Ravi Rampaul: One of West Indies' most bankable bowlers when injury-free

Ravi Rampaul © Getty Images

Ravi Rampaul, born October 15, 1984, is one of West Indies’ premier fast bowlers, the first of Indian descent, whose career during the initial years looked like coming to an abrupt end owing to frequent injuries. However, since his return to international cricket in 2007, he has been amongst the most consistent bowlers to emerge from the region. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career so far of this speedster from Trinidad.

He isn’t the generally dark, menacing, fire-snorting fast bowler to emerge from the group of islands that once churned out pacers at will, but his uncomplicated action, control and ability to swing the ball in both directions propelled him to first-rate level in West Indies’ maroon flannels. Hailing from Trinidad, Ravi Rampaul surged to the fore as his side’s opening bowler — one with considerable pace, especially in the limited-overs format of the game. He was, however, yet another player to fall prey to injuries; just 77 One-Day International (ODI) games in a career that is currently a decade old says it all.

Early life

Like many from his region, Rampaul was drawn to the sport from a young age. He thrived in it. He was a member of the squad that toured England for the World Under-15 Challenge, but it was his exploits in the Under-19 competitions that thrust him onto the national selectors’ radar. In due course of time, (after having briefly represented West Indies), he proved his worth in the Under-19 World Cup. Joining the tournament midway, he took 9 wickets from 5 games at an average of 21. He steered his team to the final where, against Pakistan, he thwacked a quickfire 24 in the lower middle-order to bolster their chances. Nonetheless, it was in a losing cause.

In First-Class cricket, Rampaul bagged 72 wickets in two seasons, inclusive of a 10-wicket haul during a Youth Cup match for Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). It was the first of many times his bowling would help T&T scale peaks in the domestic arena. During the same time, Jermaine Lawson was reported by the umpires for suspect action during a Test between West Indies and Australia, and as the selectors gathered in the boardroom to pick a squad for the upcoming tour of Zimbabwe, Rampaul’s name copped up as an apt replacement to open the bowling alongside Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards in the 5-ODI series.

Initial years

It was in the November of 2003 that Rampaul made his debut for West Indies, against a Zimbabwean side that was competitive yet certainly not the force it once was. In four matches, he sent down 26 overs, emerging wicketless. The head honchos nevertheless decided to back the 19-year-old then, but the rate at which runs were scored off him had been worrying. He took wickets — the first a big fish in the form of South Africa’s Jacques Kallis, but the frequency at which they were usurped was quite sporadic.

He was retained for the 2004 NatWest Series in England, owing partly to his heroics in the Under-19 World Cup just a few months ago. He took 2 for 34 runs from 6 overs against the hosts — his best figures at the time — but a shin injury put a screeching halt to his gradual rise.

Unfortunately, the West Indies were quick to move on from Rampaul, thanks to the emergence of fresh crop of bowlers who consistently bowled at least 10 mph quicker than him. It didn’t take Rampaul long to note that he had to graduate from medium-fast to fast bowling.

Resurgence

Rampaul’s recuperation from injury was a cumbersome process. Although he wasn’t hovering at the selectors’ doorsteps, he dominated league cricket in Trinidad, often featuring in the list of leading wicket-takers. Eventually, his pace went up by a notch and was considered to be an able bowler towards the final overs of an innings. His reputation as a reliable lower-order batsman was on the ascendancy, too. The following year, a cricket scholarship by the Australian High Commissioner to T&T came along and Rampaul grabbed the opportunity, completing a Level I coaching course in Australia. That stint was a shot in the arm of his career. After a three-year hiatus, in 2007, Rampaul was called to don the maroon cap again. This time, the script had been written in his favour.

During the tour of England, Scotland, Ireland (Rampaul was to become their overseas player for the 2008 Friends Provident Trophy) and Netherlands, he bowled with renewed vigour. He registered his first 4-wicket haul, against a sturdy English unit, and a dip in his economy rate had been duly noted, too. Another 4-wicket haul soon followed, this time against an aggressive Indian batting line-up at Kingston, Jamaica, in 2009, a game West Indies went on to win by eight wickets.

That same year, he was slated to play his first Test. He put on his whites in the November of 2009, but the inclusion failed to puncture an Australian juggernaut. Nevertheless, he’d finally managed to make the cut at the highest level, a fact that would have warmed many hearts back home. Injuries were still a cause for concern, but Rampaul bounced back from them, quicker and sharper. The year 2011 was perhaps the best of his cricketing-career, thus far.

He picked up his first 5-wicket haul — that in a World Cup fixture — against a revered Indian batting order at Chennai. The feat was sadly for West Indies, yet again, in a losing cause. In the Test arena, though, one could say he was improving perceptibly. In May of that year, against Pakistan at Guyana, he took 3 for 27 and 4 for 48, thereby etching his best figures in Tests, as cricket pundits left no stone unturned to praise his adroitness as a bowler.

In December, his abilities with the willow came to the fore at Vishakhapatnam. A left-handed batsman, he nonchalantly carved the Indian bowlers, steering West Indies’ total from 170 to 269, despite being one of the last two batsmen at the crease. His unbeaten 86 that day was the highest score by a No 10 batsman and the 99-run stand he shared with Kemar Roach became the third-highest last-wicket stand in ODIs. Again, India’s strong batting line-up made mincemeat of the total. Had it not been for Virat Kohli’s hundred, there was little doubt that the Man-of-the-Match award would have belonged, deservedly, to the Trinidadian.

Right, yet wrong

Fast bowlers and aggression are seldom mutually exclusive, but Rampaul has always managed to keep his emotions in check when on the field. However, he’s found himself in hot water on two occasions, albeit there being little or no fault of his. In 2011, he was docked 10 per cent of his match fee for questioning the umpire’s verdict of having given him out when, as a batsman, he was subject to a barrage of bouncers in one over from Indian speedster Ishant Sharma.  The other instance will be etched in his memory for at least as long as his cricketing career lasts.

Sachin Tendulkar, desperately on the hunt for his elusive hundredth hundred, nicked one off Rampaul to the slip cordon on the score of 94. Immediately thereafter, the latter was perched as the most hated man in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium; or perhaps the whole of India. Nevertheless, Rampaul was sportive enough to take the verbal assault emanating from the stands in his stride. “Yeah, I got that (jeers) as soon as Sachin went. I went back to the boundary and all that time, I was heckled. That’s life, you know. A lot of fans had their hearts broken but we can’t just let him (Tendulkar) go there and let him live freely. It’s a Test match and we are fighting hard to win. We have a job to do,” he told the press.

Best days ahead?

Having made his debut at the age of 19, it has taken persistence for Rampaul to break into West Indies’ elite list of players. His second stint on the international stage has clearly been fruitful.

Before 2007:

Format Matches Wickets Average Economy Rate
Tests 0
ODI 17 11 49.45 5.62

Since comeback in 2007:

Format Matches Wickets Average Economy Rate
Tests 18 49 34.79 2.79
ODI 60 82 27.20 4.90

The above data sheds light on his rise in the sport’s older formats. Considering the fact that he’s only 29, his best years could, by all means, still be ahead. Injuries, however, continue to frequent him, and if he manages to get that aspect of his game in order, there is no reason why he cannot finish as one of the finest from the regions to have graced the international circuit.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)