Brian Viner: History lesson points to Oval call for Ramps

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Those who forget the words of the philosopher George Santayana are condemned to hear them repeated.

Santayana said that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, meaning that it is folly to ignore the past when planning for the future. As a Spaniard living in America, he probably didn't have Test cricket in mind, but this weekend the England selectors must decide how to apply his equation to the very substantial case for Mark Ramprakash to be called into the squad for the deciding Ashes Test at The Oval.

Some say that Ramprakash's previous failings as a Test batsman cannot be overlooked, that the overwhelmingly significant statistic is his feeble overall Test average of 27.32, not the anomalous average of 42 against Australia, and that it would be playing into Aussie hands to pick a fellow in his 40th year. But others are looking no further than the claims of a man who for the last four summers has been in the form of his life, who is manifestly not as psychologically brittle as he used to be, and who counts The Oval as home turf. And it's not just the cavaliers – wrong but wromantic, as Sellar and Yeatman put it in 1066 And All That – who want Ramprakash back. Hard-bitten, no-nonsense types like Alec Stewart are saying the same thing. Ramps is the man to stop Aussie figures of 10 for 66 and all that.

Another heavyweight in the Ramps camp is Tom Graveney, who was also in his 40th year when in 1966, with England one down in the series against West Indies, he was recalled after three years to bat at No 3. Again, the Santayana principle looms large: let history inform the selection process. There was plenty of chuntering 43 years ago that picking Graveney, despite his good county form, was a retrograde move. But the chuntering stopped when he marched out at Lord's, after a rampant Wes Hall had trapped Colin Milburn lbw for 6, and top-scored with a dashing 96. Moreover, he stayed in the England team for three more years, averaging more in his second coming, around 50, than he had in his first.

On Thursday, I phoned the great man at his home in Cheltenham, and asked whether he would like to see history repeat itself. Yes he would, he said, astutely pointing out that the Strictly Come Dancing experience had benefited Ramprakash both in mind and body. "But it's a load to place on him, mind you," he added, recalling the burden of expectation on his own shoulders. "When I walked through the Long Room on my way out to bat, everyone started clapping and clapped me all the way to the wicket. I wanted a hole to dig for myself. But then I saw Seymour Nurse, who was slip at the Pavilion End, go all the way up to Wes Hall, who was about to push off from the sightscreen. And I knew what he was saying: 'He always plays forward, so let him have one.' That brought me down to earth. But Geoff Boycott and I put on 120, and I played the next 24 Tests."

The selectors should pay heed: recalling a man pushing 40 doesn't necessarily smack of short-termism. But with the short-term objective so important, who cares if it does? Ramprakash can win us the Ashes.

Evertonians booing Lescott have forgotten the past

Against odds that at one stage reached 1-3, Joleon Lescott begins the Premier League season this afternoon in the royal blue of Everton rather than the sky blue of Manchester City. The Goodison faithful cheered him to the rafters in the final pre-season game against Malaga last week, but that was before they became aware of the defender's written transfer request, duly and very publicly rejected by his manager, David Moyes.

Yet those who boo him against Arsenal this afternoon, and some undoubtedly will, will be doing themselves, and Lescott, a serious disservice. As an Evertonian, I don't want him to go, but he has served the club handsomely and any sentient grown-up should understand the desire to double his wages. Moreover, although as a football-lover I worry about the influence of the City billions, I bow to the wise perspective cast on the matter by a reader, John Dewhurst, who emailed me this week to say that, as a Blackburn Rovers fan of long standing, he recalls with a grimace the raiding parties for Fred Pickering in 1964, Keith Newton in 1969 and John Bailey in 1979 – successfully launched by the plutocrats at Goodison Park.

Golf's Olympic nod is travesty

Never mind the furore over women's boxing, it is the admission of golf as an Olympic sport that depresses me. I love golf, but as a general rule of thumb, no sport should be admitted into the Olympic Games if there is negligible chance of an Olympic gold medal ever representing its most prestigious achievement.

Thus, tennis has no place in the Olympics, and nor does golf. It is sad, if not downright pathetic, that the International Olympic Committee pandered to the powerful golf lobby while again overlooking the claims of karate and squash, to name but two examples of globally popular sports that would benefit immeasurably from the IOC's endorsement.

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