There has been no end of twaddle written about Mark Ramprakash in the past twenty-four hours, and I’m not about to bring an end to the nonsense endorsing the Great Man.
I’ve been watching Mr Ramps for eight summers now. It’s been a glorious period for me personally, on par with the balmy days of Clough, Pearce and Walker watching at Trentside. It has been a cricketing period in my life so enjoyable, that it has actually masked a slow, structural decline of Surrey as a leading County side.
Mr Ramps has carried Surrey single-handedly for almost a decade now. It’s no coincidence that the team suffered when the master batsman had a rare loss of form last summer, as the pressure mounted for his prestigious 100th century.
Job done, and it was back to business with three columns needed on the Surrey scorecard once again each time Mr Ramps strolled out to the crease.
But can this form be transferred over to the final Test of the Ashes series at The Oval next week, an atmosphere that is over-spilling with tension, over-hyped and not to mention a fair selection of over-rated players performing for both teams?
Seven years since he was last given an England cap on the fateful New Zealand tour of 2002, the Ramps for The Oval bandwagon is already rolling at full pace. Surrey batting coach Alec Stewart has given the Great Man his full support; @Aggercricket has hinted that he is in favour of a one-off recall. Even Test selector Geoff Miller has confirmed that nothing has been ruled in, nothing has been ruled out.
The optimist within would cite the Indian Summer that Mr Ramps has been enjoying for the past seven seasons. Watching Ramps at close quarters in SE11 each week and you get a sense of the dedication and commitment of the man when it comes to batting.
He patiently makes his way to the crease, never rushed, always aware that he has a job to do that will require his complete concentration for probably a full day out there with his bat. Early runs are difficult to come by. This is deliberate, as Mr Ramps is happy to block for the first forty-five minutes or so of play. He is after a feel of the ball, getting his feet positioned correctly for the wicket, and just generally getting a sense for the occasion and conditions.
It is only with around thirty runs on the board that attention then turns to translating this early salvo into a big score. Here is where the true class starts to show through. All the observations from the previous hour are put into practise, knowing how the field is set up and then how best to exploit it.
Watching Mr Ramps during this period of play shows you what can be achieved by a thirty-nine year-old athlete, still at the top of profession, benefiting from combining talent with experience. What a man.
Observing from the boundary at Croydon on Saturday as Mr Ramps converted his tentative start to 74 not out at the close of play, suggested that this is indeed the finest batsman on County circuit right now. But there is one hell of a huge leap from taking the applause of a couple of hundred Surrey Member’s around the boundary at the Whitgift, to performing in front of 23,000 ‘tired and emotional’ partisan supporters over five days at The Oval.
Working in his favour is that Mr Ramps feels at home in South London. This is a comfort that can’t be underestimated. Cricket is a game of routine and conformity, played out in the mind, as much as it is within the body.
Mr Ramps would wake up in his own bed (um, one would hope…) know his exact route to the ground, greet the County officials on the door, feel comfortable within his own dressing room and know how The Oval as a sporting arena functions, all down to the finer arrangements of the catering arrangements and what works best for him.
But can his body take it for five days of punishing cricket that will ultimately decide the fate of The Ashes? Batting isn’t the problem; being stuck out on the boundary for the best part of two days is a bit of an issue. Ramps’ watchers have enjoyed greatly of late witnessing the Great Man practise his golf swing out at deep fine leg. I don’t think this will be tolerated on day five of The Oval Ashes match.
My fear is that Mr Ramps will be used as a scapegoat for those that have failed before him. Pick Ramps rather than Bopara or Bell and the English cricket fans are appeased. Three cheers and another Trafalgar Square bus trip should it all work out; should it fail and the cry of we told you so is the escape clause for the selectors, deflecting attention away from their own long term, structural inefficiency.
A weekend away in Croydon playing for your County is altogether a very different form of the game when compared to the fifth and final deciding Ashes Test of the summer. It’s almost on par with the gulf between T20 and the County game. You pick specialist players for each format, and the Ashes are no different.
The heart said get behind the rolling Mr Ramps bandwagon. The head said don’t touch it, mate. Walk away, preferably to deep fine leg with your golf swing, and keep your reputation in tact.