Cricket: Ramprakash's joy at first Test century

England 403 v West Indies 84-1 Fifth Test: Thorpe joins Middlesex batsman as England centurion as defiant sixth-wicket partnership keeps toiling West Indies at bay
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The Independent Online
IT IS NOT often that a major innings serves both England's long and short term hopes, but Mark Ramprakash's maiden Test century, made here yesterday, would have come closer than most to achieving it. Walking to the crease when his team were 53 for 4, Ramprakash, aided by Graham Thorpe's hundred at the other end, transformed England's chances of levelling the series from the hopeless to the hopeful, though the pendulum later began to swing back West Indies way as their openers added 82 for the first wicket.

Apart from the violent assault meted out upon England's bowlers in the final session, this was Test cricket from the golden eras, when batsmen reigned supreme on featherbed pitches, and scores over 400 were the only currency worth dealing in. Coming together with the scoreboard reading 131 for 5, Ramprakash and Thorpe added 205 for the sixth wicket, easily breaking the previous record against West Indies set by Tony Greig and Alan Knott on this ground in 1974.

For Ramprakash, though, it was joy unconfined, the personal epiphany coming at 11.40am, when after slow progress, he struck Nixon McLean for a glorious four through extra cover off the back foot. The match scorers indicated it had taken him a mind sapping 379 minutes. In truth, it had taken him 38 innings and innumerable sleepless nights to turn his boyhood dreams into reality. Many will now be hoping the floodgates are about to open.

The blooding of Ramprakash, now 28, has been a long and tortuous journey, and less passionate men would have long thrown in the towel. Having made a competent Test debut against this opposition in 1991, he has been a long time maturing. Interestingly, anthropologists might observe that it is a route that appears to be favoured exclusively by Middlesex captains, as Ramprakash's predecessor, Mike Gatting, who ended with a decent enough Test record, took 58 innings to reach the same milestone.

Ramprakash is perhaps fortunate that John Crawley played in front of him in Trinidad, where two confidence sapping greentops have caused bad habits to creep into the techniques of both Atherton and Hussain. But while some claim to be able to put their finger on the reasons for the transformation, others close to him still reckon it is the same old highly- strung Ramps, the intensity better focused not by any newly found maturity, but by the constant kicks in the teeth previously experienced at Test level.

Whatever the reasons, Ramprakash was determined to enjoy his long awaited success. He has spent a long time peering down the dark narrow lanes. Now, it was time to enjoy the helicopter view and, raising his arms aloft to the tumultuous applause, he drank in the moment pausing only to shake hands with Brian Lara and to accept a hug from Thorpe.

Poor Thorpe. It is the second time in a year that a hard-earned century has been swallowed up by events at the other end, the previous occasion being when he partnered Nasser Hussain during the latter's brilliant double century against Australia at Edgbaston last June.

A player of few frills, Thorpe is clearly has a growing reputation for shepherding the tempestuous past significant milestones. But if the role implies something of the second fiddle, the left-hander was anything but yesterday as Ramprakash took time to weigh up the best route to the peak, a painstaking journey not without its nervous moments, as one wild slash over gully off McLean testified.

Unable to resort to the roughhouse tactics of their past, Ambrose and Walsh had to resort to line and length instead. But while they are still fine bowlers, the lack of constant menace previously afforded them by youth, and more recently by the spicy pitches, they became little more than honest trundlers.

With a long hot day in the field slowly unreeling in front of them, it was left to Carl Hooper to wheel away from one end and wait for the mistakes, a tactic that eventually brought him figures of 5 for 80, as he mopped up England's tail. His first victim though was Thorpe, who having batted so well, especially after suffering back spasms the previous day, again succumbed to a soft dismissal against spin.

With Thorpe gone, Ramprakash added more useful runs with Dean Headley until, driving McLean on the up during the second over after tea, he was caught and bowled for 154.

After the raw emotions displayed earlier in the day, it was a deflating end to a groundbreaking innings, one that broke by two runs, Andy Sandham's 68-year-old record for the highest score made an Englishman at the Kensington Oval.

When England bowled, following Hooper's rapid demolition of the tail, the easy-going nature of the pitch was highlighted even further when the West Indies' new opening pair, Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert, neither shy and retiring types, thrashed 50 from 11 overs.

In fact, so hard did they hit the ball that one pull shot from Wallace almost struck umpire Cyril Mitchley standing at square leg. More was to come, and unable to resist anything vaguely tempting, Wallace launched himself at the bowling with gusto, twice clobbering Headley back over his head for four.

However, succumbing to a rare moment of reflection as the day grew to a close, Wallace tried to block Headley and was given out lbw for 45. Needless to say, it still gave the England bowlers due warning of what to expect today, should wickets prove elusive.

Bridgetown scoreboard

West Indies won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight: 229 for 5)

G P Thorpe c Lara b Hooper 103

(394 min, 268 balls, 8 fours)

M R Ramprakash c and b McLean 154

(533 min, 388 balls, 20 fours)

D W Headley c Holder b Hooper 31

(115 min, 84 balls, 5 fours)

A R Caddick c Chanderpaul b Hooper 3

(26 min, 16 balls)

A R C Fraser c Walsh b Hooper 3

(11 min, 8 balls)

P R Tufnell not out 1

(1 min, 1 ball)

Extras (lb10 w2 nb17) 29

Total (676 min, 153.5 overs) 403

Fall (cont): 6-336 (Thorpe), (7-382) Ramprakash; 8-392 (Caddick), 9- 402 (Headley).

Bowling: Walsh 34-8-84-2 (nb4) (9-3-24-2, 3-1-11-0, 7-2-17-0, 2-0-5-0, 9-1-17-0, 3-1-9-0, 1-0-1-0); Ambrose 31-6-62-1 (nb9, w1) (4-3-5-0, 8-1- 15-1, 12-2-24-0, 7-0-18-0); McLean 27-5-73-2 (6-1-19-1, 7-2-19-0, 5-1- 10-0, 5-0-16-0, 2-1-1-1, 2-0-8-0); Hooper 37.5-7-80-5 (3-2-1-0, 18-4-33- 1, 12-1-36-1, 1.5-0-7-3); Bishop 20-1-74-0 (nb8) (8-0-31-0, 5-1-15-0, 4-0-19-0, 3-0-9-0); Chanderpaul 4-0-20-0 (3-0-16-0, 1-0-4-0).

Progress: Second day: 250: 430 min, 98.1 overs. Lunch: 292-5 (Ramprakash 105, Thorpe 84) 116 overs. 300: 520 min, 117.3 overs. 350: 591 min, 133.1 overs. 400: 673 min, 153.2 overs. Innings closed: 3.49pm.

Thorpe 50: 226 min, 158 balls, 4 fours. 100: 375 min, 256 balls, 8 fours. Ramprakash 50: 156 min, 123 balls, 6 fours. 100: 377 min, 280 balls, 13 fours. 150: 518 min, 379 balls, 20 fours.

WEST INDIES - First Innings

C B Lambert not out 32

(107 min, 76 balls, 6 fours)

P A Wallace lbw b Headley 45

(95 min, 51 balls, 9 fours)

I R Bishop not out 2

(11 min, 8 balls)

Extras (b1 nb4) 5

Total (for 1, 107 min, 21.3 overs) 84

Fall: 1-82 (Wallace).

To bat: *B C Lara, S Chanderpaul, C L Hooper, R I C Holder, D Williams, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, C A Walsh.

Bowling: Headley 5-0-35-1 (nb5) (2-0-19-0, 3-0-16-1); Fraser 7-0-27-0 (nb1) (1-0-4-0, 6-0-23-0); Caddick 3-1-15-0 (one spell); Tufnell 6-3-6- 0 (3-1-2-0, 3-2-4-0); Ramprakash 0.3-0-0-0.

Progress: 50: 55 min, 10.5 overs. Bad light stopped play: 5.47pm.

Umpires: C J Mitchley (SA) and E Nicholls (WI).