Ramprakash fights back

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Of all the rash shots played in England's quickfire donation of the Ashes, and there were plenty, it was the one that attracted the most scorn. But Mark Ramprakash, the man whose wild swish at Shane Warne found fresh air and old failings, is a changed man and even the embarrassing possibility of England getting whitewashed 5-0, will not prevent him from trying it again.

"I was unhappy with the execution of the shot at Trent Bridge, but as an attacking option, I'd try it again," said Ramprakash at Headingley yesterday. "It's a fine line but the actual thinking behind it was to be positive against Australia whenever possible, so I've been disappointed at some of the negative reaction to the shot."

Ramprakash claims that his demise – Warne's third wicket in three overs – brought "no particular reaction" from coach Duncan Fletcher. Perhaps not, Fletcher is an impassive man, but when the selectors met to pick the side for the Fourth Test, Ramprakash's place – he has only one hundred in 44 Tests – was surely discussed at length.

A complicated man whose mental processes at the crease seem to turn to popcorn at crucial moments, Ramprakash has looked more assured against Australia than most. Could it be that either the pressure of the situation, or some sledging from Warne (something Ramprakash denies) had got to him?

Speaking at the launch of his autobiography yesterday, Warne could not recall anything out of the ordinary being said during his devastating spell. "You can upset certain batsmen by using what Merv Hughes used to call 'verbal pressure', but you have to select them carefully," he said. "Ramps is an excellent player and looks great until he gets to 20, then does something he regrets later. I don't know, maybe he loses concentration."

Like Michael Atherton, Ramprakash is a consummate technician, but lacks the opener's mental steel. The irony at Trent Bridge was that until his aberration, the 31-year-old had been playing well, something he has done all season with Surrey. That he now turns around and says he'd take the same options again, is either supreme confidence or naive bravado.

If he means it, Ramprakash will probably get the chance. The square at Headingley has seen a lot of cricket this summer and the Test strip has bare ends from being used earlier in the season. It also has less grass on it than most pitches here, so Warne, far from playing a back-seat role, could yet take the five wickets he needs to be the first Australian to reach 400 Test wickets.

The patchy pitch could upset England's plans of playing four seamers, one of who would have to make way for off-spinner Robert Croft. If Croft does play, he will, in Simon Katich, at least have another left-hander to bowl at.

At 25, Katich, who scored more than 1,000 runs for Durham last year, makes his Test debut in place of the injured captain, Steve Waugh. Remarkably, it will be Australia's first batting debutant since March 1998, when Darren Lehmann played against India. In the same time, England have had nine.

As England's players focus on the present task of avoiding a whitewash,the England and Wales Cricket Board are keeping a watchful eye on Zimbabwe where England's one-day side are due for a two-week tour on 26 September.

With civil unrest escalating, a cricket tour, usually viewed in Africa as having distinctly colonial undertones, is a risky undertaking. Speaking yesterday, the shadow foreign secretary, Francis Maude, said the tour should be called off forthwith, a view many players privately share.

At present, the ECB's stance is that they are "monitoring the situation and will be guided by the Foreign Office, who is in contact with them on a regular basis." The impending visit of South Africa for a one-day tournament might be instructive. However, as South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has been pre-eminent amongst those supporting Robert Mugabe's land reforms, the results could well be misleading.

AUSTRALIA (v England, Fourth test, Headingley, tomorrow): A C Gilchrist, (captain, wkt), M L Hayden, M J Slater, R T Ponting, M E Waugh, D R Martyn, S M Katich, S K Warne, B Lee, J N Gillespie, G D McGrath.

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