Ramps: He’s my best mate.

Yesterday Mark Ramprakash became the first Englishman to reach 2,000 first-class runs in a season since the move to split divisions six years ago. And it was his fifth score above 150 in successive matches. He is also the first man to 2,000 since, well, himself back in the 90’s.

With 87 career centuries and a county average of well over 100 for the season, he is comfortably on the form of his life.

At yet the eerily perfect form of one of the greatest county batsmen of all time continues to be denigrated. Each new achievement; 2,000 runs, 300+, and (if not this year, definitely next) his inevitable century of centuries, is tempered with mutterings about a talent wasted, a man who couldn’t tow the line for England.

But a Test career that never was has served to make Ramps a more personal hero, a legend among us. The giants of the international circut play to packed houses around the world and have their every move filmed, analysed and replayed time and again. Their careers are in a fish bowl.

But county cricket is a family affair. Earlier this season I saw Ramps make 296 at what felt like a deserted Oval. It was fabulous. In the sun, guarded by banks of empty seats, 200 of us had our own little village green in Brixton.

This morning in the Times, Dick Hobson says only Ramps knows what keeps him going now that England is beyond him. I think I know. England isn’t beyond him, it is behind him. People speak about the bear pit of Test cricket as though anything else is just glorified nets, but the counties were here before anyone ever heard of the ICC.

Those who run down county cricket and treat the legends of the domestic game as second class citizens of the cricketing world are, to put it simply, just a bunch of pushy, noisy, city wide-boys.

Now I love Test cricket, I watch every England game to the (happily rare) bitter end and I will be turning up to work looking like hell all this winter and wondering what time it is in Australia anyway. But county cricket is where my heart is. The heros are local. The crowds are people you know. 

As the ECB crams the latest limited overs permutation down our unwilling throats, and as Test match crowds increasingly resemble a cross between a football terrace and a Spanish holiday beach, I live for the oasis of the four day game.

What yer man Dick doesn’t get is; Ramps keeps getting better because he loves what he’s doing right now, not just the game, but the county game. He likes intimate crowds, local supporters, long summers. Appalling as so many find it, he likes playing county cricket and doesn’t spend all day fantasising about the England team.

And I know this because Mark Ramprakash is secretly a magical elf and we have been best friends for years.



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