Of batsmen who have scored at least 20,000 county championship runs, who do you think has the highest average? Most sages would opt for Wally Hammond, Len Hutton, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe or even Graham Gooch or Geoff Boycott. All of these except Hutton managed 20,000 runs; World War II prevented the great Yorkshire and England batsman from reaching this landmark - his final tally being 19,361 at 52.04.
None of these answers would be correct as the batsman that holds this lofty honour is none other than Mark Ramprakash, who as of yesterday has scored 27,987 championship runs at 60.32. The next best is Boycott (58.27), with C.B.Fry (56.77), Hammond (56.67) and Graeme Hick (54.19) making up the rest of the top five. Indeed, Ramprakash is only behind the great KS Ranjitsinhji (16,194 runs at 62.04), of batsmen with over 10,000 championship runs.
It was perhaps entirely appropriate therefore that in the week following England's World T20 triumph, Ramprakash again showed what might have been as he served his revenge cold to his former county Middlesex with scores of 223 and 103 not out in their Division 2 match at the Oval. The most talented English batsman of his generation was again reminding everyone that Kevin Pietersen may be good, but in terms of pure batsmanship he is better.
Ramprakash is like a bottle of excellent Chateau Lafitte in the way he has got better and better with age. He is now 40, but shows no sign of letting up the flow of runs and one wonders if he could have emulated Gooch in being one of the best test batsmen in the World despite being on the wrong side of 40. That of course is the great paradox with Ramprakash. Yes, he was messed about badly by the selectors and no doubt he would have done better under the central contract system and if more faith had been shown, but a return of two hundreds from 52 tests at an average of 27.32 doesn't even go close to justifying his immense talent.
He last played for England in the Auckland test of 2002, when he was 32 years old. Since then he has been unstoppable in county cricket and from the 2003 season onwards has never averaged less than 60 each season. Indeed, in 2006 and 2007 he averaged over 100, which is an extraordinary feat. Surrey have certainly seen the best of him. Since joining the county in 2001, Ramprakash averages 75.76 in the championship with 58 hundreds from 131 matches; a quite staggering performance.
One wonders if he could have replicated this for England these past eight years. His backers will say that as Ramprakash has got older, he has relaxed and allowed his true talent to flourish and this means he would have overcome the nerves that got the better of him when he stepped onto the big stage. His doubters will counter by saying that tension would have continued to grip him in an England shirt and that he would have never fully justified his talent. We will never know, but we believe that just as with vintage wine, if England had given Ramprakash more time they could have finally uncorked the full flavour of his abilities and had its own Ponting, Lara or Tendulkar. Maybe Ramprakash will just have to settle for that in his next life.