Mark Ramprakash: Elegant, prolific and supremely talented – unfortunately not in the international arena
Mark Ramprakash © Getty Images
Mark Ramprakash, born on September 5, 1969, is a former England batsman and one of the most prolific run-scorers in the domestic circuit ever. A stellar county career could never really replicate itself in the international arena, which is a regrettable fact considering the talent that he was. Jaideep Vaidya has more on one of the most elegant and orthodox batsmen ever produced.
In July 2012, when London was revelling under the splendour and the extravaganza that was the London Olympics, somewhere in the South East corner of the great city far away from all the spotlight, a certain Mark Ramprakash announced his retirement from all forms of cricket. While the British press duly wrote their career eulogies and tributes about someone who was a great servant of the English game — with a horde of former players and teammates chipping in with a word or two — the announcement largely went unnoticed around the world, even as Mo Farah and Usain Bolt kept the nation, the world and all its eyeballs captivated.
So, who was this Mark Ramprakash? A quick international career statistics search would tell you that the man played 52 Tests for England between 1991 and 2002, which isn’t a very impressive tally. In those many matches, classified as a top-order batsman, he averaged a lowly 27.32 with all of two centuries to his name. A glance at his One-Day International (ODI) match tally would give you a negligible figure of 18, which speaks much by itself. Right, so he was one of those fill-in players used in the squad when the more prolific ones were injured, right? Well, not quite. Scroll down to look at his First-Class numbers. What the…?! This dude has scored 35,659 First-Class runs? And played 461 matches? And… you’ve got to be kidding me… a 114 centuries? Are you out of your mind? Has there been some error while filling in these numbers? ‘Coz surely, surely, this guy should have been one of the greatest batsmen to have been produced by England, if not the world?
If you’re not a cricket aficionado, you could be forgiven for having such a reaction looking at Ramprakash’s mind-boggling statistics. However, if you were a follower of the game, especially the English county circus, you would probably know that Ramprakash is one of only 25 elite batsmen in the history of the sport to have crossed a hundred First-Class centuries. That puts him under the same roof as giants of the game such as Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, Len Hutton, Viv Richards, Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch, Zaheer Abbas and the likes. Ramprakash has scored 1,000 runs in a single season 20 times in his 25-year playing career. He has crossed 2,000 runs in a season thrice and averaged more than 100 twice. In 2006, he scored 2,000 runs in just 20 innings and posted scores of at least 150 in five consecutive matches. Absolutely ridiculous. But for Ramprakash, they are just numbers. “…For me, records and landmarks are just a by-product of playing well, and in my case also being fortunate enough to play for a long time at First-Class level,” he wrote in his autobiography Strictly Me. “Of course, I am proud of my statistical record, but there are other things such as winning the Surrey Player of the Year Award five times in succession, or winning the Professional Cricketers’ Association Player of the Year Award in 2006 and then being named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 2007, which mean a lot, too.”
The first decade of Mark Ramprakash’s career was spent playing for Middlesex, who he played for right from the Under-11s © Getty Images
The nonchalance with which he downplays his eye-popping numbers is exactly the way he went about his batting. If the MCC Coaching Manual ever were to assume a human form, Ramprakash would fit the bill to the tee. Watching him bat is an easier and much more enjoyable way of imbibing whatever the manual has to offer, because you have a live example right in front of you. The cover drives, especially, were like a cricketing orgasm, with all the angles and the positions of the body and willow perfect to the hundredth decimal. Former cricketer-turned-journalist Simon Hughes wrote of Ramprakash’s batting in The Telegraph: “Is sporting ability given or made? In Mark Ramprakash’s case it is definitely given. There is a style and feline grace about his movements which suggests someone born with athletic prowess and co-ordination… Born of a Guyanese-Indian father and English mother, he was blessed with flexible Asian wrists and West Indian panache to which he attached an MCC-approved technique.”
His Guyanese descent would perhaps explain where his cricketing flair came from. Coming from a large gene pool that has produced the likes of Clive Llyod, Basil Butcher, Rohan Kanhai and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramprakash was destined to be a special cricketer when he first took a bat in his hand at age three. By age six, he was dragging his father out to the driveway of their house on a cold Christmas night to try out his new bat. By 10, he had joined the Bessborough Cricket Club and was picked for a Middlesex Under-11 trial. By the time he was 15, he was playing for the Middlesex Under-19s, along with blokes called Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton, who were a year or so senior to him. He soon began to practice alongside the county’s Second XI players, which was where he realised that he could make it at a professional level; he also used to play football for the Watford youth teams. Before he was 18, he was on a flight to Sri Lanka with the England Under-19 team and scored almost 600 runs on the tour. Thus, it came as no surprise when Ramprakash signed a professional contract with Middlesex soon after and made his First-Class debut in April, 1987, aged 17.
Just two days before his 19th birthday, Ramprakash announced himself to the county circuit with a Man-of-the-Match-winning performance in the NatWest Trophy final for Middlesex against Worcestershire. Chasing 162 from 60 overs, Middlesex were in trouble at 25 for four when Ramprakash walked out at No 6 on a difficult and seaming pitch at Lord’s. Ramprakash hung around with Roland Butcher and, later, John Emburey. He remained unbeaten until he had taken Middlesex within three runs of their target, before finally succumbing for 56; Middlesex would go on to win the match by three wickets. Ramprakash’s innings was hailed by the one and all, including his more esteemed teammate Mike Gatting, who remarked that Ramprakash was a better batsman at eighteen than he himself had been. The following season, 1989, was his first full one as a professional, and Ramprakash celebrated it by crossing 1,000 runs at the age of 19. This included his first First-Class hundred, made on an “uneven” pitch at Headingley. “Only 19, but already stocky and strong, Ramprakash dealt confidently with a persistent Yorkshire attack, timing the ball better than anyone on an awkward, seaming pitch and making a match-winning 128,” wrote Hughes. Clearly, these were signs of great things to come.
A few more impressive innings and there was no stopping Ramprakash from being selected for England. Unfortunately, and rather strangely, he could never carry forward from the starts he got off to on the highest level. While some blamed it on a big-stage fright, others who knew him well — and through them, the media — put it down to his apparent hot streak and was nicknamed ‘Bloodaxe’ for it. Very early in his professional career, he got tagged as short-tempered and moody, which often led to the headlines branding him as the bad boy. Another way of looking at it was that it stemmed from his passion for the game. Teammate Graham Thorpe told The Telegraph: “There was the very occasional eruption which always seemed to make the headlines but I think he needed that passion to play. I think every captain Mark had would tell you that occasional eruption was worth it for the volume of runs he scored.” Ramprakash did not attribute his temper to his lack of form for England, which he thought was an unfair assessment. “If you had asked me at the time, I would have agreed that cricket was a serious business to me and that I made no apology for wanting to do well,” he wrote. “I was very ambitious, and when things didn’t go as well as I wanted them to it did affect me.”
For all the calmness and serenity with which he played on the domestic circuit, Ramprakash always looked edgy and unsure of himself when playing for England. It was as if he did not have any belief in his own abilities, so much so that he went on to have a terrible record at Lord’s, which until 2001 was his home ground. It took him seven years and 22 matches to notch up his first Test century, when he scored 154 against the West Indies at Barbados. But such was his talent that the selectors kept giving him chances in the first decade of his career, up until the Duncan Fletcher-Nasser Hussain era, when the patience ran out. Ramprakash tried to resurrect his international career by switching to Surrey in 2001, after Middlesex were relegated. A second ton followed against the Australians in the 2001 Aussies, but his average of 42 against England’s oldest rivals was a mere statistical anomaly. In March 2002, aged 32, he played what was his last Test, against New Zealand where he scored nine and two.
Contrastingly, Ramprakash kick-started a stellar career with Surrey, scoring a hundred on debut for the South-East London county, and added more than 50 in the 11 years that he played for them. While Ramprakash was scoring oodles of runs for Surrey, there were quite a few instances when the press called for his recall into the England team when their batting was found wanting of some quality. Ramprakash himself felt that he deserved a call-up, especially during England’s disastrous Ashes campaign in the 2006-07 Ashes. “I felt I should have been picked,” he was quoted as saying. “I was ready to play, and had done well there before. I topped the averages on the ’98 tour. I enjoyed the environment there and felt as though it was a team I’d played well against.” Again, prior to the 2009 Ashes campaign at home, the press advocated for Ramprakash to fill in to Marcus Trescothick’s boots, but the selectors went in with Jonathan Trott, who scored a century on debut. Ramprakash, of course, never got the call.
In 2006, in his mid-thirties, Ramprakash gave the whole world a display of his still nimble footwork and elegant moves when he won the celebrity dance show Strictly Come Dancing as a rookie along with Karen Hardy. He would admit in his autobiography that “winning the title and proving that I could perform under massive pressure in a field so different from international cricket has made up for a lot of the disappointments and deep frustrations of my cricket career.”
Finally, after crossing over to the wrong side of 40, Ramprakash’s form for Surrey also began to flounder and in 2012, aged 42, he was forced to announce his retirement. Nevertheless, Ramprakash ended his playing career as one of the most prolific county batsman ever to be produced. He played in four different decades and faced bowlers of various eras: the Marshalls, the Wasims, the Donalds, the McGraths, the Warnes, the Muralitharans and so on. Among the English bowlers he faced in his 25-year county career were Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, Phillip DeFreitas, Dominic Cork, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar. His hundred hundreds is a feat that, in today’s packed international schedule, would be very difficult to replicate. That Ramprakash would probably be the last player to do so, makes it even more special. “It has terrific significance, it is one of the yardsticks of a great player, certainly one of extraordinary stamina and longevity,” distinguished cricket writer Christopher Martin-Jenkins told the BBC. “Only the very best players have got 100 hundreds.”
On his retirement, Ramprakash told BBC Radio: “I’m very proud and happy with my career. If anyone had given me this at the start then I would have taken it. I’ve been lucky to have played for so long and I’ve tried to keep myself fit, professional and competitive. People will have their opinions but I’ve enjoyed my career, gave it everything and don’t look back on it with any regrets.”
And just like that, while London was kept mesmerised by Olympians from around the world, and the England cricket team engaged the South Africans in a battle for the No 1 spot in Test cricket, one of the most talented players produced by the country by many a mile bade his silent farewell from the game.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)