22nd May: Sunrisers v Rajasthan Royals, 14:30 GMT
24th-28th May: 2nd Test, Headingley
In his weekly column, Daniel Grummitt pays tribute to Mark Ramprakash, one of four high-profile cricketers to have announced their retirements in recent weeks.
An easy question: What do Mark Boucher, Mark Ramprakash, Michael Di Venuto and Tatenda Taibu all have in common?
Answer: As anyone who has been following cricket with even half an eye over the past couple of weeks will know, they have all announced their retirement for varying reasons recently. Now, you may think, 'so what, cricketers are always retiring, what makes these four special, apart from their obvious class?'
Well, for this author, the retirements of the first two in particular represent something of a changing of the guard. They were just about the only two remaining cricketers who made their international debuts before I became interested in cricket, and, as such, were childhood heroes. As with all childhood heroes, they seemed slightly immortal, even superhuman, as they appeared part of a different era.
I had not followed their careers since they had made their county or first-class debuts as I have with the likes of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and AB de Villiers. I could not recall anything about their Test debuts as I can with Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. It was as if, to me, the first half of their careers had never happened and that they were born wearing crisp whites and, in the case of Ramprakash, a slightly worried expression.
Ramprakash was the last remaining link with the England team which had made me fall in love with the game at the age of about 10. As Atherton, Hussain, Thorpe and Gough all melted away from the game, he continued to plug away in county cricket, and, what’s more, continued to flourish; cementing his superhero status in my eyes.
My first memory of him - which sadly also turned out to be my last of him in an England shirt - was at The Oval in 2001 when he scored the second of his two Test centuries. He brought up three figures late on the third day with an elegant drive off Shane Warne - records remind me that he claimed Alec Stewart as his 400th Test wicket earlier in the day.
Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got and he was dropped for the umpteenth time by the England selectors following a poor winter. He would not be recalled, and but for a brief moment in 2009 when it looked as if he may be called-up for the deciding Ashes Test, again at The Oval, that was it.
He had moved to Surrey at the start of 2001 and it was for them that he played some of his best cricket. From 2003 to 2010, he averaged over 78; as well as notching up averages of 100-plus in 2006 and 2007 and 90 in his near-comeback summer in 2009. He would have averaged more than the mere 61.75 that he managed in 2008 had he not hit a lean patch prior to finally recording his 100th first-class hundred in August of that year.
Maybe that lean patch again showed his vulnerabilities when faced with an expectation of achievement; and, though there has never been any question about his technical ability, it is sadly that vulnerability for which he will be most remembered by many people.
He has always apparently thrived when least was expected of him - whether it be against the all-conquering Australians when all of England’s batsmen were expected to struggle and against whom he averaged 42 - or even on Strictly Come Dancing - which he won in 2006-07 despite beginning the competition as far from the favourite.
Many will write his legacy as, 'should’ve done better', but that would be unfair on a man who has amassed 50,651 runs across the three formats of the game, and one who has given untold joy to what must amount to millions of people with his batting, not to mention dancing, throughout a 25-year career.
Indeed, his former team-mate Angus Fraser sums it up best: "To say Mark underachieved is extremely harsh. In an age when traits like patience, discipline and attention to detail are ignored for the desire to entertain and be sexy; we may never see his like again."
Another thing that seems unfair is the way he was treated by Surrey at the end of his career. I am sure that the club could have found a way to give him a farewell match, especially when you consider their, at present, rather threadbare middle-order. The fact that upon being dropped by them he went away to play for his local club side Stanmore showed not only his determination to continue an already-excellent career, but also a love for the game - his mastery of which has been a pleasure to watch for so many years.
The manner of his career's ending was unfortunate, albeit not as unfortunate as Mark Boucher's horrific injury-induced one, but sport is, at times, a cruel mistress.