The making of a centurion
Graham Thorpe gained belated recognition as one of the best post-war batsmen that England has produced, but after his omission from England's squad for the first Ashes Test, it would appear that time has been called on his 100-Test career. Andrew Miller charts his rise through the ranks, and the triumphs and pitfalls that he encountered on the way.
Test No. 1 - Trent Bridge 1993
Never mind Bangladesh being thrown in at the deep end. Thorpe's career began amid the blood-letting of another Ashes drubbing, as one of four debutants for the critical third Test of six against Australia. England were 2-0 down in the series, and 159 for 5 in their second innings when he joined his captain Graham Gooch for a soul-stirring 150-run partnership. It wasn't quite enough to force victory - Brendon Julian and Steve Waugh batted Australia to safety - but his achievement was a silver lining in a bleak summer. As for his fellow debutants, Mark Ilott, Mark Lathwell and Martin McCague, hardly a peep has been heard since.
Test No. 6 - Trinidad 1993-94
This should have been Thorpe's first matchwinning innings - a gloriously punchy 86 that first rescued England from a mid-innings wobble, then laid the foundations for a lead of 76 that in any ordinary circumstances should have kept the series alive. But there was nothing ordinary about the events that followed. First a rash of missed catches allowed West Indies, and specifically Shivnarine Chanderpaul, to set a testing target of 194. Then Curtly Ambrose, a spring-heeled bundle of destruction, tore in on the fourth evening to take 6 for 22 from 7.5 overs, as England crashed to 40 for 8, and ultimately 46 all out.
Test No. 9 - Headingley 1994
Ray Illingworth, the new supremo of English cricket, had taken a mysterious dislike to Thorpe over the winter, and dropped him for the first four Tests of the summer, against New Zealand and South Africa. But when England were blitzed for 99 at Lord's by Allan Donald and Co., the call went out and Thorpe didn't disappoint. Batting alongside Atherton, who was under intense scrutiny following the "dirt-in-the-pocket affair", Thorpe relieved the pressure on his captain by blazing a trademark 72 from 112 balls, and followed up with two more seventies in his next two innings, to ensure he was ever-present in the side for the next four years.
Test No. 15 - Perth 1994-95
Since his debut century, Thorpe had passed 70 on six occasions without going on to three figures, but he made amends at Perth in the final Test of 1994-95. The Ashes had already gone, but there was still a remote prospect of a drawn series as he and Mark Ramprakash charmed the WACA in a 158-run stand for the fifth wicket. Only three other English batsmen reached double-figures for the match, however, as Craig McDermott and Glenn McGrath restored the balance of the series by reducing England to 27 for 6 in their second innings.
Test No. 19 - Old Trafford 1995
Yet another missed century, but a masterpiece nonetheless that Thorpe himself rated as the best he had played to date. In a see-saw series, England had twice fallen behind, but now drew level at 2-2 in a thrilling six-wicket win. Angus Fraser and Dominic Cork zipped West Indies out for 216 in their first innings, but at 65 for 2 the pressure was on with Courtney Walsh bowling his heart out. Thorpe's 94 enabled a lead of 221, but the full value of his innings was not shown up until the fourth evening, as England stuttered to 48 for 4 in pursuit of 94. They were effectively five-down as well, with Robin Smith hospitalized with a broken cheekbone. They made it, but not before several near-coronaries in the crowd.
Test No. 38 - Edgbaston 1997
Thorpe's puzzling inability to convert fifties into hundreds had finally ended on the previous winter's tour to New Zealand, when he picked up two in two games. But it was the return of the Australians that brought out his battling best once more, as England secured their most uplifting victory of the decade. It was Nasser Hussain's double-century that stole the plaudits, but Thorpe's no-nonsense 138 was every bit as valuable, as England capitalised on some magnificent first-day bowling with a fourth-wicket stand of 288. Australia battled back, inevitably, but couldn't make up the lost ground, as England secured what remains their only victory in a live Ashes Test since 1986-87.
Test No. 52 - Old Trafford 1998
One of the greatest acts of escapology in Test history was completed on the fifth evening when Angus Fraser successfully blocked the final over from Allan Donald, to prevent England slipping to their second defeat of the series. But all of this was achieved with minimal input from Thorpe, who was brought to his knees by a bout of back trouble and completed the first pair of his Test career. Thus was brought to an end a run of 44 consecutive Tests, and Thorpe went on to miss seven of the next eight matches, including all but one of that winter's Ashes. But there was a silver lining, as his condition became a cause celebre for those lobbying for a central contracts system, to enable England's star players to gain sufficient rest between big matches.
Test No. 57 - The Oval 1999
An unremarkable match personally, although Thorpe's second-innings 44 was his highest score of a disappointing summer. It was what came next, however, that was of greater significance. Ten years of consecutive tours, with the A team and the senior side, had put an intolerable strain on Thorpe's personal life, not to mention his back, so he opted out of the winter trip to South Africa to spend Christmas with his family. It was not unprecedented - Graham Gooch had done likewise in 1986-87 - but after two seasons of diminishing returns, in which Thorpe had averaged 286 runs at an average of 22, it was a risky policy nonetheless.
Tests No. 61, 63 & 66 - Lahore, Karachi & Colombo 2000-01
The indisputable pinnacle of his career. England's back-to-back series wins on the subcontinent were both sealed by Thorpe masterclasses - his unbeaten 64 in the near-darkness of the National Stadium in Karachi, as Pakistan's delaying tactics blew up in their faces, and his twin unbeaten innings of 113 and 32 in the stifling heat of Colombo, which carried England to a four-wicket win in a fractuous series, and enabled them to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 triumph. All of Thorpe's varied batting personas were on display throughout a winter of supreme self-confidence at the crease, not least at Lahore in the opening game of the winter, when he recorded a century that included just one boundary.
Test No. 71 - Christchurch 2001-02
The highest score of Thorpe's career, but one that was overshadowed both on and off the pitch. With his marriage crumbling in full view of the tabloids, Thorpe had abandoned England's pre-Christmas trip to India after just one distracted performance, but announced his return for the New Zealand leg with a joyride of an innings that provided a release for all of his pent-up frustrations. He slapped 200 not out from just 231 balls, but this was a mere prelude to the real fireworks, as Nathan Astle's 222 from 153 all but won an incredible match for New Zealand.
Test No. 77 - Lord's 2002
Sometimes there is nowhere to hide. Five days at Lord's, at the height of the English summer, is no place to be when you are in as public a state of anguish as Thorpe was for the duration of this game - a triumph for England, but a personal purdah. Scores of 4 and 1 told only half the story. His body language telegraphed his torment, and in the midst of England's victory celebrations, a quiet statement went out that he would be taking an indefinite break from all forms of cricket.
Test No. 78 - The Oval 2003
Redemption. After an absence of 14 Tests, including an Ashes tour for which he had initially made himself available, Thorpe returned for the final Test of the summer, as a replacement for injured Nasser Hussain. Seizing the opportunity for what it genuinely was - a last, last chance - Thorpe struck a wonderful 124 in front of his home crowd as England first overhauled South Africa's vast first-innings 484, then thrillingly forced a series-levelling win. He described it as a debut, but in truth he owed everything to his decade of experience.
Test No. 86 - Barbados 2003-04
If further proof of Thorpe's value to the side were needed, it was provided in spades on England's tough but triumphant tour of the Caribbean. And never more so than at Bridgetown, where his unbeaten 119 included a masterclass of shepherding the tail. England's next-highest score was 17, but by adding 71 for the last two wickets, Thorpe secured a psychologically vital two-run lead, and West Indies' resolve crumbled.
Test No. 94 - Durban 2004-05
Thorpe's contributions on England's tour to South Africa were limited, but highly selective. He made 0 and 1 in the miraculous win at Johannesburg, but it was earlier on the trip - at Durban - that he made his most significant intervention. Faced with a first-innings deficit of 193, England had recovered brilliantly thanks to an opening partnership of 273 between Trescothick and Strauss, but were effectively 121 for 4 after a slump on the fourth morning. Thorpe held the line with a brilliant 118 not out, and though England were unable to force the win, they held onto their slender series lead.
Test No. 100 - Chester-le-Street 2005
For a man who has spent much of his adult life dodging the traffic in the fast lane of international cricket, Thorpe's centenary Test was a desperate affair. Bangladesh were so outclassed it was almost an embarrassment to have to score any more runs that the 260 for 3 that England had already gathered by the time he came to the crease. But with his place under scrutiny like never before, he knuckled down, patted back the good balls and dispatched the rest for a facile unbeaten 66. He always preferred a nice crisis situation mapped out for him, but this was Test cricket only in as much as it was a Test of his stickability in the face of such underwhelming odds. In the end, not even a series tally of 108 unbeaten runs could convince the selectors that his heart was still in it.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo