Mark Ramprakash: What I've Learnt This Week

1. Good form depends on how much hunger you have, not what you eat
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People keep asking me recently what my wife, Van, has been feeding me, because of my run of good form. How can I explain it? Is it because I use the same piece of chewing gum when I'm not out overnight and stick it on the end of my bat handle for when I resume my innings the next morning? Who knows.

Over the years I have tried to take the same attitude out to the middle. Play straight and look to score when the chance arises. This can give you consistency over time. Even now my dad drums into me that every match is a new day and a new wicket with different bowlers.

Early season, when you are always searching for form, I felt I had to work hard. We went to Leicester and on a difficult wicket I grafted away for five hours at the crease. That got me in nick so when I went back to the Oval it was a pleasure to play on that track with its consistent bounce. That 100 was a very important knock to get me into the season.

There are two other key things about my form: one is that I'm playing for a club that is chasing domestic honours. You only get one career so you might as well have a go at winning trophies. The other thing I have enjoyed this year is the team spirit at Surrey and the fact that when I have left the field having done well every one of my team-mates has been there to congratulate me.

Tracks also help, and on Monday afternoon I travelled with Nayan Doshi to Worcester, expecting a difficult game and a seamer-friendly wicket, given our three-pronged spin attack. I don't remember having had much success at New Road as the ball always moves around a lot. I was determined to try and scratch out as many runs as I could by watching the ball hard and playing it late, so we were pleased to turn up on Tuesday and find a slow, low, turning track. I managed to score 196.

I was looking at the averages last week and found that 25 players were over 54. I am sure that in 1988 the top 25 would have been averaging just over 40 - which used to mean you would be knocking on the England door - and they were top batsmen such as Wilf Slack and Clive Radley, who would have scored bucket-loads of runs in 2006.

There's no doubt the balance between bat and ball has changed but the equilibrium needs to be maintained to keep the game fascinating. There is not the West Indian conveyor belt of fast bowlers who bowl at 90mph around now, and thanks to the ECB pitch guidelines surfaces have been truer. Plus, we have had a dry summer and when you get in you can put some runs in the bank for a rainy day.

My experience has also helped in pacing my innings and realising that there is often so much time to bat.

2. Bicknell has cut a long story short

I first saw Martin Bicknell as a gangly 12-year-old beanpole with a Spandau Ballet hairstyle, drainpipe trousers, white socks and crocodile-skin shoes. I thought I was incredibly cool as I looked the same - minus the hairstyle. He got me out that day and proceeded to do the same on a regular basis for the next 20 years whenever our paths crossed, so much so that I had to move to Surrey to play alongside him.

Bicknell, who announced his retirement this week, was a fast-medium bowler with a high action and natural away-swing. Hence his nickname: "High Class". When I spoke to him earlier in the week he quickly reminded me (for about the 10th time this year) that he bounced me out with a short ball at Guildford in 1998. It was actually a long hop that I went to pull, but I got through the shot too quickly and it came off the toe of the bat, looping straight to mid-on.

Somehow he managed to take over 1,000 first-class wickets (most with good deliveries, I assure you), a fantastic achievement given that his home ground, the Oval, is batsman-friendly. During the late 1990s, Surrey's success was built on a talented team with Bickers in the engine room. He was so consistent he was players' player of the year on four consecutive occasions.

I asked him how he felt on announcing his retirement. He said it was a complete relief. Every day he had been trying to get out of bed and bowl and his body just hurt. He was taking painkillers but his body was just saying no. He is sad he cannot perform to the level he has for so many years, but he feels lucky to have had his career. He has no regrets.

It's still hard to accept, though, that he won't be turning up in April to start a new season. The thing he will miss most is the camaraderie of being part of a team, trying for success. Happily, he has a job teaching at Charterhouse and he'll be trying to get his golf handicap even lower than four. I hope he will stay involved with the club in some capacity, too.

When he told the team of his decision I felt low, as I know my days are numbered and such moments make you appreciate how lucky you have been to play cricket for a living. A lot of players struggle with the uncertainty of the future. In other professions careers don't stop at 40. I have seen so many players go out of the game in a poor way. But it is a professional business and it can be brutal. I suppose players have to be proactive in planning for the future and there's certainly more help at hand thanks to the Professional Cricketers' Association. But what else can come close to playing? Many stay involved, either by coaching, commentating or writing. It's the next best thing, I guess.

3. Strutters' success can be a mixed blessing

We are thrilled to be taking part in another showpiece event today - the Twenty20 finals day - and to have the opportunity to compete in front of a large crowd and live television. The stage is set for the Surrey Strutters to go out and enjoy the occasion.

And that is what you have to do, because these days don't come around that often. We will make the most of it, because at Surrey we have a healthy "no fear" attitude and are encouraged to do our best and compete hard. As a kid I remember seeing Lord's finals on TV and they seemed special.

Trent Bridge is a fantastic stadium and there are five survivors from the Surrey team that won the inaugural Twenty20 there in 2003, when we played some exciting cricket to beat Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. Our tactics will be similar today: be aggressive with the new ball and go for wickets in the first six overs; with the bat attempt to dominate and get off to a quick start. However, we may be the first team to play three specialist spinners: Anil Kumble, Ian Salisbury and Nayan Doshi. They are effective in all types of cricket. Kumble has 500 Test wickets, Salisbury turns it both ways, which is tricky for a new batsman, and people keep running past Dosh and getting stumped.

I am a bit disappointed with the scheduling because we were due to be playing on nine of the previous 10 days before today. We are pushing for promotion but we also want to enjoy today and give it everything, and one-day cricket takes a lot of energy.

In 1988 I remember driving round the M25 on a Friday night after a three-day game at Hove. I got home at 9pm and then was up early the next day to play in a NatWest final. That is why I respect the Warwickshire side of 1994, who won three out of four competitions.

It's almost like you are penalised for success. It helps to have a big squad and some all-rounders but happily we won at Worcester this week in three days, giving us yesterday off.

So we are all set for an adrenalin-filled day. My wife is bringing my eight-year-old daughter and my nine-year-old nephew - mainly to see the Sugababes, but they may take in some of the cricket too.

4. England have made unkindest cut already

England - under ICC guidelines - have announced a provisional squad of 30 for the Champions Trophy which they will chop to 14 in September. It may encourage some players for the rest of the season but it could discourage others. It seems strange timing, especially as there are four Championship games and the majority of the one-day season to go.

People will think I'm biased, but I'm surprised England found no room for Doshi or James Benning, who have been consistent this season. They are key men to watch out for today.

5. This may be obscure, but stick with me...

On Monday, I took my daughter Anja to Ruislip Lido, a man-made beach and playground, and left Van to superglue the soul of my cricket boot, which had been coming apart. When I got back, exhausted after two hours of swing-pushing, I asked Van if the boot was mended. She said it was solid as a rock. I pulled it and the whole thing came apart. There's a moral in there somewhere.

Best Delivery of the Week

Surrey's Mo Akram dismissed Stephen Moore, the Worcestershire opener, third ball on Thursday with a classic leg- cutter. It was a beauty and set us on our way to victory in the Championship.

Best Shot of the Week

Jon Batty hit a stonking cover drive against Worcestershire on his way to a hundred this week. It was technically brilliant, with perfect timing and placement off Matthew Mason's new-ball bowling.

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