The comeback kids: Graham Thorpe and Marcus Trescothick pile on the agony
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Thorpe's 124 was as eye-catching and fluent as any of his previous 11 Test hundreds. He batted as if he had never been away: pulling, cutting and driving 17 fours with precision and flair. Not even an eye-watering shot in the box from Makhaya Ntini could put him off. He may have cut a cold and isolated figure in the past, but he certainly showed some heartfelt emotion when he cut Ntini for two to notch up his belated 12th ton. It was a familiar, and welcome, sight. The bat punched in the air, the helmet peeled off to reveal the trademark '80s-style headband, accompanied by a hug from Trescothick, who gleefully jogged from his end to welcome Thorpe back with open arms.
But, on the flip side, Thorpe's innings also hammered home the fact that he should have been there from the start of the series. Thorpe, along with the magnificent Trescothick, have hauled England back into this game, but they still need something special to win it - Thorpe's heroics are likely to be too late now. If England wanted to be regarded as the second-best team in the world, then they needed their best available players in there from the kickoff. And Thorpe showed he is one of them just when he needed to.
A former team-mate wrote last week that Thorpe would be a disruptive influence on the side: a rotten egg in Duncan Fletcher's Team England. But what the hell, that's secondary. He isn't a solid, uncomplicated mucker like Anthony McGrath, or an awfully nice chap like Ed Smith, but England need him, especially now he's in the mood for runs. And his busy singles rubbed off on his reacquainted England team-mates, as Trescothick and Alec Stewart kept the ones rolling over into the afternoon sunshine.
While it's hello again from Thorpe, it's goodbye from Alec Stewart. The King, or even the Queen Mother, of Surrey received the royal treatment from the South Africans with a guard of honour, and from his adoring home crowd. And he rewarded them with a reminder of the flowing fours that have been a feature of his career. And if you saw them, make sure you savour them, as there is only one more innings to come, unless any rain returns to spoil the party.
But don't forget Trescothick, even though he would probably quite like you to. While this Test will be remembered for the coming of Thorpe and the going of Stewart, Trescothick will be pleased his mammoth double-hundred won't take all the limelight. Under increasing pressure from the media for his lack of runs, a career-best 219 isn't a bad way to respond. It was a slower, more disciplined innings by his standards, and it paid huge dividends. There were no crooked wafts outside off stump and none of those nasty nibbles which have blighted his progress against the best. Not even that baiter-in-chief Shaun Pollock could prise him out of the water today. You could almost call his innings a comeback as well - back to his best.
While England grew more and more dominant, South Africa gradually deteriorated into long faces and sloppy fielding. Jacques Kallis temporarily eased the pain with Thorpe's wicket, and Pollock with Trescothick's, but Graeme Smith, for the first time in the series, was bereft of ideas. And not even his fridge door could inspire him this time.