In my time as a player, it was more ‘Cut-throat England’ than Club England. I didn’t feel any security in my England career because the selection process was so erratic. Consequently, you felt under so much pressure when you played that something had to give. The criticism thrown at me was that I didn’t respect playing for England. If I did seem flippant about it, it was only because I didn’t feel respected myself and I had no idea what the selectors were judging me on. For instance, in February 1997 I played in a One-Day International against New Zealand in Christchurch. I got my best-ever ODI bowling figures of 4/22, dismissed four of the Kiwis’ top five batsmen and we won by four wickets. That was the last ODI I ever played!
If you keep getting kicked in the bollocks no matter what you do, you might as well at least try and have a good time while you are in the squad, because you might not be there for long. I think a lot of the boys took the same attitude.
Yo-yo selection was very damaging to the careers of a number of players in my time, most notably Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash, two of the most talented batsmen of their generation.
My TMS colleague Malcolm Ashton dug out an interesting statistic for me on the ins and outs of their England careers and mine. While Hicky played 65 Tests (1991–2001), he missed 41; Ramps had 52 appearances (1991–2002) but missed 68. Meanwhile, I played 42 Tests (1990–2001) but missed 76. As a spinner, I was liable to be dropped more often than other bowlers because pitch conditions may favour seamers, but that’s a lot of games to miss during a decade in which I was generally regarded as England’s best left-arm spinner.
It’s easiest for me to talk about Ramps because I know him particularly well from playing with him for Middlesex and England. Odd couple we were – extrovert/introvert, drinker/non-drinker, smoker/non-smoker – but we always got on. I think we were both seen as potential trouble in different ways. With Ramps, he could blow a fuse, hence his ‘Bloodaxe’ nickname, but that was because he’s passionate about his cricket and desperately wanted to do well.
You can’t tell me that Mark Ramprakash didn’t have the skill to be much more successful than he was at Test level, so you have to question the reasons why he didn’t fulfil his potential.
I can remember me and Ramps having a lot of chats during our Test career about this feeling of not being wanted, of the selectors looking down their noses at us. All right, I know we both played 40, 50 Tests, but we were never supported like they are today.
Ramps started his Test career in a home series against the West Indies in 1991, and he made a start in each innings without scoring over 30, and averaged 23. On paper, that doesn’t look good, but you have to put it in context. He was facing Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson and Malcolm Marshall. He’d applied himself well, and having gone through the hell of facing that lot, he might have expected to be on the next tour to New Zealand where he could build up his average and his confidence against a weaker bowling attack. So what happens? He gets left out, only to be recalled the following summer to face Pakistan’s Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram with no runs in the bank, the guillotine hanging over his head, and he ‘fails’ again.
Batting was hard work then. Today, the nearest an England batsman will get to facing that quality of searingly fast bowlers is South Africa’s Morkel–Steyn combo, but the battery of proper legendary quicks you saw in my generation (and just before my time) doesn’t exist today.
You can’t tell me that Mark Ramprakash didn’t have the skill to be much more successful than he was at Test level, so you have to question the reasons why he didn’t fulfil his potential. People say he was brittle mentally, but I wonder what would have happened if he’d been given the same support as current England players?
Yes, Ramps played a decent number of Tests in the end, but he was dropped so many times, it must have dented his confidence. It did with me. Every time you come back to the side, you feel like it’s your first Test match and you have to prove yourself again.
I can remember Ramps and Hicky coming off after making a low score and saying, ‘Boys, I’ll see you later. That’s me gone.’ Ridiculous pressure … And they wondered why we weren’t successful.
With England, when things were going badly, you knew you would be dropped straight away. I can remember Ramps and Hicky coming off after making a low score and saying, ‘Boys, I’ll see you later. That’s me gone.’ Ridiculous pressure. It was shocking, really. And they wondered why we weren’t successful.
Even the more established players weren’t immune to the flight-of-fancy selection methods. Robin Smith got dropped when he was averaging well over 40. What annoyed him was the reason given was that he couldn’t play Shane Warne, to which Judge rightly replied, ‘Well not many people ****ing can!’
Thankfully, the selectors now take a longer-term view. Look at Ian Bell, who I compare very much with Ramps – both technically strong, heavy run scorers, but both needed time to build the mentality of a Test batsman. I remember Bell being criticised for not looking imposing enough. What was he going to do? Grow six inches? Is Lionel Messi not big enough to be a brilliant footballer?
Under old regimes, Bell would have yo-yoed in and out of the squad like Ramps did, but he’s been consistently backed and England have reaped the benefits.
This is an extract from Phil Tufnell's New Book Tuffers' Cricket Available Now.
Follow Tuffers on Twitter @philtufnell and keep up with the latest funny stories from all levels of cricket on the #tufferstales hashtag
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