Marked Ramprakash

England's embattled cricketers returned from South Africa on Monday after a tour which went from bad to worse. Here, in a diary of a distraught tourist, Mark Ramprakash talks about the traumas
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The Independent Online
OTURNED up at Heathrow to meet up with the rest of the squad. We've got a really well-balanced side. Very excited and full of high hopes, coming off the back of a great season for me. I had heard a lot about South Africa, but I've always wanted to see it for myself.

Gave several interviews at the airport before flying. I was a bit perplexed, as they all played me off against John Crawley for the No 3 spot. I'd batted at No 6 in Perth, and there last summer for England. I thought that I was fighting for a place in the team, so I was surprised to find myself suddenly competing solely for the No 3 spot.

Staying in a great hotel, the Sandton Sun. Although it was raining when we arrived, we got in a week's intensive practice and training. It was bloody hard work at 6,000 feet above sea level but it bound us all together.

We've been warned not to venture too far from the hotel, which makes a change of scene difficult. Luckily the next suburb, Illovo, has a few bars and restaurants, and one called Vertigo's has become a favourite with the team. I'm told they can produce a very tasty melon vodka, though I'm not much of a drinker myself.

Went with the team to open a pavilion in Alexandra, a township 15 minutes from our hotel. One minute you're in a leafy suburb, the next you're amongst thousands of corrugated iron shacks. The contrast was shocking. The cricket ground has a matting pitch, while the concrete shell we were due to open was a pavilion in name only. I know sport has done much to break down the barriers, but standing there on that field, hemmed in by shanties and 300,000 people, I couldn't help feeling it was a drop in the ocean.

Whatever the amount spent in the township, it seemed a snip compared to the money businessman Nicky Oppenheimer had lavished on the pavilion at his private ground in Randjesfontein near Pretoria, where we played our first game. It was a fantastic place and one of the best pitches I've played on, which made it perfect for our first game in the middle.

This was followed by a day-night game at Springs against Eastern Transvaal, which we nearly lost. There was a big partisan crowd, which always motivates me, and I felt satisfied that my 89 had helped to see us home, even though it is exhausting batting at this altitude.

I'm completely fatigued and run down, but although I missed out on playing in the Soweto match, I did get to meet Nelson Mandela. I remember watching his release live on telly a few years ago and thinking of the enormous burden he'd have to shoulder. But moving as that was, it doesn't prepare you for his aura when you meet him. It was a great honour and a really big moment.

Devon got a huge response from the kids, who were fascinated by him. It was a slow, flat pitch so he cruised, not wanting to push his knee too hard, too soon. It was good that England went there and played the match, which was drawn. It seemed strange yet satisfying that in two weeks I'd been to places most white South Africans had never set foot in.

OIT WAS good to get away from Jo'burg. East London is a nice, low-key sort of place on the coast. Although the pitch at Buffalo Park was really slow I was determined to play positively and hit the ball. I got 70, which pleased me as it puts me in the frame for the first Test, though Creepy [John Crawley] is there too after scoring a really good hundred.

OIT WAS really hot and dry out here. People seem more rugged, as hard as the diamonds that brought their forebears here. It was our first sighting of Paul Adams, whose action takes getting used to. We lost, but I had a long bat against him in the second innings, when we all played him better. Even so, you've still got to play the turning ball, and I was lbw to his chinaman for 44. Despite the defeat, Illy assures me I'll get at least two Tests.

OI THINK we were all surprised by the lively pace and bounce of the nets at Centurion Park. Up until the first Test we'd been playing on slow pitches. It was clearly a deliberate ploy by the UCB, though luckily the Test pitch was evenly paced, unlike the nets.

I felt confident and good at the crease until I chased a wide one just after a drinks break. I don't know what I was doing; I never play shots like that. The only thing I can think of is that Allan Donald is so wide on the crease when he bowls that you think everything is coming in to you. Well, that one didn't.

We played well and showed a lot of character, clawing our way back from 63 for three at lunch on the first day. Both Hicky and Athers played top knocks, but more importantly we showed that their pace attack was playable. When rain and lightning came, I felt we'd gained the upper hand.

OTHIS place has an Afrikaner heartland feel to it like Kimberley, with little to do in the evenings. Another slow pitch with only spinners and medium-pacers to face, which I didn't feel was going to be much use in preparing for the Tests, although Thorpey got a hundred - a boost for him after his wife's miscarriage a few weeks earlier.

OTHE second Test, and possibly my last chance to impress. The Wanderers is a beautiful ground, but it is probably the most hostile atmosphere I've played in. You feel hemmed in.

It looked a good, dry pitch and I would have been happy to bat on it. But we wanted to see their batsmen under pressure so Athers put them in, and but for Gary Kirsten's hundred it might have come off. Corky bowled brilliantly, getting the ball to swing and bounce.

We knew we had to bat well in the first innings to stay in the game. Unfortunately Athers went quickly, which got Donald's tail up. I felt I had to be positive to see him off, and I hit him for a four. He then bowled me with one that was full and straight, a ball I shouldn't have missed. We may have avoided the follow-on, but with a 132-run deficit we were still left looking right down the barrel.

I was so preoccupied with how we were going to save the match that Jack Russell's world record of 11 catches in a Test didn't register until afterwards. All I knew is I had to make a score and we needed to bat for five sessions. It was an enormous task, even though the pitch hadn't deteriorated.

It was pandemoniun when Stewy was out, but despite the abuse hurled as I made my way down to the pitch I felt really focused. Two balls later, the place erupted again. Brian McMillan had bowled me off the inside edge after I'd been slow to move my feet. I couldn't believe it as both had been bread-and-butter half-volleys that should have gone back past the bowler for runs.

As I walked up the caged tunnel to a volley of abuse from the crowd in front of the dressing-room, I knew that was it for the series. I was so devastated I felt I wanted to go back out, put the stumps up and take guard again. Batting is so cruel and unfair. Unlike golfers or tennis players, one mistake at this level can bring your world tumbling down.

After taking it out on a bin in the shower room, I put on my personal stereo, feeling miserable not only for myself, but for having let everyone down - from team-mates to family.

Even though I had immense admiration for Athers and Jack after they'd saved the game, it couldn't push the turmoil of failure from my mind. I didn't know what to do with myself in the dressing-room at the end. It's hard to join in when you know you haven't contributed, when you're churned up inside. Even so it was an unbelievable escape, and all the team bar one came away from the match far more upbeat than South Africa.

OA BEAUTIFUL area, with its mountains and vineyards. It was good to see Daffy [Phil DeFreitas] again - he's playing for Boland. I still felt like a spare part, despite the support of senior team-mates. Mike Gatting, Desmond Haynes and John Emburey have also been very supportive, speaking to me over the phone.

It was a nice gesture, but I felt the best thing was to take a break. So Corky and I went off to Cape Town, which is a fantastic place, and we spent a pleasant day going to the beach and sitting in a bar by the waterfront.

When we got back to Paarl the four-dayer had been cancelled and a one- dayer agreed for the final day. It was a waste of time. The pitch was like plasticine and I was out third ball for nought, playing far too early at a medium-pacer. It was just so demoralising.

OI KNEW I wasn't going to play in the third Test. We'd heard that the pitch helped seam bowlers so I was surprised when we changed our pace attack from the one we'd had at the Wanderers. Devon and Gus [Fraser] were distraught, though both Ramble [Mark Ilott] and Digger [Peter Martin] bowled well, as did the lone spinner, Richard Illingworth.

The match was just becoming interesting, if low-scoring, when the second monsoon of the tour arrived and washed everything away The constant rain might have depressed us all at another stage in the tour, but happily it coincided with the arrival of wives and girlfriends.

OHAD high hopes of getting a game until they told me they were flying out Jason Gallian as a replacement for Creepy. Well, that was the killer blow. Someone who hadn't originally been selected was now playing in front of me. My wife Vandana and I went out a lot, which helped me take my mind off these latest developments.

OTHE Summerstrand Inn was easily the worst hotel we had on the tour. It was so full of supporters, journalists and players that nothing functioned: the phone didn't work, there was no room service and the lock on our door was broken.

Having said that, we had a great Christmas Eve there, combining a good meal with karaoke. I duetted on "Singing in the Rain" with Sandra Ilott. Mind you I was missing home on Christmas Day, especially after speaking to Mum and Dad on the phone.

The Test pitch was a slow one. It was the first time we'd seen Paul Adams since Kimberley, and he bowled well supported by an extremely vocal crowd. The brass band playing in the main stand was brilliant and their tunes stayed with me for days.

The match had a similar pattern to Jo'burg, with us well behind on the first innings, and a bowler light after Mark Ilott's thigh strain. That was when Corky decided to bowl one of the best spells I've ever seen. It was hot, but he bowled for over a session. With South Africa at 60 for six we were right back in the game and I really enjoyed fielding out there as 12th man. Unfortunately they managed to put themselves out of reach and we had to fight just to get another draw.

OA DISAPPOINTING New Year's Eve do at the British High Commission - we seemed a little under-dressed for the occasion. For the first time in the series we decided to go into a Test with five batsmen. Both Devon and Gus, who'd been out of it since Durban, were suddenly in and both looked rusty. Neither had bowled that many overs on the tour.

To be bowled out twice for 150 on that pitch was not that surprising, and both Judgey [Robin Smith] and Thorpey played well. Our bowlers did well too, and we were back in the series when South Africa were 171 for nine. But it all went wrong as Adams slogged away in front of his home crowd. We then failed to get on top of their bowlers on an increasingly difficult pitch and as a result it was all over with two days left to play.

I wasn't in the dressing-room when Illy delivered his bollockings, but they probably only represented the frustration we were all feeling as three months of hard work came to nothing. What was really upsetting is that it wasn't a fair reflection of how we'd played throughout the series.

With that, all thoughts shifted towards the one-day series and the squad for the World Cup in February. Five new players joined the squad, while five flew home. To kick things off a one-dayer was organised against Western Province. Newlands looked splendid but my appalling run continued when I was given out off my forearm first ball. I felt I must be cursed. Needless to say we lost, though I felt slightly cheered when Athers told me that everyone would get a game over the next 11 days.

We should have won against South Africa in Cape Town. I didn't play, and it is even more frustrating watching your team throw the game away than it is when you're playing.

OA WIN at last, chasing a big score. We played well although I was run out for one by Jonty Rhodes, who until that moment hadn't hit the stumps all night. Run-outs happen in one-day cricket - it wasn't anyone's fault. Anyway, I couldn't get any lower, so I just shrugged my shoulders.

OTHE back-to-back one-dayers were really hard work. The cricket is so intense. In the first one, at the Wanderers, I really felt up to it, that I was ready for those ignorant, abusive people around the boundary. I got 27, but although we lost I at least had the consolation that I'd done something in a close game. At Centurion, the pitch was a beauty and it felt good setting them a big total - 272. It also felt great hitting Allan Donald back over his head for six. But though I felt happy I'd contributed again, losing that match as easily as we did knocked the stuffing out of us.

OSPOKE to my father and felt a lot happier with things. I'd played in three matches and shown improvements in each one. Perhaps the World Cup wouldn't be so far away after all.

These hopes were dashed when I didn't play in any of the last three games, which we lost easily. After the last one, in Port Elizabeth, Athers came up to me and explained that it had been between me and Robin Smith. I was very disappointed as I'd missed out in 1992 as well, after being on standby for Allan Lamb.

It is always tough when selections are made, but in the end I had to accept that my form over the tour wasn't up to it. I shan't be playing any cricket until the end of March, but I'll be following England in the World Cup. I wish them well.

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