Cricket: Mark of class at end of a seven-year hitch

Andrew Caddick shares the unbounded joy of a team-mate finding fulfilment at last
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The Independent Online
IT HAD been a long, long wait for Mark Ramprakash. At times he must have wondered whether he would play again for England, let alone score a century. But it was all worth it at last. He not only made a hundred, but it was a glorious one and also happened to dig his team out of a huge hole. The entire side were overjoyed for him, as he was for himself.

When he reached his hundred with a characteristic drive off the back foot which went through the covers, his face was wreathed in a smile which did not fully evaporate for five or 10 minutes. But it was the mark of the man, so to speak, that he still realised that personal ambitions meant nothing in the context of the match. He got down to his job again and went on to make the highest score by an Englishman in a Test at Barbados.

The innings indeed was that good. It was a pleasure to watch, the best I have seen for some time. Not the least of its qualities, of course, were the difficult circumstances in which it started. England were not yet 60 with four wickets down when Ramprakash had to go in. It was similar to the situation in which he prospered in Guyana a fortnight ago, but here England had gotinto deep trouble on what we knew was a flat batting pitch.

It was not exactly an auspicious exhibition of batting - although the ball that lifted and took Nasser Hussain's glove was one which batsmen must wake up in cold sweats about - and the best we were thinking of at this stage was maybe mustering 250. Ramprakash was dropped when he was only two, not a straight-forward return catch to the bowler but not a horrendously difficult one either, and perhaps this was the sort of break he had been waiting a Test lifetime for.

What followed was a glorious mixture of concentration, of high technique and lovely attacking shots when the occasion arose. Together, initially with Jack Russell, he gave England something approaching respectability, and then with Graham Thorpe he put us back in with a shout of winning the match. The sheer joy he showed on the pitch and in the dressing-room were indications not only of an immense achievement but of relief. Ramprakash's career threatened to be unfulfilled. He made his debut seven years ago and although he looked a quality batsman then he never quite converted potentially promising scores into match-winning ones. They never came and the doubts must have started to creep in. In terms of time it has been a long international career but he must feel that it has only just begun. He has made a notable impression on this series on bad pitches and good, in difficult circumstances. He has demonstrated he can take the pressure and the team are delighted for him. He will not now have to ply his trade solely on the county circuit which must be a similar relief for some of the journeyman bowlers out there.

The Ramprakash job done and the psychological target of 400 reached we felt in with a chance of winning the match. But we knew the wicket was flat and within a few overs we found out how flat. The new West Indies opening pair of Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert took the attack to us. They hit through the line with deep assurance, realising the ball was not going to deviate.

Wallace is some player and the sort of strokes he plays, over long-on when the ball has pitched a foot outside off stump, for instance, are impossible to legislate for as a bowler. At last Wallace missed one and we were glad to see the back of him, but by then we knew what a long day was likely to lie in wait. This is the flattest Test pitch that I have seen for ages and while it has the potential to be heartbreaking for a bowler this is where we earn our wages.

It is crucial to find the right length, to deny the batsmen the chance either to drive or to pull and keep on at them until they get bored and make a mistake. It is important not to try too many experiments because a centimetre either way and there is a ball to hit. But from the depths of that first morning when we lost the toss, were put in and looked dead and buried, we are still breathing furiously.

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