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Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Saturday, 2 August 2008 16:55 UK

The last centurion?

By Joe Wilson

Landmarks are often deceptive.

Mark Ramprakash
Ramprakash made his first first-class century back in 1989
Take the Angel of the North. I remember how huge it looked in the distance when I saw it for the first time. But the closer I got, the smaller it seemed - something to do with it being built on a hill I suppose.

Mark Ramprakash seemed to have been skirting around his 100th first-class hundred for months. After two years of rapid acceleration, somebody had recently disabled the satellite navigation.

However, he has arrived - and we should not lose sight of just how big a landmark he has reached.

''It has terrific significance, it is one of the yardsticks of a great player, certainly one of extraordinary stamina and longevity," said the distinguished cricket writer and Test Match Special broadcaster Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

A look back at Ramprakash's 100 centuries

"Only the very best players have got 100 hundreds.''

Ramprakash's century at Headingley means the 38-year-old joins a very exclusive list of 25 of the greatest names to grace the game.

Jack Hobbs, Walter Hammond, Geoff Boycott, Len Hutton, Graham Gooch, Don Bradman, Vivian Richards and Zaheer Abbas are among the legendary figures to reach the landmark.

At the end of this summer, all the surviving 100 hundred makers will gather for a special celebration at Lord's.

But these days, it's not so much an exclusive club as an endangered species. The line, which began with WG Grace, could well come to an abrupt end with MR Ramprakash.

''He will probably be the last person to achieve the feat the way the domestic game is going now," said former England and Surrey captain Alec Stewart, a good friend and former team-mate of Ramprakash.

red devil
"So what Ramps has achieved is top class and it says a lot about him as a player and him as a person.''

It is a view echoed by Surrey chief executive Paul Sheldon.

"We salute the greatest batsman of his generation," said Sheldon.

"It is likely that Mark will be the last to reach this remarkable milestone."

In essence, if you play for a county you are going to be playing more and more limited overs cricket, and if you play for England then your career will be strictly controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Ramprakash is special because he has been an incredible scorer for his county but has not been picked for his country since 2002.

Special, but not quite unique.

Ramprakash shared his Test match debut against the West Indies at Headingley in June 1991 with Graeme Hick, the only other active cricketer in the 100 hundreds club.

''There are two sides to it," said Hick.

"You can certainly get a lot of pride out of it. I know there are a lot of times when I've played some great knocks which have helped the way games have turned out.

"But to play enough cricket to make 100 hundreds means you're not playing international cricket - it's a bit of a double-edged sword.

"On reflection if I had played a lot more international cricket it would have been a lot harder.''

A typically honest assessment from the 42-year-old, who still looks in incredible shape a full decade after he made 100th century.

And of course he's right.

Justin Langer in action for Somerset
Langer is the 100 Hundred Club's next great hope
These days, as soon as a talented young batsman emerges, he will be centrally contracted and restricted from the century-making opportunities which Hick has enjoyed for Worcestershire.

If there is a glimmer of hope for the future of the 100 hundred club, it glows stubbornly from Australia via Taunton.

Somerset's victory against Ramprakash's Surrey earlier in the season included Justin Langer's 83rd first-class century.

With his international career over, the landmark is in sight - if not in reach.

''He's a dogged little player and rather enjoys county cricket so he's the most likely," added Martin-Jenkins.

I for one will be hoping Langer gets there, even if he has to play on well into his 40s.

As cricket becomes obsessed with what can be achieved inside 20 overs, there must surely be time - and recognition - for an achievement which requires a good 20 years of sheer hard graft.

see also
Ramprakash career gallery
02 Aug 08 |  Counties
Ramprakash secures historic ton
02 Aug 08 |  Counties
Ramprakash made to wait for ton
14 May 08 |  Counties
Ramprakash seals ton in stalemate
03 May 08 |  Counties
Ramprakash puts Flintoff in shade
16 Apr 08 |  Counties
Ramprakash sets new batting mark
21 Sep 07 |  Counties

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