Relegation no dent to enigma's fine talent

Middlesex 404-5 dec Surrey 607-4
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The Independent Online

He was right. In 2001, and after scoring a sackful of runs for Surrey, Ramprakash regained his place in the England team and played 10 further Test matches. He compiled a wonderful 133 against Australia at the Oval but in 18 innings he scored only 554 runs at an average of 30.77. Once again he had failed to fulfil his potential and establish himself as an international player.

Ramprakash's England career is now over but the question of why he has not been able to take his county form into Test cricket is still asked. The question has particular poignancy among those cricket fans who have watched matches between Middlesex and Surrey since he made his first-class debut in 1987.

On a rain-affected third day Ramprakash took his score in this dead match from 200 to 242, and should Surrey choose to bat on today he has every chance of passing the unbeaten 357 Bobby Abel scored against Somerset here in 1899.

Azhar Mahmood has a decent chance of breaking a few records himself. The Pakistan overseas player started the day on 78, and he wasted no time in reaching 100 in a first -class game for the first time in seven years. Mahmood had reached 167 before the rain came at lunch, by then Surrey had taken their first-innings total to 607 for 4.

The unbroken fifth-wicket partnership of 290 between Ramprakash and Mahmood is the best by Surrey in this fixture, and the pair are 19 runs away from breaking John Crawford's and Frederick Holland's record stand of 308 against Somerset in 1908.

This is a fixture that has brought out the best in Ramprakash. During 14 seasons at Middlesex he scored 1,585 runs at an average of 69 against Surrey, and since moving south of the river he has amassed 693 runs at an average of 99 against his old club.

To bat with such patience and discipline when your side has just been relegated highlights how much Ramprakash enjoys batting. But the fact that he has not been able to take this form into Test cricket remains one of the biggest mysteries of recent times.

Ramprakash's problems have not been physical or technical. When you study him at the crease you see a batsman who is almost perfect technically. Viv Richards was his childhood hero and when he first played for Middlesex he liked to give the ball a fearful wallop.

Richards never wore a helmet, and before Paul Jarvis, the former England fast bowler, whistled a couple past his ears Ramprakash refused to wear one, too. Yet he showed no fear. On one occasion he was caught at mid-off attempting to hit Malcolm Marshall back over his head for six. His bat broke playing the shot and he threw it in a bin by the pavilion gate as he made his way back to the dressing-room. It was the weight of expectation and a desire to succeed that bordered on desperation which prevented Ramprakash cracking Test cricket. When he got out the dressing-room would empty because an explosion was imminent. He wanted it so badly and he cared so much.

Ramprakash will not be moving back to Middlesex during the close season, he knows that his England days have gone. However, it is my guess that he will return one day to the club where his heart is still, as county coach.