Every now and again you get lucky, right? I did when Matt Thacker at The Nightwatchman asked, 'if you could write about anyone in cricket right now, who would you write about?' and before I really knew why, I said Mark Ramprakash. And not about his Test career either, but the part that came after, when he made more than 60 centuries and got to a hundred hundreds, probably the final name to join that hallowed list.
I'd seen him almost as an outcast, a brooding Heathcliff of the County Championship, misunderstood, abandoned, burning with something like revenge. A face at the window, pressed up against the glass... It's a somewhat fraught vision, true, but rooted in a question, and the question is why? What kept him going, during all those quiet afternoons on almost empty grounds? What made him do what he did?
For a while a long time ago, I'd had an idea to try and write a sort of double biography of Ramprakash and Graeme Hick, with the hook that their careers had a weird symmetry - the two great hopes of English batting who made their debuts in the same Test match and who became the last two men to score a hundred centuries. Within their stories were others: of English cricket in the 1990s and the notions of what success and failure in sport are, and what they mean.
That fell by the wayside, but Matt arranged for us to spend an afternoon at Lord's with Mark. We sat at the top of the Pavilion as Middlesex bowled out Derbyshire for 60, and I discovered the answer to my question. I watched him bat a couple of times during the summer too, and got to write the piece. It didn't turn out as I thought it would - a small scale version of that old maxim that 'every book is the wreck of a great idea' - but it was a privilege to have met him, and a great pleasure to try and write about it.
It's in the new issue of The Nightwatchman, which has some tremendous stuff in it, including Dileep Premachandran on coming to terms with Sachin's retirement, Mark Rice-Oxley on depression in cricket, Marcus Berkmann on playing for an ancient team and Alex Massie on Jardine, plus lots more. Well worth a punt if you like great and mad stories about cricket.
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