Mark Ramprakash: What I've Learnt This Week

1. The press-box pundits can dish out criticism but dislike players hitting back
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The Independent Online

I was at the ground at Guildford last Sunday morning ahead of our Pro40 match and was having a cup of tea with my team-mate Tim Murtagh. He said he had seen the cricket writers' show hosted by Paul Allott on Sky Sports television that morning. The guests were The Independent's own Angus Fraser, Colin Bateman from the Daily Express and Mike Henderson of The Times. The subject of my column from last week came up and caused some debate. It seems that Henderson took umbrage at my words "some guy called John Woodcock" and jumped into a vigorous praising of Woodcock while dismissing my views very quickly.

It was amusing to hear that he got prickly about my comments and to hear of his reaction when one of his colleagues got mildly criticised. His response was predictable, however. Nevertheless, I'd like to thank him for giving my words credence and substantiating my view that some writers clearly have their likes and dislikes and their own agenda.

Some cricket writers, who have never played the first-class game, have earned a good living out of taking the mick out of players who have no real right of reply. Cricketers are told they have to take it on the chin and grow a thick skin. The writers can sit in the safety of the press box with no real accountability. Should their forecast on England policy or selection prove wrong, perhaps they should be dropped to making the tea in the office and someone else given a chance.

It could be worse. Anil Kumble told me there's a programme in India after every international called Who's The Culprit? It's set in a court with a judge and chief prosecutor: Bishen Bedi. Debates ensue as they determine the day's worst performer.

2. Letter of law kills joy of celebration

There was more good news on Sunday as Surrey's coach, Alan Butcher, told me that a letter had been sent to the ECB complaining about my recent celebration at the Rose Bowl. This is an aspect of the game I won't miss when I retire. One member of the public can take exception to me and the powers that be take it so seriously and contact Surrey and make sure it is mentioned to me before a match. If they had got 200 letters, fair enough, but one? It just seems like a waste of everyone's time, especially when I think about all the stick that comes my way. I wish I had a skin as thick as Mike Gatting's. He used to get fearful abuse everywhere. Some players can just laugh it off, others use it to motivate them.

3. On air with the Sergeant and Captain

On Tuesday I went to Hove to commentate for Sky. Getting out of the car I saw Michael Atherton, who made some joke about making my column this week.

The other commentators were Ian "The Sergeant" Ward and Michael Holding.

Ward is a great mate and has made the move to television really easily. At Surrey we used to meet in the café outside the Oval station at 8am, he'd have his Starbucks coffee, then we'd go to the indoor school to have tennis balls fired at our heads at 100mph. Then it was to the outdoor nets for some throwdowns. The timing was like a military operation, hence the nickname, but it worked for us. Some of our team-mates thought we were fruitcakes as they rocked up later for their ultra-relaxed preparation.

I enjoyed turning up at Hove feeling relaxed, without the pressure of playing. Athers, the new Richie Benaud, is another who has dropped effortlessly into the commentary box and I have a lot of respect for him. I saw him open the batting against the world's fastest bowlers on difficult pitches and he was a good England captain, who was often left on a burning deck. We opened the batting together in 1986 on the Under-19 tour to Sri Lanka when he was known as "FEC", future England captain.

Typically, Athers was wearing a freebie watch from the '99 tour to Australia. I know because I just lost mine a month ago.

While on air, I commented on Sussex's James Kirtley putting down a caught and bowled. So Holding got my first-class bowling statistics to have some fun. He did note that one of my four Test victims was Justin Langer. I neglected to tell Mark Butcher that while the Australian made 342 at Guildford last week.

I also had a chuckle in the commentary box when Kirtley bowled a bouncer and Holding said it was clever as he used it as a surprise delivery. I told him I faced him in 1987 in Derby when three bumpers an over whizzed past my nose. He said I was shorter back then.

Sussex beat Warwickshire at a canter and for a few seasons I think they've been the country's best side, not because they have loads of stars but a good work ethic and togetherness and get the best out of themselves.

4. Twenty20 attitude works for 40 overs

Surrey had a chat about the 40-over format and decided to adopt our Twenty20 attitude of being explosive and dominant. We were happy to make a winning start against Kent and feel we have a real chance of doing well.

Geraint Jones popped in for a bat, and I can only assume it was for some practice. England players, although centrally contracted, should not be afraid of turning out more for their counties to keep in, or get in, form. Jones deserves a pat on the back for having the right attitude and he batted well for 41.

Kent's second overseas player is the West Indian Dwayne Bravo, who has got loads of talent with bat and ball but, more importantly, has a superb work ethic. He could be a future West Indies captain.

On that subject, I went to coach two years ago in Trinidad at a First Division club and at the end of training I said we would finish with a few laps of the ground, a 15-minute jog. Thirty guys aged 15 to 30 started. Four finished.

5. We can be one-day wonders too

I loosened the back up with a few shots on the golf range on Monday before travelling with Nayan Doshi to Bristol for the Twenty20 quarter-finals. Playing Gloucestershire is tough as they have a great one-day record at home. Surrey and Middlesex have always made the Championship the priority, while wanting to do well in the limited-overs game. Perhaps the opposite could be said of Gloucestershire. Importantly, however, Jack Russell, Mike Smith and Mark Alleyne have all retired. I bumped into Jon Lewis who was not in his cricket gear as England had asked him not to play as he was in the Test squad. They had also asked Monty Panesar and Alastair Cook not to play for their respective clubs. I felt sorry for Lewis as he is club captain and not centrally contracted and was unlikely to be in the Test XI.

We lost the toss but, happily, were asked to bat and enjoyed a good start as Rikki Clarke and I put on a partnership where the runs flowed. It was fantastic fun to keep hitting the boundaries and we rode our luck as it quickly looked like being our day in front of a sell-out 8,000 crowd.

For the first time we played three spinners and Anil got the key wicket of Ian Harvey. Doshi polished off the game with another four-wicket haul to remain the highest wicket-taker in Twenty20. I'm not sure what Anil made of the season's loudest rendition of the Surrey song after the game but we were elated at reaching a fourth successive finals day.

6. Rikki's ready for the Freddie role in Ashes

A quick big-up to Clarke, who I thought should have been in the England squad, if not the XI, for the Test. He is the closest thing to a Flintoff - is in wonderful form with the bat, bowls at 85mph, can reverse swing and is the best fielder at Surrey. He would give England balance as a fifth bowler and, if Fred doesn't make the Ashes, he would be integrated in the set-up already.

7. Harmison will always deliver on right pitch

The Test pitch has pace and bounce, and I have no problem with England playing to their strengths in terms of the preparation of the track.

Pakistan were found wanting against the bouncing ball. It's great to see Harmison return to form so emphatically, and there was a young lad who impressed in taking 3 for 21, but we won't mention his name this week!

8. Saturday night could be all right again

I felt rather nostalgic for the 40-over game last Sunday. It reminded me of 1987 when we used to play the same format and my mum drove me to Canterbury to play Kent. I opened the batting with Wilf Slack and faced Eldine Baptiste with my Middlesex Colts cap on. Last weekend one of my team-mates, who shall remain nameless, quipped that the 1.30pm start on a Sunday could resurrect the county cricketers' Saturday night out!

Best Delivery of the Week

Anil Kumble delivered a cracking flipper in the Twenty20 match to bowl Ian Harvey. The Australian went back to cut but it was too quick and knocked out his off pole.

Best Shot of the Week

Rikki Clarke hitting Martin Ball's spin on to the top of the pavilion at Bristol last Monday in our Twenty20 victory. It was a huge hit back over the bowler's head.

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