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May 25, 2007

The Path to Greatness

An interesting stat stood out to me today while I was passing some time on the cricinfo.com website. After another good day’s cricket by England where Michael Vaughan registered his 16th Test match century after 18 months away from the game and Kevin Pietersen notched up 130*, his eighth three figure score in Tests I decided to see how the current England side lines up with England’s past masters.

Vaughan’s 16th century puts him within 6 of the England record of 22 held jointly by Hammond, Cowdrey and Boycott; whether Vaughan catches up with these figures depends largely on whether his knee holds up for long enough. At the age of 32, he should have a good few years left in him and it is often said that batsmen get better as they mature.

The little nugget of information that caught my eye this evening though is that when Pietersen drove a Dwayne Bravo half volley to extra cover for a single, his career tally of runs move to 2351 and he overtook Mark Ramprakash’s total of 2350 career runs. The fact that he has done this in fewer than half the matches says a lot about each of the men.

Ramprakash’s Test career came in a time when English selection appeared to follow few logical paths. A look at the Test caps given in the nineties reveals a staggering number of players who have only played a handful of matches. As a result no player in the England team of the day had a safe place in the side and most played every match as if their careers depended on it.

Such a pressure had a positive effect on some players, much as it has had a positive effect on Paul Collingwood’s career of late, with his place under threat he had to score runs just to keep the critics quiet.

Others did not perform quite as well. Mark Ramprakash was one of these; he put too much pressure on himself and regularly failed. For someone who many regard as the most talented English batsman of his generation, to say that a final Test average of 27 is disappointing is an understatement. Ramps once admitted that after one of his many failures in Test cricket, he returned to the pavilion and vented his frustration and tension out on a pillar in the dressing room, repeatedly smashing it with his bat until what was left in his hands bore no relation to a cricket bat.

Ramprakash has proved to the world in domestic cricket that he is a highly talented batsmen since those days, last season his in the County Championship he scored a healthy 2211 runs at an average of 105.28 in to help Surrey to promotion. If any critics were citing the difference in standards between second and first divisions in the Championship and the value of runs in each, he has started this season with 676 runs at 135.2 in five matches.

By plundering county attacks to all corners of the country, is Ramprakash making one final claim for a Test berth? He has said recently that he is not thinking of playing for England and most who mention his name in selection discussions do so with a despairing air of hope rather than any real expectations. Not only that, with 6 of England’s batsmen providing 7 centuries in the first 6 days of Test cricket this season he would be relying on injuries to be able to force his way into the team.

Many have written off Ramprakash’s chances of a revival of a Test career as unimaginable given how late on his career is but has the new coach brought the Surrey batsman a new lifeline? A week ago none would have expected Ryan Sidebottom to be playing his second Test match at the moment. I must admit that even once he was admitted into the squad I was completely confident he would not gain a place ahead of James Anderson but Peter Moores and the selectors have shown that they have the courage of their convictions to go against the popular opinions and pick a left field candidate.

Mark Ramprakash is still one of the best batsmen in England and even though he had a relative failure at Test level, the fact that Kevin Pietersen overtook his Test run tally today shows a lot about the ability of England’s new hero and that he has the temperament to boot.

The aura surrounding English cricket these days may be a lot different compared to what Ramprakash was thrust into but he has still scored his runs through some difficult times, in some of the hardest places to play cricket: India with a squad vastly hampered by injury; Australia in a series where his team was floundering badly and Pakistan with the hopes of a nation still behind him and suffering with an Ashes hangover.

That he has coped with this and actually improved his game shows a lot of promise for the future of English cricket. That Mark Ramprakash has found a way to stay true to his game and not drift off the circuit like Chris Schofield did after being thrust into Test cricket too soon and being dumped after two wicketless Tests can give English supporters even more solace that there is enough batting in England to step up to the plate should it be needed.

When Kevin Pietersen pushed that Dwayne Bravo delivery to extra cover today to take his 2351st run in Test cricket he overtook one of English cricket’s greats who never managed to live up to his potential on the big stage and carried along on his own way on the path to greatness.


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