Cricketers are not known for their dancing prowess, yet Mark Ramprakash is a hot favourite to follow Darren Gough as winner of Strictly Come Dancing. Why?
By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine
It is no great surprise when a stage school-reared soap star takes to the Strictly Come Dancing floor and proves something of a twinkle toes.
Nor is it that startling when hurdler Colin Jackson and heptathlete Denise Lewis apply their dedication and agility to dance training to great success.
But a cricketer? It is hardly the most athletic of sports, involving standing in a field for days at a time.
On more familiar ground
That was before beefy bowler Darren Gough whirled his way to ballroom glory last year, against stiff competition from Jackson and a surprisingly graceful Zoe Ball.
Now the hitherto shy and retiring batsman Mark Ramprakash often has the judges breathless with praise and the audience baying for more (although his winning form slumped during the rumba a week ago, making a pre-contest comment on a cricket chatboard that "he'll promise lots early on, but his temperament will let him down" seem rather prescient).
Neither Gough nor Ramprakash has much dance experience beyond a bit of a shimmy in a nightclub or busting a few moves at a wedding.
Not that it shows once they don sequined shirts and soft shoes. After all, timing and footwork are integral to both disciplines.
"Cricketers are a lot fitter than they were 15 to 20 years ago," Ramprakash tells the Magazine. "You need agility, to be able to move your feet. And I've played a bit of football, which helps.
"As a batsman, I do work a lot on technique, and always think about balance, my arms, where the feet go and how far they move. Karen [Hardy, his dance partner] has been very good at giving me lots of technical information about how to position my hands and feet."
In some ways, Ramprakash seems somewhat bemused at the surprise his dance prowess has been met with. After all, as a former England international and now a senior player at Surrey, he is among the sport's elite.
Dance teacher Max Ali agrees: "If you are a great sportsman and good in some sport you play, you can do other sports just as well and dancing is no exception. Emmitt Smith has just won the American version - he is a big guy and a number one American football player."
But nobody - not Ramprakash himself - expected him to be quite so nifty. His dance-loving eight-year-old daughter Cara laughed when he told her he'd signed up for the show.
"You must have been a dancer in another life, and once again you ignited my fire," gushed judge Arlene Philips to Ramprakash after one high-scoring performance. Something she knows a thing or two about, being the woman behind the Hot Gossip dancers on the Kenny Everett Video Show.
MARK'S TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
'Have fun - try and enjoy it'
'You need a certain level of fitness and flexibility'
'Be open-minded about some of your costumes'
'Try a variety of dances before settling on which you'd like to specialise in'
'Have a good coach'
But Ramprakash says many cricketers may also turn out to be proficient dancers if given the intensive training he's undergone.
"Without a doubt. So long as they're open-minded enough to have a go, they might find themselves floating around the dance floor."
What hasn't come quite so naturally to him is the showmanship required.
"People need to see you enjoying dance rather than 'oh, what comes next?' That's what I'm thinking, but you've got to give an air of enjoyment and that it's all natural. Darren did that brilliantly. I have to work a little bit more at that."
But where his sporting background has proved useful is in preparing to compete under pressure.
"I try to get myself mentally in a frame of mind to perform, to have positive thoughts, to visualise myself going out there beforehand. It's trying to build confidence."
Gary Palmer, a freelance cricket coach and former Somerset player who has squared up against Ramprakash, says cricketers need to be fit, agile and co-ordinated - all useful qualities in dance.
"Professional-level cricketers do a lot of pre-season training - running, speed and agility work. In fact, I think most professional sportsmen should make good dancers."
Darren dazzled on the dance floor
Not least because performing is a part of the game, be it cricket or dancing.
"Everyone likes the crowd behind them," says Palmer. "Test cricket is a patient game and when something happens it's exciting. And 20/20 is a fast game with big crowds - there's a lot of performing there."
As a specialist batsman, he says that Ramprakash has something of an advantage.
"Mark is quite an elegant batsman and very conscious of technique - I expect he's taking in every single piece of technical information his dance partner offers."
And having watched first Gough and now Ramprakash transform themselves, he is fielding a new type of question from the lads he coaches.
"They want to know, 'if I get that sort of training, can I do that as well?' I don't see why not. You try and get Phil Tufnell to dance like that - then I'll believe that cricketers make good dancers."
Below is a selection of your comments.
I studied dance at university and am also a cricket coach and a keen cricketer. My whole dissertation was on the connection between dance and cricket. Cricket is a very graceful game and I believe cricketers dance without realising it. Cricket actions can be aesthetically beautiful and can sometimes resemble dance movements. The balance needed to play the technical game is one of the most important elements needed in dance. C.L.R. James stated in his book Beyond a Boundary that "Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and the dance." I've also read that "you dance in order to bat". and "that our worst batsmen are those who cannot dance".
Bethan Evans, Surrey
During the winter season George Lohmann, who played for Surrey and England in the 19th century, always spent as much time as he could on the dance floor. His bowling figures were fantastic.
Patrick Finn, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
My mother, Irene Leslie, was assigned to Bowral as a teacher. At a school ball, she got to dance with former student and rising star (later Sir Donald) Bradman. Recounting this, she would always credit that he was an astonishingly fine dancer. Once, in the mid-60s, I chanced to meet the great man myself. He conceded he liked to dance, and attributed any prowess at it to the footwork he learnt from cricket. But he was also a thorough gentleman, when dancing was one of the social graces.
Max Fabre, Southport, Queensland Australia
Go for it Mark, you're fabulous.
Gill Herat, Surrey
My husband plays for a local cricket team - he's a good all-rounder but is particularly good at bowling. When he hits the dance floor however, it's a different matter altogether - I love him to bits but he's no Gough or Ramprakash!
Try "standing" in the field in baking hot temperatures for 155 overs in a day and three quarters whilst the Aussies are racking up 602-9 declared. Not many people from any other disciplines physically or mentally fit enough to do that...
At school, I could never catch a ball. It was pathetic. As an adult, I took part in competitive sport for several years - but nothing to do with a ball, it was rowing. My ability to catch a ball has inexplicably and vastly improved. It makes me believe that sports are naturally complementary to each other - almost everything that trains coordination will improve sporting ability. It also goes to explain those annoying "naturally sporty" people who are good at every sport!
I remember that Sir Jack Hobbs, arguably England's greatest test batsmen, when asked how he kept fit during the winter, replied "Ballroom dancing." He thought it was good for his footwork.
Lawrence Taylor, Osaka, Japan
My girlfriend seems to think that just because a world class cricketer like Ramprakash is a focus in this girly dancing competition then it's show that men can enjoy too. How right she is! I even tune in secretly on weekdays to catch the "It takes two" update show, but don't let on!
Mark, Swansea, Wales
Good batsmen are like bullfighters. Elegance, timing, style, poise made all the more poignant in the face of the adversary. It's little wonder they display the same qualities in dance.
Ramps was one of the most technically gifted and hardworking cricketers in recent years. Cricketers are athletes with superb co-ordination and long hours in the nets practicing is perfect for dancing.
Now isn't that strange? My dad was a cricketer and also a brilliant dancer - he did a mean quick step and foxtrot, which he taught me. I'd never made the connection between cricket and dance - just proves that every day is a school-day. Now where are those stumps?
Linda Joseph, Cwmbran, UK
Wasn't ballet recommended for football players a few years ago?
Well done Ramps, having often seen him dancing down the wicket for England and Surrey its hardly surprising that he is a top quality performer on the ballroom floor.
Christopher Jones, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Perhaps England's new one day cricket uniform should be a sequined open-front number - then we are sure to win the World Cup!
Max Lemanski, London
It's the beauty of the game, which has rubbed on them and making an impact in their dancing. Timing, pace and body movements are very important in cricket and they have got it and no wonder they do it in style when they come to dancing.
Balagopal, Cahtham, Kent
I like the show, but what a waste of prime time on BBC... agree that most top sports men should have a natural ability to adapt to this, and fitness levels to suit. But come on, Saturday early evening? It's almost as bad as showing yet another repeat. I wonder if the Beeb put on something at this time that kept the youth IN till later, maybe they'd not be in the pub binge drinking.
Steve Michaels, Leicester
I think this is completely correct for prime time Saturday night viewing. Its better than all that rubbish that passes for comedy nowadays. My teenage lads watch it and are hopefully picking up some techniques to hold them in good stead whilst playing cricket.
Sally Phillips, Kendal, UK
Mark Ramprakash has got great ability, on the other hand Darren Gough robbed Colin Jackson of the prize last year. I was shocked and amazed that Darren got to the final and beat Colin. But when the outcome of a show like Strictly Come Dancing is depended on how much the public likes you rather than your ability makes winning the top prize bitter sweet.
T Gayle, London
I agree that CJ was the better dancer by a whisker or three. Unfortunately, I think what let him down was the choice of show dance - it was fun but alongside Darren & Lilia's breathtaking show dance, didn't have the wow factor.
I don't think Jackson was robbed, he threw it away. Having watched the show, I remember the final dance that both finalists performed involved Colin and his partner dancing separately with dummies attached. A decision which I am sure cost him the first prize place.
Andy Parkin, Leics
Colin and Erin did themselves no favours with their unfortunate dummy dance, but I don't think that was the reason Darren won. From the outset, Colin was brilliant with a natural elegance, poise and rhythm whereas Darren was a big clumsy Yorkshire lad. His transformation into a confident, graceful and light-footed dancer was truly astonishing and I believe that is why he proved victorious.
Alison, Cefn y Bedd
Well cricketers do know a lot about swings and reverse swings. So there is no wonder why they handle dancing. It is related isn't it?
Mukul Palwankar, Dresden, Germany
I only wished that my husband, a dead ringer for Goughie, could throw shapes on the dance floor with such prowess.
Maybe we should send Anton Du Beke to the Ashes!
The fact that I'm not a professional cricketer is probably the reason behind my Tarbuck-esque moves on the Chipping Sodbury Cricket Club dance floor. That or the large amounts of alcohol.
Malcolm Soper, Chipping Sodbury
Funny, isn't it? I'm a ballroom dancer myself but I do like watching cricket and would considering trying to learn and play. Probably the two type of sports go together, or it's about the type of people involved.
Here we go again! You say cricket involves "standing around for days on end". Cricketers have to have high levels of physical and mental stamina to endure long periods of play, they do not just stand around, they have to be ready and alert. Imagine some of the over-paid footballers being so fit, most of them can barely manage 90 minutes without falling over in agony.
Hear hear, Lesley. Cricket combines footwork, stamina, agility and mental awareness.
Diane, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK