On June 6th, 1991, the West Indies’s bloodthirsty fearsome foursome pace-attack consisting of Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, and Malcolm Marshall were smelling blood against England at Headingley.
While facing up to the ruthless-machinery of mass-destruction from the Caribbean Islands, England’s batsmen seemed to be quivering for cover. But a smart and handsome looking 21-year old young man in Mark Ramprakash, with a dash of bravado played for close to two and half hours and showcased the kind of technical brilliance that would make a 50-Test match veteran proud.
Mark Ramprakash, born on September 5th, 1969 in Bushey, Hertfordshire was an enigma of English cricket. While facing up to bowlers of the highest calibre like Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Anil Kumble and company in county cricket, his poise, balance and fluidity at the crease invoked respect and reverence from one-and-all.
But at the same time, he just couldn’t fulfill his true potential at the top echelons of international cricket. His Test batting average of 27.32 didn’t do justice to his burgeoning potential.
Mark Ramprakash is of Indo-Caribbean and English descent, as his father was Indo-Guyanese and his mother English. He attended Gayton High School, followed by Harrow Weald Sixth Form College.
His first cricket club was Bessborough Cricket Club in Headstone Lane. When he played for various age groups, he didn’t just leave an indelible mark as a batsman, but was a promising pacer too. In fact, opposition teams were said to be scared of bowling to Ramprakash. As he was a bit of a stormy character during his early days, the only way it seemed like the opposition camp could trouble him was if someone sledged him or winded him up on a cricket field.
Martin Bicknell, who played for Surrey and England, reflected on Mark Ramprakash’s early cricketing career, “I think the first time I came across Ramps must have been in an under-15 game between Middlesex and Surrey – don’t ask me the year. He was playing a year up, because he’s a few months younger than me, and we knew all about him – he was probably the most talked-about boy in the country. So he came into the game with a great reputation, and he didn’t disappoint – he got runs, and he also ran in and bowled quickly, because he was a bowler too in those early days. He was always going to be a bit of a star.”
Mark Ramprakash shows flashes of brilliance in county cricket
Mark Ramprakash came through the ranks by accruing a truckload of runs and was soon playing for Middlesex seconds at the tender age of 16.
He didn’t exactly set the World on fire while playing for Middlesex seconds. However, the Middlesex’s management perhaps knew that he was one of the brightest lights in the county circuit, and as a result, they drafted him into the Middlesex county squad for the 1987 first class season.
In his first county match for Middlesex against Yorkshire at Headingley, Mark Ramprakash grabbed the golden opportunity with both hands.
He passed the litmus test of facing up to a formidable bowling line-up consisting of Arnold Sidebottom, swing-merchant Paul Jarvis and the diligent workhorse Phil Carrick, with flying colours. Incidentally, Ramprakash’s courageous knock of 63 in his first county match against Yorkshire turned out to be the top score in Middlesex’s second innings.
Mark Ramprakash though, had to wait for more than two years to score his maiden first class century against the White Rose county – Yorkshire. But by then, he had already shot into prominence for his nerve-wracking knock of 56 in the NatWest trophy final against Worcestershire at Lord’s in 1988.
On a track with plenty of juice in it for the seamers to exploit, Ramprakash showed incontrovertible self-belief and controlled mastery to wash away the challenge posed by Worcestershire’s seamers with aplomb. For his gritty knock, Ramprakash, won fulsome praise and filled columns in the papers — flowing with thunderous applause.
It was during the 1990 English first-class season when Ramprakash made gallons of runs and it seemed like just a matter of time before he would make his Test debut for England. It was a season in which he amassed 1541 runs at an impressive average of 48.15.
Among the five centuries he essayed during that English county season, the epoch-making moment of his fledgling career was when he made 119 in a low scoring game against Derbyshire at Derby County ground.
In spite of having a modest bowling line-up, Derbyshire made early inroads into Middlesex’s experienced batting line-up. It was only Ramprakash who launched a rescue mission with a career-defining knock of 119 in the first innings. Unfortunately for Ramprakash, Simon Base and the diligent workhorse from Denmark, Ole Henrik Mortensen, snared 13 wickets between them, as Middlesex crashed to a heavy defeat. Ramprakash must have felt like being a boy on a burning deck in the first innings.