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Ashes

Trott v Ramprakash: The Ashes selection call that helped a great team emerge

by Cameron Ponsonby 5 minute read

Cameron Ponsonby revisits a famous selection call from the 2009 Ashes.

With the 2009 Ashes poised at 1-1 heading into the fifth and final Test, only a win would do for England.

Despite the series being level, going into the fifth and final Test at The Oval, England had still managed to find themselves in disarray. An innings and 80-run defeat at Headingley in the fourth Test had caused alarm bells to ring, with a middle order of Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood contributing just 16 runs between them across the Test.

Of most concern was the form of Bopara. Scores of 1 and 0 at Headingley had brought his average for the series down to 15. And as Andrew Miller of ESPNcricinfo wrote at the time, sticking with Bopara would be a “strong declaration that England are refusing to panic. Unfortunately, it’s high time that England did panic”.

Jimmy Anderson described it as the one game that matters, Andrew Flintoff said that victory would top the achievements of 2005, Ricky Ponting called it the biggest of his then 135-Test career. Worldwide, over $70m had been bet on the fixture. It was a crapshoot.

If Bopara wasn’t to be the man, there were three main candidates to replace him. The first and least likely was Rob Key. The now managing director of England men had been out of the Test side for a number of years but was seen as a known quantity who was a safe pair of hands. The second was the uncapped Jonathan Trott, who had been the spare, unused batter in the squad for the Headingley Test. And the third was 39 years old, seven years out of Test cricket and a domestic legend: Mark Ramprakash.

Few compared to Ramprakash in terms of first-class numbers. From 2006 to 2008 Surrey, he had scored 24 centuries and averaged 89.33 in first-class cricket. In 2006 and 2007 that average had been north of 100. Over the course of his career, Ramprakash played 77 matches at The Oval and scored 33 centuries. Ramprakash was to The Oval what Red Rum was to the Grand National.

The problem, however, was that Ramprakash was seemingly already en route to his life after playing. A few years earlier he had even partaken in, and won, Strictly Come Dancing and it was seven years since his 52-Test career had seemingly come to an end. Nevertheless, England selector Geoff Miller declared that Ramps was in the frame.

“I just think that mentally, in terms of approaching a Test match, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been,” Ramprakash told the Surrey website of his potential selection. “I’d be thrilled like any player selected to play for England in what is now a fantastic occasion.”

However, as the day approached, so too did the growing sense that the man England would turn to would be Trott.

It was a selection that wasn’t without its controversies. Despite making his T20I debut for England two years earlier, his South African heritage carried questions of whether he would be fully accepted by the English crowds.

“I don’t know if the crowds going to have problems with him, I certainly don’t,” Strauss said to reporters ahead of the decider. “He’s served his apprenticeship here, he lives here, it’s been the case for other players in the past, and he shouldn’t be treated any differently. The reality of the situation is, he’s come in and he deserves his chance. He’s averaging 80 this season, his career stats are very good and he’s a gutsy individual. He knows the reasons he’s been selected and he knows the reasons I’m confident he’ll come in and do well.”

Finally, it came time to play. Bell was moved up to three in a position that Trott would later assume from him, with Trott himself listed at five.

In the first innings, England posted a modest 332. But crucially, the changes had worked. Bell at three scored 72 and Trott at five made 41 before being run out by an exceptional piece of fielding by Simon Katich at short leg.

However, the total turned out to be more than enough as Stuart Broad produced one of his finest spells in an England shirt to bowl Australia out for 160 and give England a 172-run lead.

England still needed a result, however, and looked to be letting their advantage slip as they fell to 39-3. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Trott walked to the crease, only to leave over five hours later having compiled a series- and career-defining 119 to give England an unassailable lead.

A star was born and England’s journey to No.1 in the world began. Over the following two years, Trott averaged 57.79 from his first 23 Tests, scoring six centuries as England resisted all who came before them. England had got the big call right. And who knows how history would’ve changed had they not.

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