Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Steve Harmison and Mark Ramprakash are like gods on the county circuit. This season, Ramps is already averaging over a hundred, on top of the 2’000 runs he scored last year. Harmison has nearly 500 first-class wickets, and frightens the pants off most county sides.

Yet, despite these men’s colossal status at the domestic level, they have failed to realise this ability in the international arena. Both men also have amazing dancing abilities.

The general consensus for Ramprakash’s international failure is his mental frailties, but also the management’s inconsistency in picking him. He was regularly in and out of the England side throughout the ‘90s, despite some fine performances. However, the “in-out” policy was well-set for the ECB at this point, it was for the players to force their way into the national side and to keep their place. Ramps was unable to secure his place.

Harmison’s career has developed in a different environment. The selector’s revolving door has been replaced by a long-term commitment to improve players, giving them a fair run over a number of series. (More or less.) Consequently, Harmison has remained in the side, despite his obvious failings.

The treatment of these two players is obviously very different. Yet the outcome is the same. The fault, therefore, is not with the ECB, but it lies elsewhere.

Moving individual responsibility aside, the next candidate for blame seems to be the county system itself. It has managed to identify and enhance the skills of two fine players. But it has not mentally prepared them for the rigours of international cricket. So I point the finger at the counties. Which is actually quite hard using only one finger.

By way of counter-example, one could highlight people like Paul Collingwood, a product of the county system, who has succeeded because he can rely on immense mental toughness. But it is interesting to note the Collingwood refined his abilities in Australian Grade Cricket.

Indeed, looking at Australian cricket in general, at all levels we see an intensity to the game, but most importantly, we see mental strength ingrained into players at State level. Conversely, if you watch a county match, you’ll wander about a pleasant ground, chatting to the bloke at fine leg. There is a completely different character to the game. It's nice - not tough.

This is not necessary because Australians are naturally unpleasant people – although this is a strong explanation. The mental aspect of the game can be enhanced, through re-designing of the county game, correct deployment of incentives, etc. But all these changes requires deep, structural reforms, not the technical, meaningless tweaks suggested by the Schofield Report. This serious failing of the county system needs to be addressed.

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