Angus Fraser: We had the odd bust-up but playing with Mark Ramprakash was a joy
We had a toe-to-toe argument about who would sit in the back seat... He won
Friday 06 July 2012
In 50 years' time it is hard to believe that cricket's bible, Wisden, will be recording a batsman with more international hundreds than Sachin Tendulkar or a bowler with more Test wickets than Muttiah Muralitharan. The considerable achievements of Mark Ramprakash, who announced his retirement from first-class cricket yesterday, will never be comparable to those of the two all-time greats named above, but in 2062 he too could be the answer to a question at many sports quizzes.
On 2 August 2008, Ramprakash became the 25th player in the game's history to score 100 first-class hundreds. With the volume of first-class cricket being reduced it is feat that is extremely unlikely to be repeated.
I would like to believe that I played some sort of role in Ramprakash's remarkable batting achievements as it was me who used to pick the 16-year-old up from his home in Hatch End and drive him to training with Middlesex at Lord's. I am sure at times we talked about batting but, wisely, he didn't listen to me: He scored more runs in one summer than I scored in my entire career.
When Ramprakash began practising with Middlesex we were immediately aware he had a special gift. Yes, we knew he had a bit of a temper, the legend of which was almost as strong as the quality of the hundreds he used to compile as a teenager at Bessborough Cricket Club, near Harrow, but it was the way he batted in the nets against the likes of Wayne Daniel, Norman Cowans, Neil Williams and John Emburey that caught the eye. Despite still studying at Harrow Weald Sixth Form College he was totally at ease with his surroundings and capable of dealing with everything these high-quality bowlers threw at him.
As a batsman Ramprakash has always been aesthetically pleasing. Even in the face of hostile bowling he rarely looked anything but relaxed and comfortable. His aim was to create a zone he was in control of.
I remember watching him take 50 minutes to get off the mark in a game for Surrey at The Oval when I was working as Cricket Correspondent for The Independent. He played every ball on merit and it was beautiful to watch.
As a youngster he was a far more aggressive batsman. Sir Vivian Richards was his hero and he wanted to bat just like him. The first time I saw him play he used the same bat - a Stuart Surridge Jumbo - as the great man did. It was apt then that he ended up with the same number of first-class hundreds - 114 - as Richards.
And a few times he performed like the "Master Blaster". The first time I witnessed how destructive he could be was during a Second XI 40-over game in May 1987 when he smashed a Leicestershire attack containing Phillip DeFreitas, Chris Lewis and Peter Such for 152 at Grace Road. It was this innings that turned our heads and it was shortly followed, in 1988, with the man-of-the-match award for Middlesex in the Lord's NatWest final.
Yorkshire were involved in many of his milestones. It was against them that he made his debut in 1987 when, batting at Lord's in a floppy Middlesex cap – he never wore a helmet as a youngster – he scored 17 and 63 not out. And it was at Headingley that he made his England debut and scored his first and 100th hundred.
Much has been made of Mark's temper down the years and when he blew you did not want to be around. I, being at times a little fiery too, had a few altercations with him. One was a toe-to-toe argument during his first full season with Middlesex when we were playing at Wellingborough School. He didn't believe he should have to sit in the back of Emburey's car just because he was the junior pro. A row ensued and, despite my considerable height advantage, I ended up clambering into the back seat. And it was a two-door car.
There was another occasion he got out trying to hit the late, great Malcolm Marshall (of all people) back over his head for six at Basingstoke. His bat broke in the process and he angrily tossed it into a bin by the Pavilion before stomping up the steps.
Many feel Ramprakash's career was unfulfilled because he failed to crack Test cricket, and the perennial question is why? I believe there were a number of factors, the first being that playing international cricket is not easy. Top sportsmen have different talents and some cope with the occasion and mental battles better than others.
Living up to people's expectations is tough, too. For Ramprakash batting was everything. Winning Strictly Come Dancing was nothing compared to scoring a century. Even now he still loves batting. It is why he regularly turns out for Stanmore CC on Saturdays. An abiding memory for me will always be the image of his smiling face on completing his first Test ton against West Indies in Barbados.
His preparation for matches was immaculate. He would get bowlers to replicate what he was expecting to face in every game: spin, left-arm swing. And his desire to succeed was fierce. This intensity was at times detrimental. It prevented him from reproducing the game that served him so well in first-class cricket.
To say Mark underachieved is extremely harsh and I would say plain wrong. Great sportsmen perform to a very high level for a long time and I believe the feat of scoring 131 red and white ball hundreds over almost 25 years transcends those perceived shortcomings. In an age when traits like patience, discipline and attention to detail are ignored for the desire to entertain and be sexy we may never see his likes again.
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