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.