LEEDS // When Mark Ramprakash waltzed to victory in front of the adoring British public it appeared that the final curtain had come down on his international aspirations. Those twinkle toes which had shuffled down many a wicket were now transformed as the bronzed and muscular figure in an array of flamboyantly slinky shirts danced his way into the nation's hearts.
It was supposed to be Ramprakash's crowning moment as he finally showed the killer instinct which had been so badly missing during his early career. While he batted away all comers on the TV show Strictly Come Dancing, Ramprakash has never fulfilled the talent which so many within the world of cricket have come to witness. Nobody has ever argued that the Surrey batsman does not have the technique or skill to succeed at the very highest level.
Aside from Somerset's Marcus Trescothick, Ramprakash is England's most in-form batsman this season, having averaged more than 100 in the County Championship, and his 134 against Derbyshire last week was his 108th first class century. Now, approaching his 40th birthday, Ramprakash could be set for one final swansong at his beloved Oval with England ready to invite the ageing batsman to solve their chronic middle order problems. Ravi Bopara is expected to be left out of the team which was crushed by an innings and 18 runs by Australia at Headingley, and doubts also surround the place of Ian Bell.
While Warwickshire's Jonathan Trott and Kent's Rob Key remain more likely contenders, the public's clamour for Ramprakash has not gone unnoticed. In a year which has already seen Michael Schumacher return to Ferrari, Tom Watson flourish at golf's British Open and Lance Armstrong roll back the years on the Tour de France, perhaps Ramprakash's renaissance would be the most surprising of all. Dropped following his disappointing tour to New Zealand in 2002, Ramprakash averages just 27 in Tests and has not played in one for England since 2002.
Yet, his record against Australia is impressive having averaged 42 and scoring 133 at the Oval in 2001 - an innings that was supposed to catapult Ramprakash on to further glory. That it did not materialise owed more to Ramprakash's failure to deal with mental side of the game rather than the technical. Since being exiled, Ramprakash has improved with age, like a fine wine, and national selector Geoff Miller has not yet ruled out the prospect of handing the 39-year-old once last opportunity.
"We will have a look at it - he's an option. He hasn't retired from international cricket so we will have a look," said Miller. "But there are a lot of things to be taken into consideration. All of a sudden, players who are performing in domestic cricket become international players again. "There was a reason why Mark was left out in the first place. We will have to look and see if that has now changed. Age comes into it."
A gamble it might be but with England so short of options it could be time for Ramprakash to face the music and dance. firstname.lastname@example.org