Cricket: England SOS for reject Ramprakash

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The Independent Online
INSTEAD OF Christmas at home with his family, Mark Ramprakash has been asked to spend it in Durban, as cover for Michael Vaughan's badly- bruised finger. The Middlesex player, dropped by England after the series against New Zealand last summer, will fly out to join the team tonight.

"I was totally geared up to spending Christmas with my family," Ramprakash said yesterday. "This whole thing has come like a bombshell, but having discussed it with my wife, I'm happy to go."

With Vaughan's finger still too swollen to grip a bat without discomfort, and with back-to-back Tests over the festive period, the England management felt it prudent to have back-up to hand just in case injury or illness befalls any of the main batsmen.

However, according to the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, the original selections will remain sacrosanct and he will not be considered providing all the specialist batsmen are fit.

When asked why Ramprakash had been chosen, Graveney said that the choice had been made after liaising closely with the captain, Nasser Hussain, and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. "The people in South Africa are better placed regarding the sort of player they wanted to fulfill their needs," he said. Hussain pointed to Ramprakash's previous tours as the deciding factor. "We wanted someone very experienced to come in. It was a difficult one to choose, but we just felt we needed a senior batsman," he said.

Ramprakash, perhaps surprisingly for a man dropped by England at the end of last summer, was preferred to Graeme Hick and Nick Knight, the official batting standby.

Apart from Knight being an opener (there are already three here and another would be verging on a monopoly), and the England A team batsmen needing time to adjust from the slow, low pitches in New Zealand, the reasons for Ramprakash are not obvious.

Indeed, it would have been no great surprise given Graham Thorpe's unavailability, if Hick was first choice and, looking forward to rare a Christmas in Worcester with his children, had told them to hang their offer.

Graveney would not be drawn on the possibility, though there was a hint that one of the other candidates had turned the offer down. "Speaking to the other players considered," said Graveney, "people must understand that the 11th-hour nature of this call meant that they needed to speak to their families. Christmas is a time for families and a time for children, though it was not a question of any player saying they weren't prepared to come out."

Providing he was first choice, Ramprakash's sudden inclusion is a clear indication that the England selectors have forgiven him the dressing-room tantrums that erupted last summer and which culminated, during the last Test, with him throwing his cricket bag over the wall at The Oval. Sensing he was overheating, the selectors dropped him for this tour and told him to take a rest.

But Graveney said: "I have spoken to Ramps a number of times since then, and that is all fine. He was obviously disappointed not to go on tour in the first place, but that does not affect our selection process or our determination to do the best for the England team."

Apparently, Ramprakash has taken them at their word and is fully rested, and despite suggestions in a Sunday newspaper that he had been seen netting twice a day at Lord's, has only been in a couple of times since the end of the season. For a man obsessed with practice, it may be a blessing to arrive underprepared though one Ramprakash may not feel entirely comfortable with.

Two months ago, Mark Ramprakash was not even on the England and Wales Cricket Board's Christmas card list, after being summarily dropped for this tour. Now he has been asked to drop everything for what may amount to little more than a week's nets in the sun.

TOUR MATCH (East London, final day of four): Combined Eastern Province and Border XI 384 (P C Strydom 86, J D Bryant 72, W Wiblin 63); England 113 for 2 (C J Adams 59no). Match drawn.