Ramprakash stakes his claim with century

England 297-9 v Board President's XI
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The Independent Online

Since his worthy debut against the West Indies in 1992, the Test career of Mark Ramprakash has been a troubled one. Dropped more times than any current player, Ramprakash has been forced to prove his worth time and again, something he again did yesterday with a century that possessed both style and content against a Board President's XI in Hyderabad.

The hundred follows the unbeaten 58 he scored in Bombay last Monday but, if it seals his place for the first Test, there have been too many returns to ignominy to confirm this as the turning point where his considerable talent turns into match-swaying innings.

On the evidence so far – instinctive sweeps, neat deflections and sound defence – it would be easy to believe that his current environment has, in the words of science, switched on the Indian genes within: his father hails from Guyana, but his forebears came from Uttar Pradesh, a state just south of Nepal.

The reality, though, probably favours environment over genetics, with the distractions of home life more easily put out of mind on tour. Remember, Ramprakash was the player who gave an impassioned speech to team-mates during the security debate about why the team must go to India, so touring is not something he shies away from.

Hyderabad, with its dusty streets, is in Andhra Pradesh, though Ramprakash did not make a distinction when making himself at home with the opposition's spinners, Sarandeep Singh and Murali Kartik.

Both bowlers have Test experience and the pair shared eight of the nine wickets to fall. With only Michael Vaughan falling to pace, after edging his drive to slip, all bar Ramprakash struggled to find either the patience or the skill to cope.

While others tried the gung-ho route, adopted with success in the last match but not here, Ramprakash quickly assessed the pitch as a slow turner and played accordingly. Judicious use of the sweep, and quick feet, meant that he could play without risk, though he did strike two sixes over off Kartik. He needed some luck, once on 26 and again on 45, but neither came against spin.

The first let-off, which came from an umpiring error, would not have happened in a Test match now that the third umpire has recourse to television replays. Coming back for a second run, Ramprakash was fully two feet short of his ground when Tinu Yohannon's throw from deep square scored a direct hit. It was a poor decision and one made harder to bear for the home side when he was later dropped in the gully off the seamer Sanjay Bangar.

The impending arrival of Andrew Flintoff, who played in the Academy's win over Tasmania yesterday, meant Ramprakash needed the runs, though he later claimed not to think about such things. Vaughan's failure puts pressure on him, though Mark Butcher's scrappy 41 was hardly convincing after he was twice dropped early on.

Nasser Hussain, with 46, played well in patches but, when he got becalmed for half an hour on 42, he tried to hit his way out of trouble. Striking Kartik for four, his attempt to repeat the shot off the next ball was sliced to backward point, where Rohan Gavaskar, son of the cricketing maestro Sunil, took the catch.

Kartik then had Graham Thorpe lbw before handing the reins to Sarandeep, who took the next four wickets, including that of James Foster and Martyn Ball. Until he edged a drive to slip, Foster looked organised, as did Ball, who used his nous to support Ramprakash. But it was not just survival and the Gloucestershire player struck three fours in successive balls off Sarandeep in what proved to be a valuable cameo.

Wearing a purple patka, Sarandeep's bowling action occasionally raised eyebrows from the sidelines. In this era of rubbery joints, it may be that hyper-extension – that buzz word of analysts – causes an optical illusion. And yet, had his bowling arm had been designed by a builder of Roman roads, questions would almost certainly be asked. Apparently, he is the next spinner in line after Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, with Harbhajan the current favourite of the captain, Sourav Ganguly and Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the Indian Board.

A plutocrat, Dalmiya's threat to play three of the four Tests agreed in England next summer was countered on Tuesday by Sri Lanka, who claim they are happy to add an extra Test to the three scheduled for them in May and June. While good news for the England and Wales Cricket Board, allowing Dalmiya to get his way sets a dangerous precedent for the future, which is why the ECB yesterday issued a statement holding India to the four Tests agreed.

"Sri Lanka's gesture is an indication of the good relationship between the ECB and the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka," Tim Lamb, the ECB's chief executive, said. "But we already have an existing agreement with India and we continue to insist that India keeps that commitment."

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