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July 2008
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New pressure, same old Ramps

July 1st, 2008 by Daniel Brigham in County cricket, Twenty20 and tagged , ,

How Mark Ramprakash would have done if recalled by England appeared unanswerable as long he kept being overlooked. But the last six weeks have given a strong indication that he still reacts to pressure in exactly the same way he did 15 years ago.

Our May issue had Ramps on the cover with ‘97 and counting’. We were, of course, counting up to his hundredth hundred. Numbers 98 and 99 were executed faster than one of his Tangos and, as from May 3, he was one away from a century of centuries. Today, July 1, he still is.

From the day the media descended on the Rose Bowl in Ramprakash’s next Championship match Ramprakash has struggled. His tally in the three matches before the Twenty20 Cup started came to 101, at an average of 16.83.

Was pressure getting to him? Well, his very public – and very embarrassing – outburst at a TV cameraman in a Twenty20 match against Hampshire suggested that the answer is far more certain than his batting at the moment.

In Surrey’s current Championship game against Kent he made an agonising 48 in the first innings, before falling to a brilliant catch from Geraint Jones (surely a sign the world is against you). Just as his door was getting further and further away from Geoff Miller’s knock, today saw what may be the final blow.

With a lead of 177, Ramps came out to bat to face Martin van Jaarsveld, bowling his first first-class over the season. He stepped down the pitch to launch the ball over mid-wicket, but failed to clear Ryan McLaren, who took an easy catch. As Ramps trudged off, the Surrey balcony went into hiding. Ramprakash does many things brilliantly, but he’ll never do pressure.

Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket, Twenty20 | 7 Comments »

Selectors must buck the trend and plump for Jones

July 1st, 2008 by Rob Smyth in County cricket, England, South Africa in England

Last summer, there was hardly any cricket at Worcester because of flooding. This year, it seems that everybody is afraid to acknowledge any cricket involving Worcestershire – and, specifically, the form of Simon Jones - for fear of bursting the banks of hope among England’s followers. On Sunday, all media attention centred on Hove, where Andrew Flintoff made an encouraging if wicketless comeback, but just as relevant were events at Leicestershire, where Jones hoovered up the lower order to finish with figures of 5 for 30.

Allen Stanford has caused much excitement of late but, for cricket fans of a certain hue, the contents of his suitcase are nowhere near as stimulating as the cold, hard currency in which Jones is dealing at the moment: 25 wickets at an average of 11.08 in the Championship to date, outstanding stuff even allowing for the generous exchange rate of the second division. It’s certainly a reasonable improvement on the 193 he averaged in first-class cricket for Glamorgan in the last two seasons. At the moment they dare not speak of it, for fear of cursing Jones’ comeback, but if Baldrick were a cricket fan he would surely ask Blackadder for “permission to be ever so slightly excited, sir”.

The absence of Andrew Flintoff and Marcus Trescothick has slightly obscured Jones’s injury problems, but few people forget that he topped the bowling averages during the 2005 Ashes. And even fewer are in any doubt as to what England are missing: an outstanding, potentially peerless old-ball terrorist and, perhaps, more importantly, the mongrel that prompted Steve Waugh to comment in this magazine on how much England were missing Jones.

Jones is hard - naturally, effortlessly hard - which is in stark contrast to the faux machismo of the current team, a lamentable development that manifests itself either in unnatural posturing (Ryan Sidebottom) or clouded decision-making by people desperate to prove how tough they are but not instinctively aware of how to go about it (last week’s run-out; the jellybean farce; Matt Prior asking Indian batsmen what car they drive).

The thought of an attack of Sidebottom, Flintoff, Stuart Broad and Jones is extremely enticing – almost identical in style to 2005’s Fab Four, but with a couple of new band members – but if and when they actually come together depends on how enlightened the selectors are.

For some there is an irresistible case to bring Jones straight back, to use him while he’s hot (and, more importantly, fit) in the first Test against South Africa next week. But decades of cricket precedent suggest that they are far more likely to give him the whole summer with Worcestershire and, if he stays fit, bring him on the winter tour. Just as a bowler cannot bowl for as long as he has been off the field during a match, so the longer he must prove his fitness the longer he has been absent.

This suits cricket’s need for clean, linear practice, for always knowing that the best team is available for at least the medium-term, all things being equal, and for keeping its house transparently in order. Instinct suggests this is the right way to go, but a rational appraisal shows that perhaps such an approach is antiquated.

Other team sports, such as rugby and football, have prioritised the squad over than the team, with rotation the norm. In the age of back-to-back Tests and, potentially, freelance commitments such as the IPL, it is surely a matter of when rather than if cricket embraces such change. (In picking 29 players for the 1989 Ashes, England were clearly 20 years ahead of their time.)

In such an environment, Jones would be under serious consideration for the first Test: he is palpably match-fit and in form, and so the only doubt is over whether he breaks down. In football or rugby they would not care about that: by way of example, Tottenham know that their outstanding captain, Ledley King, will probably never be fit enough to play two games in a week again, but that does not stop them using him whenever possible. He is so good that it would be negligent not to do so.

England have been willing to put their plans on hold for Andrew Flintoff – justifiable, given his extraordinary talent and personality, but a problem given the fact that his irreplaceability significantly affects the balance of the side – and so they can surely do the same for Jones. While he is also irreplaceable in a subtler sense, the fact that he performs only one discipline allows for a relatively seamless change.

Of course, if Jones stays fit and carries on his current form, it won’t come to this. But even if he doesn’t, England would be silly to ignore him.

Rob Smyth is a freelance journalist. Rob is part of a group running 10 miles (which is 9.9 more than he’s ever run before) for the Laurie Engel Fund in London on August 31. To sponsor him, click here; to read why he’s doing it, click here; or to join in the run, email Rob.

Posted in County cricket, England, South Africa in England | 3 Comments »

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