Thorpe wisdom benefits Lions
Graham Thorpe is ensconced behind the arm at Boland Park, assessing which of the numerous talented Lions batsmen in South Africa are ready to be pitched into Test cricket. He knows from the manner in which his own international career was terminated, one Kevin Pietersen being chosen ahead of him in 2005 when his record against Australia was highly impressive, that such judgements can be desperately difficult to make.
England's lead batting coach is 45. He remains slim, his eyes as darting as they were at the crease. Had he been born a few decades earlier, he might well still be playing, for he had the toughness, and left hander's ability, of a Brian Close or a John Edrich. Now, though, he feels the international scheduling is such that he is looking at whether his young charges are good enough not for a ten-year career at the highest level, but an eight-year one.
"I tell these players that at the end of their careers they must not look back with any regrets," Thorpe said. "I could not have done any more in the game and have good memories, even when England's results were not great. We believe that all the batsmen challenging to open with Alastair Cook will have an opportunity for England. Their techniques are good enough, otherwise they would not be here.
"I tell them I like simplicity of technique. Ultimately, at the highest level, they have to manage themselves. I am quite big on players being tactically aware - I like them to try different shots in the middle and to be dynamic in the one-day game, in which we probably have some catching up to do. We have to deliver players to three different formats of the game and there are more ball strikers around now.
"A young batsman is judged on whether he can defend and attack the short ball, whether he is light on his feet against spin and if he is a good reader of the game. It is about reducing the size of the box bowlers bowl into. If someone is comfortable against the short ball, his front foot play generally takes care of itself. If he pokes and prods on the subcontinent, he is not going to score runs. I want batsmen to get their feet to the spinners."
So which of the batsmen on this short trip is likely to open with Cook in the West Indies? "Sam Robson is the current opener," Thorpe said. The combination at the top of the order against South Africa A in Paarl this week was Robson and Adam Lyth, with Alex Lees going in next. "Jonathan Trott is capable of opening and would bat anywhere if the opportunity came around.
"No one can say that he will definitely play Test cricket again, but maybe he is more relaxed now than he was. Certainly he is in a good place mentally. Some things are private to him. We cannot put live television cameras and 20,000 spectators into the grounds on this trip, but there has been pressure on him because the cricket has been very competitive. The most important thing is that he enjoys it. And it has been great for the younger players to watch him."
He advises these Lions cricketers on contending with sledging, as he had to do when playing against Merv Hughes and Shane Warne. "I hope the game can police itself," he said. "Because I played a lot of football when I was young, and had to put up with nasty tackles, opponents saying things to me on a cricket pitch did not worry me. I generally felt the umpires stepped in when I played. I always say, be yourself. Do not be someone you are not. Darren Gough, for instance, was the same person off the field as he was on it.
"This Lions stage is a bit rougher than county cricket. I want the batsmen to feel pressure because the next step is Test cricket. I want them to feel their tickers going a bit. The biggest changes are the mental side of the game. When I first went to West Indies, I realised I had to become a better player of fast, short-pitched bowling. I had times in my younger days when I had difficulty touring. It has to be approached with a sense of adventure and adversity has to be embraced and dealt with through resilience. The rewards are there."