Mark Ramprakash: What I've Learnt This Week
1. A trip to Ireland to face a bogey side can bring 15 unusual minutes of fame
Saturday 20 May 2006
I was dreading the trip to Ireland last week for our Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy match. As a first-class county we are on a hiding to nothing in these games. Everyone expects us to beat Ireland even though they are a good side with two Pakistani Test players, including Shahid Afridi, who can win games on his own, and four others who have Irish citizenship but learned their cricket in South Africa or Australia. And the previous week they beat Gloucestershire at Bristol.
Then there was my own record there. Played two, lost two. When I went with Middlesex we bowled first and a left-hander lashed 80-odd. His day job was in a slaughterhouse and he lived up to the billing. He hammered our attack (including one Gus Fraser) into neighbouring gardens. We lost badly. Then I went back with Surrey two years ago and lost again.
Clearly, I was not the only person aware of this because when we arrived at Belfast airport a paparazzi photographer door- stepped me, shoving his camera in my face and taking lots of pictures. My initial reaction was to put his camera where the sun doesn't shine but I managed to resist. The next day there was a big article in one of the local papers about me having lost there twice, with the pictures.
Our coach, Alan Butcher, then made us train while the best FA Cup final in history was being played. We missed it all, but heard the crowd in the bar cheering the goals as they went in. After practice the coach gave us all a piece of paper with a quote on it attributed to an African king. It said, "Be aware of young girls being made available. This is war and they are the enemy." Except he had adapted it adding, after the reference to young girls, "(pints of Guinness)". This was because our defeat two years ago came after some of the boys had a massive night out and made it into the papers.
Come the match we made a good start, then the rain tipped down, at least we got a point this time. The only remaining excitement was watching Nayan Doshi searching for his Louis Vuitton bag at Heathrow not knowing one of the boys had lifted it as soon as it arrived on the conveyor belt.
2. Don't underestimate Sri Lanka fighting spirit
Like everyone else I was astounded when Sri Lanka got up to draw the first Test. I give a lot of credit to them and especially to Mahela Jayawardene, who I've always been a fan of. He shows a lot of pride as captain and played an excellent knock.
When you are following on like that you have to bat time, not bother with the scoreboard, just take it hour by hour. They did that and didn't get rattled when decisions went against them.
Ten dropped catches tell you why England did not win the game but inevitably there will be analysis of England's bowling. I think criticism is fine as long as it is constructive. It is how you learn. It is valid to ask why Monty Panesar only bowled 12 overs in two days, and didn't bowl from the Nursery End which would have helped him spin it away from the right-handers.
When you drop a catch, in any form of cricket, you want to dig a hole and jump in it. In a Test match it's magnified as you can feel all eyes on you and know there's 100 replays coming up. Last year, in a day-night match at Edgbaston, I dropped a glaring catch, one I had had to run for. As I looked for a hole to hide in I heard some smart arse Brummie shout out, "Give him a wheelchair". I couldn't even blame the floodlights as they batted first.
3. Saggers plays pop, but not particularly well
I've seen a bit of my old team-mate Phil Tufnell this week as he was doing a Q&A at a benefit for Richard Johnson on Tuesday, then I went on his radio show on Thursday. The benefit do was black tie, next to the Savoy. When I arrived, they gave me directions, and I went next door.
Ten minutes later Tuffers arrives, with glass of wine in hand. He sees a few people in black tie and follows them. It was only after getting a drink and looking around, discovering he didn't recognise anyone, that he realised he was at the wrong function. Typical Tuffers.
He also had Martin Saggers, of Kent, on his show. Martin is involved in a record Kent have brought out. Tuffers was right into him asking, "Is it in all good record shops? Are you going on Top of the Pops? When's the album due out? Will you be going to Barbados to shoot the video?" To be fair to Tuffers, I'm not too sure about the record myself. It won't be on my Christmas list.
4. To face a left-armer takes special preparation
We're playing Worcestershire at the moment. Before a game I always have a look at their bowling attack to see who might be a threat. They have signed Zaheer Khan, the Indian Test bowler. He played a game for Surrey in 2004 so I know he swings the ball both ways at pace. He's also left-arm over, which is a difficult angle. You have to play the ball late, keep your balance and not allow the head to fall over. In preparation I would get someone to throw balls at me from that angle.
Mark Ilott, a left-arm bowler from Essex, used to get me out for a pastime. I got a pair against him at Lord's in consecutive years. In 1996 Paul Weekes, who was opening, also got a pair. So we were two wickets for no runs in both innings.
At that time our openers were struggling to build partnerships and the standing joke in the dressing-room was that I should go down with them and wait by the pavilion gates to save time. After that match the line was that No 4 should go as well. That was usually Mike Gatting. He might have done it too - if he could bring some sandwiches.
5. Beware of Alec Stewart texts the day after an Arsenal defeat...
Wednesday was all about the Champions' League final. I wore my shirt to the ground, supporting the boys (for the uninitiated, I am an Arsenal fan). We finished training early enough for me to get back and watch the whole game with my wife. I thought we were heroic, it was like Zulu the way Barcelona kept coming, but of course it was not to be. Cue a barrage of irritating texts the next morning, the worst of which came from Alec Stewart: " What goes beep, beep, beep. Arsenal's open-top bus reversing back into the garage."
6. Old Trafford will still house grumpy members
I see Lancashire have decided to stay at Old Trafford. I think it is the right decision though it's never been a happy ground for me. I first played there for Middlesex Under-25s. I got an edgy, dodgy 16, and as I came off and walked through the members, one of them, thinking of Michael Atherton, said loudly, "He's not as good as our boy".
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