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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on February 14, 2013, 13:55 GMT

    In complete agreement. A true world class batsman in an often modest side - would have made many more runs in today's team. I suppose he was forgotten because he never won test matches single handed - his role tended to be damage limitation rather than changing the course of the game. Then again, is it even possible to win a test match single handed, as a middle order batsman?

  • testli5504537 on February 13, 2013, 2:43 GMT

    Thorpe was the type of player a captain could count on and the opposition respected. It is a shame his career was derailed in the prime of his career. I still remember his comeback match in 2003. His international career seemed to have ended as he pulled out of the Ashes series in 2002-3. It was a make or break game for him and the pressure was enormous. Thorpe gritted it out and conjured up a century to make it a memorable comeback. I wish he hadn't been discarded just before the 2005 Ashes series but remember that he had a bad back and was taking cortisone injections to quell the pain. So it is not a given that he would have done well in that series.

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2013, 5:16 GMT

    Nice article, Peter! I still remember Nasser / Thorpe on the "dark" test match vs Pakistant. Since we are in the nostalgia phase, Trescothick, Alex Stewart, Thorpe, Atherton, plus some of the members from the current England squad will make an amazing combination of a team. Thorpe was definitely not someone who will have a flashy star on his forehead; he was just being a great cricketer / personality. That's how cricketers should be.

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2013, 20:03 GMT

    @ Kunal - I agree 100%. Hussey could have a huge difference to Aus in 2005, and Thorpe unlucky to miss out.

    @ Ashok - by the time Tres had 60 in that game he was immense. Battered all comers. It was an amazing Test, lost in the 2005 Ashes furore.

    @ Ikram - agree.

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2013, 19:16 GMT

    Great phrase. Puts you in mind of the victims of the wild desert biker gangs (Oz cricket team 1989-2004 and 2006-2007) in the Mad Max films.

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2013, 12:13 GMT

    Thorpe was unarguably the best of the lot England had in his era!

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2013, 11:46 GMT

    @Peter Miller: Interestign article buddy, but just one small correction: Trescothick was actually struggling for form going into the final test at The Oval in 2003. He too hung around and laboured his way to form in that innings. That was a remarkable game which is today largely forgotten.

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2013, 11:20 GMT

    An apt ode, Mr Miller, to one of the most underrated batsman England has produced. Thorpe was terrific, and one of three reasons I followed England until the team was announced for the 2005 Ashes. (The other four being Nasser Hussain and Gough.) Thorpe was the closest thing to Steve Waugh that England had: he possessed grit and graft, and as he showed at Christchurch in 2002, he could hit the ball too when it made sense for England to attack. I think the two batsmen the 2005 Ashes missed were a mature Thorpe (in place of Bell) and Michael Hussey (debuting in place of Katich). Thanks again for giving Thorpe his due.

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