England v South Africa, 5th Test, The Oval August 31, 2003

Thorpe back at last

Graham Thorpe has been recalled to the England squad for the fifth npower Test against South Africa, which starts at The Oval on Thursday (Sept 4).



Gareth Batty replaces the injured James Kirtley

Thorpe, 34, has been missing from the team since he dropped out after the Lord's Test against India last year for personal reasons connected with the break-up of his marriage. He also withdrew from last winter's Ashes tour, after originally being selected. But now, with England needing a last-ditch victory to square the series and a broken toe suffered at Headingley ruling Nasser Hussain out, Thorpe is back, to add to his tally of 5109 runs from 77 Tests.

Talking on BBC Five Live, Thorpe said he was thrilled to be back in the squad: "I will try to take this opportunity with both hands," he said. "I've been waiting for this but I've been enjoying my cricket with Surrey throughout the summer." He added: "It's going to be tough. It's not as though as I'm going into something I haven't done before but I've been out for a year and that's a long time to be out of international cricket."

The only other change from the squad for the previous Test is the recall of Gareth Batty, the combative Worcestershire offspinner, instead of James Kirtley, who has been ruled out by shin-splints. Batty, 25, has not won a Test cap yet but did play two ODIs in Australia last winter, and was named in the squad for the third Test at Trent Bridge but released before the match.

Martin Bicknell has been included subject to fitness for what will be, if he plays, his first Test on his home ground. He will test out his hamstring injury by playing for Surrey in their National League one-dayer against Yorkshire today. Ashley Giles and Stephen Harmison, who were in the 13 for Headingley but left out on the morning of the match, are retained, and both are likely to play at The Oval. There are four Surrey men in the squad (and Batty used to play for them), including Alec Stewart who will be playing his 133rd and final Test match in front of his home crowd.

Ed Smith, who has disappointed in three innings after his first-up 64 against South Africa at Trent Bridge, retains his place. It would have been harsh to jettison him after the pitches served up for the matches at Nottingham and Leeds, but he needs a score on what is expected to be a much better batting track at The Oval if he is to cement a winter-tour spot.

David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors, explained the changes: "We have chosen Graham Thorpe as a like-for-like replacement for Nasser Hussain. Graham is a proven performer at Test level and I'm sure that he will relish the challenge." Graveney continued, "he's made himself available for the winter and he will be in the mix when we look at the tour squads. I've spoken to him during the summer and he is obviously had a very difficult time, but he assures me that he wants to commit himself to England and in the end you have to take someone's word for it."

On Batty's inclusion, Graveney said, "we will need to take 20 wickets in the match in order to square the series, and the inclusion of Gareth Batty is designed to give us more bowling options at The Oval."

England squad for The Oval Michael Vaughan (capt), Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher, Graham Thorpe, Ed Smith, Alec Stewart (wk), Andy Flintoff, Ashley Giles, Gareth Batty, Martin Bicknell, Kabir Ali, Stephen Harmison, James Anderson.