English cricket February 11, 2013

A hero in a dystopian wasteland

Peter Miller
Just as Mad Max struck his own path through the Australian outback, Graham Thorpe was a bastion of consistency in the quagmire of batting collapses

England cricket in the 1990s was like a dystopian wasteland where all hope was brief and quickly extinguished. Every small victory or brief period of success was soon eclipsed by ineptitude of the type that the Sydney Thunder would be embarrassed to be involved in. All out for 46 against the West Indies in 1994, losing the Ashes eight times in a row and becoming the worst side in the world after a disastrous Test series against New Zealand in 1999.

We often hurt those that we love the most, and the England cricket team left lots of scars on their fans in the 1990s. In among all this torment and horror, there was one man that offered us hope. Just as Mad Max struck his own path through the Australian outback, Graham Thorpe was a bastion of consistency in the quagmire of batting collapses, dropped catches and bowling ineptitude. He started his Test career with a hundred, he finished with 66*. In between, he was solid in defence and exciting to watch when he attacked.

Carrying so much expectation was not easy for him, and when he decided to miss the tour of South Africa in the winter of 1999/2000 for personal reasons I was willing to do just about anything to get him to change his mind (and I mean anything). When his marriage fell apart in 2002 leading to further absences from the side I was devastated. I was the only person angrier with Mrs Thorpe than her husband.

When he returned to the side in August of 2003 he made us realise what we were missing. Sitting in a stand at the Vauxhall End of the Oval I watched Thorpe struggle and scratch around for hard-fought runs. As any Test match fan will tell you, there are no runs better than ugly runs. When a batsman stays in through sheer bloody-mindedness, it is a true joy to behold.

At the other end Marcus Trescothick was scoring a belligerent and faultless double hundred, of which I remember very little. I didn't care about anything but Thorpe scoring a comeback hundred on his home ground. Once Thorpe was on a roll there was no stopping him and the pulls in front of square and the elegant cover drives came back.

When he pushed the ball into the covers for two to get to three figures, I ended up spilling my beer over the man in front of me as I jumped to my feet to celebrate. Neither of us cared, because our Graham had come back to us.

In the lead up to England's 2005 Ashes victory Thorpe was an important part of the middle order that gave some consistency to England's batting at last, but he wasn't there when the ultimate prize came. He was discarded for a young South African with a blonde streak in his hair and an inflated sense of his own worth. As Ian Bell struggled his way to a series average of 17.10 with his only real contribution being that he was an excellent target for Shane Warne's sledges, I couldn't help but wonder if the wrong player had made way for KP's inevitable arrival.

In another example of the ECB admitting that no one can tour with England full time, Thorpe has now been appointed as England's one-day batting coach after successful stints in Australia, county cricket and with the England Lions. I am delighted that he is back in the England set up, and I hope his experience of the highs and lows of the life of an international cricketer will act as an excellent guide for the youngsters new to the highest level.

He has already been credited with helping in the development of Joe Root who has been immediately successful in England colours. Perhaps he can also guide James Taylor and Ravi Bopara to fulfilling their undoubted potential. What Thorpe brings as a coach is a wealth of experience and a real understanding of the technique. He has been spoken of in reverential terms by all those he has coached.

On his appointment as England lead batting coach to work with promising youngsters in 2010, ECB Performance Director Dave Parsons said; "He was very impressive this winter when he worked with England Lions in the UAE earlier this year and both the players and management team held him in extremely high regard."

The resting and rotation of international cricketers and coaches is set to become the norm over the next few years, so it is little surprise that Graham Gooch has ceded this responsibility to someone else. That said I have little doubt that Thorpe will continue to impress in his new role.