Mark Ramprakash was a batsman who started in a bygone age. He announced himself on the stage during a September afternoon almost a quarter of a century ago. Middlesex were in deep trouble in the NatWest Trophy final against Worcestershire at Lord's, a match that was a much bigger deal then than it is now.
"However," as Wisden Cricketers' Almanack recorded, "Ramprakash, two days away from his 19th birthday, took them to within three runs of victory, batting throughout in his cap with confidence, style and a rare charm." The cap was the motif of that innings of 56 every bit as much as the calm majesty of his strokes.
He is the last of the cricketers to have spanned the generations, what might be termed the capped age and the helmeted age. And he is the last, too, to have made 100 first-class centuries. Twenty-four players preceded him, almost all legends of the game like Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Viv Richards, but none will follow.
There are not first-class matches for the milestone to be achieved again, even if a batsman played until he was 100 years old. Ramprakash is walking into the sunset at 42. He does so not quite as the legend he seemed destined to become that day in 1988. It is almost perverse to suggest that a batsman who played 52 Test matches, scored 114 hundreds and had a career average above 50 was unfulfilled. Yet it could be said of Ramprakash when he formally announces his retirement today.
Through the faults of selectors and his own temperament, the first occasionally contrary, the second sometimes volcanic, he never made the international runs that his expansive gifts and his supremely impeccable method demanded. Only two of those hundreds were scored for England in Test matches, one in Barbados in his 38th innings, the second against Australia at The Oval in 2001 in his 81st.
Perhaps he wanted to succeed too much and therein lay his failure. He was a perfectionist who was hard on himself and hard on others and more empathetic souls would have got the best out of him. Between the start and end of his international career of 11 years, England played 120 Test matches and it could be argued that he should have played in 100 of them.
As it was, he started out in 1991 against West Indies when they were still rampant and, although he made at least 19 in eight of his nine innings in the series, it was not enough to secure a place on that winter's tour. It embodied his international career: potential unrealised. He never sealed a place until towards the end when time was already running out.
Ramprakash spent the first part of his batting life at Middlesex, the second at Surrey, for whom he played more matches and scored more hundreds without ever quite dispelling the feeling that he belonged at Lord's, not The Oval. Lately, on the north side of the river, it is an open secret that he has not been enamoured of everything that has happened. But in county cricket, for whichever side he played, he was resplendent.
It is a symptom of the state we are in that Ramprakash became much more famous as a winning contestant on the television talent show Strictly Come Dancing than he did on the cricket field. But the manner in which he won the competition reflected his batting style, exuding style and a rare charm.
He could and should become an insightful, articulate, charming pundit now, unless he can pass on the secrets of batsmanship to others. The image of the upright boy in the cap at Lord's in September 1988 will never fade.
Ramps: The runs and the records flowed
Test record P 52 Runs 2,350 HS 154 Ave 27.23.
County record P 461 Runs 35,659 HS 301 not out Ave. 53.14
Hit a total of 114 centuries in his first-class career, putting him 16th on the all-time list, level with Sir Vivian Richards.
Ramprakash became the first batsman to record centuries against all 18 counties in June 2003.
He is the only player to average more than 100 in two consecutive English county seasons (2006 & 2007).