Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The 11...Graham Thorpe innings

Graham Thorpe was the best English batsman of his generation, a man whose technique could withstand even the highest quality of bowling. His calm, unflappable temperament was the perfect foil for his ability to work the ball into the gaps. In an era when England were routinely trounced by the Aussies, Thorpe averaged 45 against them, far superior to contemporaries Atherton and Stewart.

He is often described as 'England's best batsman of the 1990s'. But that belies the reality. He averaged a shade under 40 in the '90s but a truly exceptional 53 in the 2000s. While some of the explanation for this lies in the easier conditions for batting, the real reason was Thorpe mastered the art of converting. He hit six hundreds but 24 half-centuries in the '90s; but managed 10 centuries and 15 fifties in the new century. Thorpe succeeded in all conditions, against all opponents. In cricketing terms, he was the ultimate chameleon.

86 v West Indies 3rd Test March 1994, Trinidad
With no scores of over 20 in his previous four innings, Thorpe's place in the side was suddenly under threat. England were 2-0 down to a West Indian bowling attack that included the mighty Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. After restricting the hosts to 252, England had to contend with a barrage of hostile bowling on a fast pitch. Thorpe, however, was not fazed and struck 10 exquisite boundaries in another expert display of concentration spanning 4 hours that made him England's top scorer. It would only be in England's second innings that the guts and skill of Thorpe's knock were made fully apparent; England were skittled out by Ambrose for a shambolic 46 and lost a test they should have won.

118* v South Africa 2nd Test December 2005, Durban
Despite hundreds by Strauss and Trescothick, England were teetering at effectively 114-4 in their second innings. Thorpe, out of touch and averaging 18 in the series, responded magnificently. Initially he tentatively played himself back into form, before gradually putting England into the ascendancy. Steyn and Ntini were the chief victims of Thorpe’s wrath that, yet again, showed his love of a crisis and proving his critics wrong. In the end, only the weather prevented England securing their ninth consecutive win during a year in which Thorpe averaged 73.

104* New Zealand 3rd Test June 2004, Nottingham
Needing 284 to secure a 3-0 series whitewash, England stumbled to 46-3. Cue their man for a crisis. Against a fairly average attack, Thorpe knew scoring opportunities would come and he certainly cashed in when they arrived. While all around him were losing their nerve, Thorpe remained motionless and as focused as a poker player. The result was a series of forceful drives and square-cuts during a lesson in counter-attacking batting. Not a chance was given and, despite Chris Cairns’ heroics, England completed their fifth-highest run chase of all time with four wickets to spare.

103 v West Indies 5th Test March 1998, Barbados
On a pitch never conducive to quick run-scoring, Thorpe had to grind it out in typical fashion. His 103 spanned 284 balls and 6 and a half hours, but it helped England recover from a potentially critical 53-4. As well as the attack - Ambrose, Walsh, McLean, Bishop and Hooper - Thorpe also had to contend with a back injury that forced him to retire hurt and then cope with a runner. But did this faze him? Once again displaying immaculate concentration and love for a scrap, the Surrey star, aided by Mark Ramprakash (154), helped England post 403.

114*v Aus 3rd Test July 1993, Nottingham
The 23 year-old Thorpe made his international debut in the 3rd Test of the 93 Ashes series - with England already trailing 2-0. The left-hander made just six in the first innings before falling to Merv Hughes. With England effectively 107-5 in their second innings when Thorpe re-entered the fray, he proceeded to display his uncanny love of a crisis with a determined, nerve-free hundred spanning nearly six hours that reversed the game’s momentum and saw Australia cling on for a draw. In defying Warne, Hughes, May and Julian, Thorpe became the first Englishman to score a hundred on debut for 20 years - and was duly named Man of the Match.

62 v Australia 6th Test August 1997, The Oval
The Ashes had already been lost, but a win was vital for England, who couldn't bear to contemplate a 4-1 annihilation. In a low-scoring encounter on a tricky pitch, Thorpe made the only 50 of the game, and it ultimately proved just enough. England, at one stage 4 wickets down in their second innings with a lead of just 14, owed everything to a stand of 79 between Thorpe and Ramprakash (48). Shane Warne was once again the bowler the left-hander had most joy against, but runs had to be eked on a virtual minefield of a pitch. With nine fours, Thorpe helped set Australia 124, before their fourth-innings jinx struck yet again.

138 v Australia 1st Test June 1997, Edgbaston
Having been dismissed for a meagre 118, the Aussies were angry, England 50-3 and in a mini-crisis. In a breathtaking stand of 288 with Nasser Hussain (207), Graham Thorpe held off McGrath, Kasprowicz and Shane Warne in an astonishing display of daring and boldness. Warne, in particular, was given short shrift by the left-hander eager to prove his success in the preceding one-day internationals was no fluke. Thorpe, playing at his counter-attacking, unflappable best, struck 19 boundaries. Australia stuffed - the Ashes on their way to England? Perhaps not...

118 v Pakistan 1st Test November 2000, Lahore
In alien conditions, Thorpe produced a masterpiece of an innings. Having never played a test for England in Asia, the left-hander faced an enormous test against Surrey team-mate Saqlain Mushtaq. Fazed neither by reputations nor by the sub-continental heat and conditions, Thorpe pushed and poked his way to a vital hundred that secured England a very encouraging draw. With his place in the side also under question - he hadn't scored a fifty in three tests against the West Indies - Thorpe played his way into the record books. Uniquely amongst test hundreds, the knock contained just a solitary boundary, emphasising the batsman's chameleon qualities.

124 v South Africa 5th Test March 2003, The Oval
Having been absent from the national side for 14 months, Graham Thorpe returned for, in his own words “a second debut.” Like the first, it ended with a sumptuous hundred. How could the selectors ever have snubbed him in favour of Anthony McGrath and Ed Smith? In reply to South Africa’s daunting 483, England were 78-2 when Thorpe came out to a standing ovation from his home crowd. After initially grinding it out on the second evening, glorious strokeplay on the third morning followed, as Thorpe displayed his lavish library of cuts, drives, pulls and hooks while attacking Pollock and Ntini. The innings is rated by the man as his best, and it propelled England towards a sensational series-levelling victory.

113* v Sri Lanka 3rd Test March 2001, Colombo
In a super-tight series, Thorpe, and Thorpe alone, was the difference between the sides. With things level at 1-1 going into the decider at Kandy, the Surrey player enjoyed arguably the finest game of his test match career. Nothing could affect his cocoon-like concentration against the mighty Muralitharan. On a treacherous wicket, Thorpe's superb unbeaten 113 secured a psychologically vital 8 run lead for the visitors. Whether sweeping or tucking Murali behind the wicket, Thorpe was indestructible, England's rock. But his work was not yet done. In typical fashion, England very-nearly failed to gain the 74 needed for victory. Only one man passed 13, making an unbeaten 32 when all around him were losing their heads. No prizes for guessing who...

119* v West Indies 3rd Test April 2004, Bridgetown
In a shambolic England batting display, reminiscent of the 1990s, on a dodgy pitch, Graham Thorpe stood out. And how. While all around him fell, Thorpe scored an undefeated 119 – 102 more than any other batsman in the innings – to inch England to 226, and a vital lead. On a pacey pitch, West Indies had been dismissed for 224, before their bowlers were transformed into the 80s dream team. Edwards, Collins, Collymore and Best’s mixture of short and skiddy bowling proved far too much, as England fell to 155-8. But the left-hander marshalled the tail exquisitely, while defending bravely and hooking balls off his nose. The 71 eeked for the last two wickets left the West Indies rueing missed opportunities and, above all, Thorpe. Psychologically battered, they were routed for 94 and subsided to an eight-wicket defeat.


Richard Lake said...

And you've not even included his double century at nearly a run a ball on the last NZ tour (which admittedly was overshadowed by Nathan Astle's even quicker 200+ in the following innings).

A sublime player, I remember watching him at Guildford (in fact he won me a pint by getting to 50 quicker than Alec Stewart) and he never seemed to hit the ball. In the same way as all great left handers, he guided it to the boundary.

As much a part in England's revival and the Ashes win as those who actually played. The combination of Hussain and Thorpe at 3 and 4 gave solidity to England's middle order that hadn't been seen since the days of Gower and Lamb.

The Atheist said...

Er...no 200?

Tim said...

200 should probably have been included - I actually wrote this pice for the old site all the way back when he retired.

One of my favourite players, and I do so wish he'd played in 2005 (ahead of Bell, as everyone was saying at the time) as he really deserved that Ashes win.

Nick Gammons said...

Excellent stuff, Tim. Thorpe was my favourite England player from the moment I was lucky enough to see his debut hundred at Trent Bridge until he retired.

He played some wonderfully aggressive innings as well as his trademark solid ones. One thing he always did was keep the scoreboard ticking over. Like all the best players he could not be tied down and recognised that quick singles and rotating the strike were as valuable as boundaries.

Hussain writes well about Thorpe in his autobiography, saying that only Thorpe's troubles outside cricket could stop him realising his talent.

Fortunately for those of us who enjoyed his batting Thorpe always answered the critics and selectors with brilliant performances.

Like you I wish he had been able to take part in the Ashes win. However, I believe he was doubtful with his troublesome bad back. I also remember that Bell was definitely in the team and it was Pietersen who took Thorpe's place. Fitting, as Pietersen has taken Thorpe's mantle as the best England batsman of his generation.

Chrispy said...

Graham Thorpe was my favourite player in the two phases of his career. Always reliable it was a shame that personal troubles got in the way mid-career and that he missed out on the 2005 Ashes, a series which could have been won more convincingly with Thrope's inclusion. It was a horrible way to end a brilliant career and not at all like what the Australians would have done (see Gilchrist, Hayden, Langer, Warne, McGrath). Thorpe was as key to England as they were to Australia.

Brian Carpenter said...

A great post about a magnificent player, Tim. My memory is that the 200 at Christchurch wasn't quite as good as most of the innings you've featured (probably because it was made under less pressure - which Thorpe always thrived under - than most of them), so no problems with that from my viewpoint. Nick is right in saying that it was always seen as a choice between Pietersen and Thorpe at the start of the Ashes series in 2005. Despite my long-time regard for Thorpe I went for Pietersen as I'd seen his ODI tons in SA and had the feeling he was something very special. With hindsight, of course, he should probably have played instead of Bell, and with equal hindsight, it's a pity that someone who did so much to keep England afloat in really tough times didn't get to share in the Ashes win.

Tim said...

Re: 200 - it was against a fairly poor opposition with (for the most part the pressure off - not a typical Thorpe innings, as you point out Brian!

In terms of 2005, it is true Bell seemed to be inked in but many fans (and Mike Atherton wrote a column on it too, I seem to remember) were saying the argument was all wrong. Wouldn't it have been intriguing to see Pietersen AND Thorpe in the side, though the selectors were understandably reluctant to put either at no 4.

Thanks for all the kind words too!

King Cricket said...

That double hundred was ludicrous. It was the second innings and hardly anyone had laid bat to ball in the entire match before that point.

Astle's was even more ludicrous, obviously.

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