Mark Ramprakash: What I've Learnt This Week
1. I have still never faced a bowling attack as lethal as Wasim, Waqar and wily Mushtaq
Saturday 15 July 2006
With Pakistan in town it got me thinking back to the '92 series when they were here and won 2-1. The main memory I have is what a brilliant bowling attack they had with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and the spin of Mushtaq Ahmed to back them up. Sitting waiting to bat there was an intense pressure. "Nose and toes bowling" we called it, because everything from that duo was a fast bouncer or an inswinging, toe-crushing yorker at 90mph. For the first few deliveries the ball was just a red blur - and they were right at you from the word go when you are most vulnerable. If you could get past those two you had the wily Mushtaq to face. Even now it is hard to read his variations.
I remember vividly at Headingley in '92 getting the best 12 not out of my career while David Gower, in sublime form, won us the Test at the other end.
If you were an attacking bat, though, they did give you chances to score. Alec Stewart backed himself and was aggressive and he hit 190 at Edgbaston. He felt it would never be too long before he got a scoring ball.
2. Pakistan supporters do their country proud
On Monday I went to The Oval to work for Radio Five Live, commentating with Pat Murphy and Tuffers on the exhibition game for the Pakistan Earthquake Appeal. It was a Twenty20 match between a Pakistan XI and an International XI. Brit Insurance put £100,000 in the pot, which was a fair effort.
The first question I was asked was: "Should cricketers be taking their shirts off and running around the boundary to celebrate a victory?" which came up after my antics at Hampshire last week in a Twenty20 match. I sheepishly admitted adrenalin had got the better of me.
The game at The Oval was fantastic to watch: India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit a savage 35 off 13 balls and Pakistan's Shahid Afridi smacked India's pace bowler Zaheer Khan for six, four, six and six off his first four balls. The sell-out crowd, which was a sea of green, loved it. I'd forgotten how well Pakistan teams playing in England are supported. It reminded me of the 1992 Headingley Test when I looked up at the Western Terrace and saw so many vocal, partisan, excited Pakistan fans.
When Nasser Hussain was captain he said that Asians who live in England should support England. A lot of people I know weren't happy with those remarks. There is a very strong culture and identity within Asian communities. It is probably the generation that was born and brought up here that will make their own decision based on their experiences in England of who they will support. Of course, over time there will be more British Asians representing England: like Sajid Mahmood and Kabir Ali have done. I feel British Asians will identify more with and support the national team over time.
3. England A missed a trick at Canterbury...
England A v Pakistan had a farcical finish earlier this week. One wonders whether they had been following orders from the Test team management when they made no effort to win after being in a strong position. Is that the attitude we want? Surely beating Pakistan would have been better for the A players and for England as it would have damaged Pakistan's morale.
4. ...and now the first XI must take their chance
The first Test of a series is always crucial. At Lord's in their first innings England had the luck with all the dropped catches by Pakistan. And they must continue to capitalise on it after what has so far been a tough summer. Every team has a bad day in the field so England now need to show they are good enough to take advantage, not just with the bat but also in the field.
5. I still admire the great Zinedine Zidane
On Sunday afternoon I took the family to Chobham for the Bunbury Charity Cricket Match, which is always fun. Some of the Surrey lads were there: Scott Newman, Rikki Clarke, Mark Butcher and James Benning and it was good to see my old mate Tuffers too. It was great to be in the covers again, shouting "Well bowled, Cat" as he ran in and bamboozled batsmen with his variations in pace.
We batted first and I got out for 30. My reward was to take the kids off and get an ice cream. We left at 5.30pm to get the kids to bed so that their mum and dad could watch the World Cup final.
Which brings me to Zinedine Zidane. From the perspective of someone who has played sport at a high level - obviously not comparable to the World Cup final - I was sympathetic with Zidane given the level of provocation. He had played 110 minutes in a close game with massive pressure on him: if France were to play well, he had to play well. I am not condoning what happened, but he is not the first sportsman to lose the plot. He has done so much good for the game so it has not changed my admiration for him as a player.
6. My golf game is getting there ... slowly
Last weekend I played nine holes of golf and had pretty sandy shoes after three holes, having managed to find a bunker on each. They were actually good drives, just a bit unlucky. All in all it was not a bad round. It was an improvement on the last outing.
7. English youngsters have a lot to learn
On Tuesday, at our Twenty20 game with Kent, the South African Martin van Jaarsveld came over for a chat. He was eager to know how to counter Sussex's Mushtaq in an upcoming four-day game. At 31 he is still trying to work at his game. I don't see that attitude in young English players - wanting to expand their learning with the opposition or overseas players. In that respect the Kent youngsters could learn from Martin.
It is Northampton this week for our Championship game while the wife and kids have gone off to EuroDisney. It will be nice to get back into the swing of four-day cricket after the madness of Twenty20.
8. Avoid run-outs - on field and by car
My week got off to a bad start. There was some function on at the school over the road from my house and so there were parked cars everywhere. I carefully reversed out of the drive and missed the two cars either side of me, only to hit one parked opposite. There was not too much damage and I left a message on the windscreen, but it is hassle I don't need. Luckily, it was only the Surrey-sponsored Mondeo.
Best Delivery of the Week
Rikki Clarke, having just been hit for two boundaries by Scott Styris, kept mid-on up and bowled a brilliant yorker to knock out middle stump against Middlesex in the Twenty20 Cup.
Best Shot of the Week
Shahid Afridi's first ball - from Zaheer Khan - was on a good length on off-stump and was put 85 yards over deep midwicket for six. (Zidane's head-butt was a close second).
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