Mark Ramprakash is my direct contemporary, born in the fabulous late-60s sunshine and condemned to make his entry onto the scene in the dog days of the early ’90s.
Now he has found second wind, and may be looking at a late-life call-up to the England Test team after many seasons of superb county form. He is Wisden Cricketer of the Year, and the pride of my nameless, featureless generation.
So what happened, Mark?
You have to remember just how grim the early ’90s were. For Mark, that grimness was compounded by his having come forward at a time when English cricket had far less idea than they have now of how to run an international team.
Ramprakash made his Test debut young, aged 21, famously in the same match as the Le Tissier of cricket, Graeme Hick. Both men made the same score in the first as in the second innings – Hick 6, twice, and Ramps 27, twice. Ideally, a player of that age who is clearly up to standard is given time to bed himself in, in the Australian fashion, form giving way to substance.
Not a bit of it. He was dropped after eight matches, 15 innings and 241 runs. It would take him another four years to double his appearances.
This is, of course, precisely the wrong way to introduce bright young talent to the top of the game. It is, however, a good way to kill confidence, sow doubt and extinguish potential. There would be good Test days ahead for Ramprakash, especially in two series against the Windies and Australia, but we’d have to wait until 1997-8 and 1998-9 for that.
Ramprakash paid for arriving at a time when things were bad in English cricket, but not bad enough. How he’d have loved to be 21 now and breaking into a proper England Test team with some experience and genuine cricketing success under its belt.
But 1991 England was a mixed bag – Gooch at his peak, a captain leading by constant example, making up for lost time; the young Michael Atherton, showing signs of the mental strength that he would need in spades later on; Robin Smith and, sometimes, Botham, left over from the 1985 Ashes team; Lewis, Defreitas and Lawrence bowling. It doesn’t look bad, looking back, but how often it wasn’t good enough.
Above all, it wasn’t a side that could do without developing Ramprakash. England had a deserved reputation at the time for cliquey, unfriendly dressing rooms and changing, inconsistent management. Whatever else has changed since 1991, that has.
English sportsmen still have to master the art of continuous top-level performance. Both the rugby and cricket teams went into steep decline after their respective triumphs, and the very recent return to grace of the rugby men is welcome but not before time. If Ramprakash is restored – and restoration should be the word here – let it be part of a return for our cricketers too.
4 Replies to “Ramprakash and the Bad Old Days”
I’d like to see Ramprakash return because he seemed like such a nice man on Strictly Come Dancing. And I know he didn’t have a great Test career before, but how much more could he possibly do to earn a recall?
Averaging over a hundred in county cricket must be equivalent to say 30 goals a season in the Premiership. I know there are a few footballers who have had bad luck with selection for England, but can you imagine the clamour if there was a thirty goal a season man who wasn’t even in the squad? The step up from county cricket to Test cricket may be more significant than that from club football to international, I suppose, but I say give him a go. Sidebottom’s return to the team seems to have worked out OK.
To my mind, sad as it is, to bring in Ramprakash now would be repeating the same mistake made with him only on Owais Shah, or Ravi Bopara, or whoever. The romantic in me would love to see him come in and set the world alight, for all sorts of reasons. We share the same mixed heritage and I could see him growing in himself during that dancing competition. He lost some performance anxiety there which was one of the things that always seemed to dog him in Tests. But, in ODIs we’re building to a WC some years away and in Tests we’re building for an Ashes series over a year away, so I think it is not to be.
I can’t let the remark about the rugby pass though. There were huge problems between club vs country (and rugby is too physical a game for that not to matter) which is part of why Clive Woodward effectively walked out. Andy Robinson was brave, but possibly not actually ready for the job and certainly not ready for the politics of club vs country at the time.
Add to all that, Woodward sacrificed future development to win in 2003. It worked, so all praise to him, but as various figures retired their replacements arrived with next to no caps under their belt. Harry Ellis (who had he not been injured may well have been one of the stars of this WC) is a typical case. He’s matured and blossomed over 2006-7. But it’s only through the playing time in 2004-5 that has happened. And there are examples all over the pitch.
So to hold up the rugby players as sportsmen who have not mastered the art of continuous top-level performance seems rather harsh. Rather say it is our sports institutions who have not mastered that art.
I’d still maintain that it’s a combination of both players and institutions. But you raise a fascinating question there about Clive Woodward. I’d argue that he didn’t sacrifice future development, in the sense that the development is for such specific things as World Cups. But written into that is the problem of sport being both something you can hope to develop over time, and yet something that can all blow up in the space of one game. NZ have had their development worked out for years – yet the All Blacks haven’t made the World Cup Final since…
I know there are a few footballers who have had bad luck with selection for England, but can you imagine the clamour if there was a thirty goal a season man who wasnâ€™t even in the squad?
Like Kevin Phillips, who on a dozen occasions were passed over in favour of Emile Heskey who’d not scored in most of the domestic season?
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