and a happy, relaxed atmosphere in which to play for your country.
Do you wish that you'd had the cushioning effect central contracts has given the England players when you were younger?
I think central contracts would have helped everybody, not just me. In days gone by, in the late 80s and early 90s, England used so many players during each series. There's no doubt that all players in that era would have enjoyed the stability that central contracts have since brought. Graeme Hick is perhaps another name you could mention as someone who would have benefited from the new regime that Fletcher has created. There were plenty of players who were picked for one or two Tests and then dropped out of sight.
What is it about cricketers and golf? Everyone who wields a bat seems to wield a club, too...
Yes, although I'm certainly no golfer! I don't know what it is that attracts cricketers to golf. I guess it's a sport that attracts people from all walks of life, and a nice way to relax with friends.
So basically, it's just a social gathering; a round or two on the green, and another round at the bar?
Basically, yeah. Although in my case it'd be a Diet Coke!
And who's got the best handicap on the circuit?
Probably Martin Bicknell, he's the best golfer I know of.
Finally - England's latest pace weapon, Liam Plunkett. Have you faced him?
I have, yes - he got me out twice in about four balls. I think it was first ball when we played up at Durham, and third ball at The Oval
So you rate him highly then?
Ha! Well I haven't really faced a lot of him, to be honest.