'Nerveless' Thorpe takes the plaudits
On a weekend when English sport failed to deliver on the big stage, it was left to the cricketers to keep the flag flying. The World Cup-winning rugby side was handed a drubbing in Dunedin on Saturday, and on Sunday night the much-hyped Euro 2004 campaign got off to a losing start with a stunning last-gasp reversal in Lisbon. But at least the revival of English cricket continued at Nottingham, where Graham Thorpe inspired the side to a dramatic four-wicket win to complete an emphatic 3-0 series whitewash over New Zealand.
While anyone reading the main tabloids might think there hadn't been any weekend sport outside Portugal, the broadsheets gave the victory at Trent Bridge a fair amount of room. And it was Thorpe who took most of the plaudits.
"Thorpe's unbeaten 104 saw his team home in a nerveless batting display, but this was a team effort that found its belief and cohesion in the Caribbean three months earlier," wrote Derek Pringle in the Daily Telegraph. "Yesterday saw that in microcosm, with the bowlers knocking over New Zealand's last five wickets in 20 overs, and then the batsmen knocking off their target without further ado."
"Come the sharp end of the match, that killer instinct emerged again," Simon Hughes said in the same paper, concluding that "the old dog Thorpe [picked] off the last morsels of flesh from the spent Kiwi carcass."
Christopher Martin-Jenkins, in The Times, was another to praise Thorpe. "Sniffing the leather of every ball, his timing and placement were the epitome of old-fashioned professionalism. He had not looked like getting out in the first innings either until a ball brushed his pad on its way down the leg side, the first of a number of umpiring errors on Saturday."
In The Guardian, Mike Selvey identified another hero of the hour. "The revelation in this match was Giles, much derided, often with reason. At Headingley, though, he lost nothing in comparison with Vettori, and here he managed to slow his pace, gain more loop and even a hint of turn. There was a time when a batsman had more chance of being hit by space debris than being done in the flight by Giles.
"In all three Test matches England have been behind after three days, but on each occasion a player has stepped forward and taken the game away from New Zealand. At Lord's it was Nasser Hussain, at Headingley it was [Geraint] Jones and here it was Thorpe."
The Times's Richard Hobson concentrated on New Zealand. "While they finished in tatters, with only two fit frontline bowlers, it is pertinent to remember how they arrived with a reputation as a tough, highly organised side led by the most astute captain in the world. For once, the whole has been less than the sum of the parts."
An exhaustive search of the tabloids did eventually unearth some cricket, buried deep inside. In The Sun, John Etheridge gushed that "Vaughan should have opened a tin of whitewash and daubed the words 'Thorpe's a hero' over the Trent Bridge outfield. In great, big capital letters. Thorpe gave a masterclass on how to gather runs in a measured, risk-free way against a threadbare attack. Bad luck through injury had reduced the sum total of New Zealand's bowlers to a retiring veteran with a wonky knee, a debutant and a couple of fourth seamers."