As part of a larger project that I doubt I’ll ever finish, but to try to stimulate a little debate and a lot of memories, I thought I’d concentrate on some of our finest players and their test hundreds. It’ll be a little potted history of each, with comments and excerpts along the way. Also there will be memories and personal anecdotes on some of the hundreds. Again, another idea on the walk to the station.
I thought I’d start with Graham Thorpe. As people may know, I’m a Surrey fan. I’m also a massive Thorpe fan. One of my greatest days in test cricket was watching his return from the family crisis that nearly ended his test career. Indeed, that will be in the piece below. But first, we need to go back to that Ashes series of 1993 for the first of Thorpe’s test centuries. The first of 16.
Graham Thorpe was always one of those lined up to play for England. He’d been a man who seemed to go on a lot of A tours, but I don’t know, the perception was he didn’t make a massive amount of large scores. But he did come to attention in the 1992 NatWest Final where, on what was then a huge national stage, he made 93 and allowed Surrey to post a respectable, if ultimately inadequate, total. A few weeks before he was selected for England he scored another televised hundred, against Lancashire, in a game many Surrey fans recall with horror. Then, after losing the first two tests of the Ashes summer, the heads needed to roll, and our selectors were not too afraid to blood new players. So a call-up for Trent Bridge came the way of Thorpe. The rest, is history.
Four players made their debuts in this match. Mark Ilott was the second most successful of them. The other two were Martin McCague and Mark Lathwell. That says an awful lot. I was in my early days at work, and watching cricket was a brief existence – usually sneaking into the TV room on the way to, and back, from the smoking room. I wasn’t overly used to Surrey players in the England team, and when I saw Thorpe’s first innings dismissal, I thought he might not be there long too. (About 2:40 in the clip below)
England found themselves trailing after the first innings, and in those days, kiddy-winks, we still had rest days, so the teams came back on the Monday, with England seventy runs in front and four wickets down. Caddick was nightwatchman and resisted for a bit, but when he went, Thorpe joined captain Graham Gooch at the crease. In his autobiography, Thorpe said he was grateful for the nightwatchman and the rest day, and also wasn’t worried about the sledging he got early on. Indeed, he said:
“When I pulled a ball past Boon, crouched at silly point and looking like a Viking with his droopy moustache, he threatened to kill me if I did that again”
Thorpe carried his nuggety reputation with him through his career, and he dug in. It wasn’t an innings of flair, but one of support for Gooch, who made a valuable 120, and by the time of his dismissal, had put England in a very decent position, being 200+ in front and with a reasonably decent number 8 to come in after him – Nasser Hussain!
Thorpe finished the Monday on 88 not out and completed his hundred on the Tuesday morning. A test ton on debut had not been achieved in my cricket-watching life by an England player. This seemed a special moment to me, extra special. Not only that, but this hundred was against the Aussies. They were a top, top team. It seemed this was a man we could build around. Athers at the top; Stewart as keeper batsman, Hussain grafting and scratching, and Thorpe with the temperament.
Wisden Almanack has a different little spin on the century:
…..but Thorpe remained and early on Tuesday reached his century with his patent whipped hook. The Surrey left-hander had batted with a poker-faced stoicism that enabled him to rise above the suspicion that, after four England A tours, he was not good enough for Test level, and the indignation of the public that he was not Gower. He was, at least, verifiably English.
I didn’t remember that Gower thing at all, to be honest. Maybe I was oblivious.
The century is on the video clip above, so enjoy the little bits you see of it.
DMITRI IMPACT – A Surrey man. Making a hundred. On debut. I was in heaven. And we had the Aussies on the back foot at the end of this match. The start of a great career.
The series had got off to a shocking start. Losing a test we threatened, briefly, to draw in Brisbane, when Thorpe and Hick started the day with a big partnership, but soon fell away as part of Warne’s best ever test figures; humiliated in Melbourne as Warne took a hat-trick. A fight back in Sydney as Gough charmed the Aussies with his fight. Then a win, unlikely as it seemed, in Adelaide. England were 2-1 down and had a chance to square the series. And so to our nemesis. Perth.
Australia batted first, made 402. This was most remembered for Mark Waugh (running for Craig McDermott as the last man), being run out when his twin Steve was on 99.
Thorpe came to the crease early in the reply. England were 5 for 2 with Atherton and Gatting (in his last test) back in the pavilion. Thorpe started the rebuild with Gooch, but when he left, followed instantly by John Crawley, it was 77 for 4, and the man to help him through this crisis was Mark Ramprakash, fresh from an A tour. These two at least made it respectable.
Given I was working and this was overnight, I saw little of this innings. Thorpe had been no-one’s fool in this series, but was getting the reputation, in his 18 months between hundreds of making boisterous, snarling seventies. Here he made it to 100, and Wisden remarked, it was the only time in the game the Aussies were not in total command:
Winning a good toss and scoring 402, Australia lost command only while Thorpe and Ramprakash were adding 158 in England’s first innings. Thrown together at 77 for four on the second evening, they were still there 40 minutes into the third afternoon. Then, at 235, Thorpe jumped down the pitch to off-drive Warne, and was expertly stumped by Healy off a top-spinner that reached him shoulder-high.
Thorpe believed that his change of attitude, which he employed in his return to the side after Ray Illingworth made clear his early thoughts on him by dropping Thorpe from the test team in 1994, had helped him.
“I was back in the side for good and playing a totally different way now. I accepted I might have lost some of my elements of defence, which played a part in my struggles to convert fifties into hundreds, but reckoned it was worth it to be more aggressive.”
There are brief highlights below:
From my point of view it was good to see him get to three figures, especially having had a few 70s and 80s (a couple in the previous tour of the West Indies were very under-rated). Getting that off his back was important, but it’s also telling to note that this was Thorpe’s only full test series away in against Australia, pulling out injured in 1998, and then not up to going in 2002.
DMITRI IMPACT – English hundreds in Perth do not grow on trees. Indeed, since Thorpe’s 123 just Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes have made test hundreds for England at the WACA. Impressed, and now convincing Illlingworth, this was a man to build around.
We had another long wait. 1995 and 1996 proved fruitless, and questions were being posed. Thorpe was solid enough, but could he go big enough?
This is going to be short when it comes to my memories. The test was infamous for the Nathan Astle / Danny Morrison stonewalling on the final day to deny England victory. Thorpe made 119 to back up Alec Stewart’s 173, as England passed New Zealand’s 390 by making 521. There seems to be an indication that the scoring was a bit too slow by Thorpe for everyone’s liking, but it put England in a dominant position. Then Astle found the unlikely ally, and that’s all anyone really remembers this test for.
DMITRI IMPACT – I don’t really recall it, if truth be told.
England won this game, comfortably, and exorcised some of the demons of Auckland. Again, memories fade and I don’t recall much about this century either, but what it did do was take England from a strong position, of having New Zealand bowled out for 124, and when departing the crease as the 5th wicket, England were 200 in front. Wisden Almanack almost casually disposes of his hundred.
DMITRI IMPACT – A low-key, if vital hundred to put Auckland to rest, and help England to a 1-0 series lead. Important to see Thorpe score back-to-back hundreds.
Having scored two centuries in the 2-0 away win in New Zealand, and on the back of the 3-0 whitewash in the ODI series, fuelled by a Hollioake double act, the scene was set for the Ashes and England were well and truly “up for it”. Anyone who watched that first morning will never forget it – I did, as my work team were playing a match I took the whole day off – and saw England put the Aussies to the sword with the ball. But it needed someone to do it with the bat.
Those people were Nasser Hussain (207) and Graham Thorpe (138). Together they took England from a slightly precarious position to one where they had an immense lead. The partnership started while my work team were losing to our nemesis, and finished while I was at Surrey v Essex the following day. I watched some of it while in the Cricketers pub, which for those of you new to drinking establishments around the Oval was behind the old scoreboard. It’s been closed for donkey’s years. This was my first ever day at The Oval as well, and I forgot to record the bloody highlights because we had a very convivial day!
There’s not a lot of Thorpe’s innings on here:
A better clip
Wisden remarks on the partnership:
Mutterings about the pitch continued as England’s top three succumbed in an hour. But they were silenced when Hussain and Thorpe put on 288, which surpassed 222, by Wally Hammond and Eddie Paynter, at Lord’s in 1938, as England’s highest fourth-wicket partnership against Australia. Here were two friends, once part of the so-called Bat Pack of aggressive young England players, demoralising the ultimate foe and the best side in the world.
It then has its say on the century by Thorpe:
Left-hander Thorpe was Hussain’s equal; indeed, he probably displayed superior range and execution of shot on the first day, when they added 150 in 169 minutes. It was Thorpe’s third century in four Tests, and his cutting and sweeping of Warne were crucial in seizing the initiative.
Warne was ineffective, partly because his sore shoulder reduced the rip he could impart and partly because Hussain and Thorpe never allowed him to settle. McGrath bowled where he would do in Australia, rather than the fuller length required in England, and Gillespie retired with a hamstring strain. Kasprowicz, who had failed to take a wicket in his previous two Tests, sustained his hostility and was easily their best bowler. Healy took six catches, equalling the Australian Test record.
It was a party that wasn’t to last, as we all know.
As was the way, I didn’t get to see too much of this knock – maybe a half hour here or there, but you felt Thorpe had established himself as the rock upon which England’s middle order could be based. It sent a message that we had someone who could fight back. Little did we know that this third test century against Australia would be his last.
DMITRI IMPACT – In the top five of his hundreds, no doubt. A fabulous knock in a brilliant partnership. At the time it appeared a statement of intent. We would be having a go, and this would be the man doing it. The Ashes weren’t coming home, it turned out (a Thorpe drop at Headingley is probably more remembered than this hundred) but we had a few good days on the back of this!
After the 138 against Australia, Thorpe hit a bit of a lean spell. His 82 not out in the losing cause at Trent Bridge signified some form, but in 17 innings after that century he passed 50 just three times, with no hundreds. With England 2-1 down in the 1998 series, Thorpe might have been feeling the heat.
He would have felt it more when England fell to 53/4, and when he had to retire hurt almost immediately, When he returned to the crease on the fall of Jack Russell, he joined up with Mark Ramparakash to take England to a formidable looking score. As was the way with Thorpe, he joined up in good partnerships and played an excellent support role to a major knock. While the focus was on Ramps finally fulfilling some of his potential, Thorpe’s resilience after a fallow period was also welcome.
I sort of remember watching some of this knock in The George on the Isle of Dogs. It had been a tense series with two exciting contests in Trinidad after the Jamaica abandonment. Again, work commitments and social life seemed to impinge on my viewing of this century.
Wisden sticks to the facts….
After the interval, Thorpe chose to be worked over by the physio rather than the quick bowlers, so the out-of-form Russell came to the crease. Fuelled by his rivalry with Gloucestershire team-mate Walsh, he split the field with a series of sweetly timed strokes that gave the innings some much-needed impetus. Thorpe was well enough to return when Russell fell to a bat-pad catch off Hooper before tea, and he found conditions much improved: the pitch was less frolicsome, and the bowlers had been drained by the heat of the afternoon. So began a watchful stand of 205 between Thorpe and Ramprakash that saw both men complete their first centuries against West Indies. They had been batting together (second time round) for 339 minutes when Thorpe finally edged a catch to slip off the preserving Hooper.
England were denied the chance to level the series due to the weather on the final day, and went on to lose in Antigua where Thorpe was left high and dry in the fight for a draw.
There are very brief highlights here…
DMITRI IMPACT – A solid hundred, rebuilding a floundering innings, in concert with a man of great promise – it was getting a habit. He took England into a position of strength. But this was overshadowed by the potential of Ramps being fulfilled (of course we know what happened) and when looking back in history it’s overshadowed by another hundred he made at the Kensingston Oval, which is among my favourite ever knocks.
“A masterclass of how to play spin” Jack Bannister
We had another long wait for the next Thorpe hundred, as injury and form again seemed to work against him. This hundred, of course, is borderline legendary….
“It’s irrelevant that I hit a single boundary in my hundred, what matters most is the century,” Thorpe reasoned. “My innings has put my team in a winning position and I wanted that when I started on the first day. It’s nice to play my part in a good total and I was concentrating hard in the middle.”
England didn’t win this match, but Thorpe was there at the end in the darkness of Karachi, playing the vital role to win the series.
Thorpe came to the crease after an excellent opening partnership between Atherton and Trescothick. He stayed there, dealing in the running rather than the boundary game, batting for a total of 432 minutes and 301 balls, hitting a four once before his hundred, and once after. His strength, as well as his batting partners, against spin gave England huge confidence for what was an excellent winter:
“We’ve managed to bat for two days against their spinners. Psychologically we know we can hang in there against them, and that’s a big boost to us. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win the Test series or anything like that but it means we’ve jumped a little hurdle out here mentally, and that helps.” Graham Thorpe
Saqlaing Mushtaq, who took 8 wickets, praised the hundred:
Saqlain termed Graham Thorpe’s innings as the best, adding that he capitalized on the experience of playing alongside him at Surrey. “He knew how I bowl and picked up the delivery at the time when I was releasing it. But I struggled to get him out despite knowing him.”
Wisden’s almanack report:
The balance would have tipped well and truly in Pakistan’s favour had debutant Qaiser Abbas at slip caught Thorpe off Saqlain when he was two. Thorpe, who had come in unexpectedly at No. 3 because of concern over Hussain’s back, gave another chance when 20. But next day, initially with Hick and then with White, he secured England’s position. Saqlain apart, Pakistan’s attack rarely threatened. White batted with great self-assurance, adding 166 with Thorpe, a sixth-wicket record for England-Pakistan Tests, in four hours 17 minutes. He drove Saqlain for four early on, sweep-pulled Mushtaq Ahmed and hit sixes off Shahid Afridi and Saqlain. Thorpe, however, hit what is believed to be the first Test hundred to contain only one boundary; in his 118, made from 301 balls in seven hours ten minutes, he hit just two.
I don’t remember the drops. But that’s cricket, eh? Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the performances of Thorpe, Atherton, Trescothick and White gave England a huge boost on surfaces that looked to be alien to our skills, and played a huge part in England’s two wins (see next hundred). It gave us steel.
Oddly, Thorpe mentions the winning innings in Karachi in his autobiography, but not really this one!
DMITRI IMPACT – A masterclass of spin, the sort of innings only he or Atherton could play, and a real statement of intent. Probably in his top 5 (at the lower end – thinking out loud I have his debut hundred, Barbados, Colombo and the Oval return above it) and certainly showing his concentration and worth.
This was Thorpe’s entry in All Out Cricket’s greatest England test hundreds poll. It’s hard to vote against it (but I will), but what I will say is that this was Thorpe’s best ever test match. The 113 not out put us in a position to win, and his 32 not out in the second innings while all around was panic, was priceless. Thorpe was without peer in the England team at this time. The solid performer, the consumate professional, the man we needed.
In the days of DRS, this would not have been a century (unless the Sri Lankans had used all their reviews) as Thorpe should have been given out caught on 73. But this would be churlish on a wicket that gave assistance to all bowlers. The 113 took us to parity in the first innings, and when Sri Lanka collapsed to a scarcely believable 81, the value was accentuated.
The Surrey left-hander played a key role in Kandy scoring 59 in the first innings and an invaluable 46 in the second. Today too, he rescued the innings, defying the Sri Lankan spinners with an organised combination of thrusting pad play and tempered aggression, to score an unbeaten 71 at a time when England looked as if they were going fold.
The plaudits for completing the hundred were lost in the maelstrom that enveloped Day 3. It had been a fractious test series with plenty of terrible decisions, and these come through in the match reports…
England’s poor morning would have turned calamitous had Orchard noticed Thorpe edge Murali to silly point via his pad. Thorpe also ran out Croft for a solid 16 but, those errors aside, his eighth Test hundred was an innings of great maturity. It confirmed his arrival as a world-class batsman, as prepared to counter-attack as dig in, composed against spin or pace.
This completed a winter where Thorpe made 500+ runs on alien surfaces, and confirmed himself as a top class player. It even got him the captaincy for the ODI series that followed. Arguably this was Graham’s high-water mark for England. Circumstances dictated that he would fall away from the limelight, and others moved in. From key cog, he became elder statesman.
Youtube doesn’t seem to have any footage of this. I hope someone can find it (I had it on VHS, but now can’t convert it).
DMITRI IMPACT – A wonderful test match, and probably would have taken the top spot in my favourite Thorpe innings if I’d seen it all. As it is, I did see the 32 not out, and that was gripping! A top century.
Chances were if there was a record partnership going around, or someone was making their first test ton, Thorpe was around to see it. In Manchester, in the pre-amble to the Ashes that year, Thorpe joined with Michael Vaughan to concoct a partnership of 267 to bring England towards Pakistan’s 402 in the first innings.
Despite slate grey skies and a blustery wind keeping the temperature down, Graham Thorpe illuminated the day and warmed a decent crowd with an innings of sparkling shots and dominance. The Surrey left-hander, undoubtedly England’s main run threat, was ably supported by Michael Vaughan, who nestled comfortably into England’s problematic No 3 slot, registering his highest Test score with calm authority.
Doesn’t sound like Manchester, does it?
Not only did Vaughan and Thorpe repair the damage, they did so with aplomb, repeating the tableau of yesterday and continued the run feast which has been the hallmark of this match.
Shots were sprayed all round the wicket, Thorpe hooking and cutting in style and he mercilessly ravaged his former Surrey colleague Waqar who went for five runs an over at one stage. Meanwhile the rather more refined Vaughan demonstrated a flawless technique honed on the seaming pitches of Headingley and he moved effortlessly closer to a maiden century.
No, this article wasn’t written by Brenkley – aplomb was reserved for class batsmen like Vaughan and Thorpe, not dolts like Downton – but it conveyed the serenity these two batted with. Sadly no-one else made any inroads after their departures, and the defeat was sealed in a frantic final session with wickets being taken off no-balls (no-one doubting that Pakistan were worthy winners).
Lawrence Booth was given the honours for Wisden back in that day…
Now Thorpe and Vaughan embarked on the most thrilling partnership by two English batsmen since Thorpe himself and Hussain slew Australia at Edgbaston in 1997. In the form of his life, Thorpe cut with great certainty, while Vaughan was masterful off front and back foot, especially through the off. Early on the third morning, Thorpe moved to his ninth Test hundred, and Vaughan followed him to his first – getting there in bizarre fashion with a six that included four overthrows.
The game now turned on its head. Having equalled his Test-best 138, Thorpe hustled for one single too many and was beaten by Wasim’s athleticism to end a record all-wicket partnership for England against Pakistan (267).
Again, no video coverage on the youtube wires for this hundred, so the memory is all we have!
DMITRI IMPACT – A top class Thorpe knock in a losing cause, but hopes sprung for the Ashes. Sadly, Thorpe played one match, at Lord’s and then injury struck. This partnership showed England old and new, and Vaughan would move into the England ascendancy from the following year onwards.
“In the state of mind I was then in, I didn’t give a great deal of thought to what I was doing.”
So said Graham Thorpe of his test best innings. In his autobiography it is clear this innings was played in a mental fog. Having left the tour of India to sort out personal issues, he came back into the team against New Zealand in a “bad place”.
“I just went for everything pitched outside off stump.”
Thorpe credits this innings in part to batting with Freddie, who made his first test hundred. There’s a bit of a pattern here with players making first, or very important hundreds, with Thorpe riding shotgun.
The parts of his autobiography relating to this innings are stark.
“A cold shiver went through me when I reached my hundred. I felt proud that I’d managed to score a century again for England, but still didn’t want to take my helmet off to acknowledge the crowd. It was strange, but I didn’t want people to see my face. I felt as though I’d shown people I was trying to climb back up again, but I knew I still didn’t have a grip on things. That innings was pure escapism, and one of the reasons things went so well was that I didn’t want it to end. Being out in the middle, batting, was so much better than sitting in dressing-rooms thinking about my problems.”
If Thorpe was in mental torment, I was sitting there loving every minute of these two thrashing the New Zealanders to all parts. It was terrific fun. Thorpe made one of the fastest doubles ever, but in the fourth innings of the game Nathan Astle went absolutely off on one and again, to a degree, a Thorpe knock was overshadowed.
Thorpe reached his third century in four Tests in New Zealand, from 121 balls. Flintoff, whose previous Test-best was 42, was even quicker, moving to his hundred from 114 balls with a top-edged hook over the keeper’s head. The stand had reached 281, a sixth-wicket record for England, overtaking Peter Parfitt and Barry Knight’s 240, also against New Zealand, at Auckland in 1962-63, when Flintoff picked out deep mid-wicket and departed for 137. Thorpe rattled on to a 231- ball double-hundred, his first in Tests and briefly the third-fastest in Test history, and finished with 28 fours and four sixes in five and a half hours. The ink had barely dried when Astle forced a rewrite.
Enjoy it – especially Thorpe being dropped second ball!
DMITRI IMPACT – I watched all of the partnership between Flintoff and Thorpe. It was exhilarating, thrilling cricket. Great fun and absolutely vital as it turned out. That it came in the midst of Thorpe’s marriage disintegration and personal issues surrounding them probably adds to its lustre. He has the double ton, the only score over 138 he made in tests, and there are a lot England top players not to have one of those. This one was the most fun to watch, no doubt. But not in my top 3.
Now, I’m struggling with this one. I was on cricket tour so I’ll use this as an excuse. Then I looked at the scorecard and I remember one thing about it. The last wicket partnership with Matthew Hoggard of 91. I’ll bet Hoggy will remind Thorpe of that every now and again should their paths cross (checking Hoggy’s autobiography, he barely mentions the innings, but does mention he won the man of the match). Thorpe has more to say in his book.
“…when Hoggy walked out with a bat in his hand not long before lunch the next day, I was still there, on 61, having seen six partners depart.
A lot was in our favour – Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka’s match-winning bowler, was not fully fit – but it was an amazing partnership. So much went as planned. I think Hoggie and I stayed together for 30 overs and we controlled the strike so well that in all but one over I was on strike for the first ball. Not that Hoggie was a mug with the bat; as he was quick to tell everyone, a couple of years after this he almost scored a century for Yorkshire as a night-watchman. His talent was just keeping things simple: blocking, leaving, trying nothing fancy. By the end I was happy to let him face most of the over, and overall I think he took slightly more of the strike than I did during our partnership.”
England were well on top in the game so this wasn’t a match-defining partnership, but it had a nice little effect obf showing England could nail down teams when they got on top.
Cricinfo’s report (Ralph Dellor) pays the partnership, and Thorpe, due credit.
Thorpe was on 61 as Hoggard made his way to the middle with his sailor’s gait for what was presumed to be a brief appearance. It was anything but. Hoggard faced 94 of the 185 balls bowled at the pair and his contribution could not be measured simply in terms of the 17 runs he scored as he helped Thorpe through to his hundred and broke Sri Lankan hearts.
Thorpe played an outstanding innings. He worked the ball into gaps or stroked it through them, seldom looking in any trouble at all. Once he had passed three figures, he batted with an understandable freedom as the tourists were forced to toil despondently under the hot sun. He was only out when he uppercut a short ball from Charitha Buddika outside off stump to be caught on the third man boundary.
Thorpe’s 123 was his highest score against Sri Lanka, as was England’s total of 545. The tenth wicket partnership of 91 with Hoggard was the highest for England against Sri Lanka. There is nothing more frustrating than a partnership like this for the fielding side and, by the end of it, the tourists looked anything but a well-drilled unit.
While Wisden had this to say:
Thorpe, with 5,000 Test runs under his belt, interpreted Hoggard’s arrival as a sign of impending doom, and turned down countless singles rather than risk losing strike. Two hours later, it was Hoggard, batting out of his skin, who ran out of partners. On his way to a highest Test score, he helped steer England past 500 for the second consecutive innings and saw Thorpe from 61 to a canny century. Together, they put on 91 (a tenth-wicket record between these sides) and it was Hoggard who faced more balls. Murali, whose mollycoddling restricted him to a mere 64 overs, took five wickets, yet he struggled against England’s troika of left-handers; between them, they made three-quarters of the runs from the bat.
After this Thorpe played the final test against Sri Lanka and a test against India and then left the scene, life in a mess, head not in the game. Many thought after he made himself unavailable for the Ashes tour having been named in the squad. There were many who said he could never be picked again. He was, and in doing so, I had one of the greatest days of my cricket life ahead of me….
No video footage I can find of this innings on line. Any help, greatly appreciated.
DMITRI IMPACT – One of the pleasures of writing this is remembering some of the innings he played that weren’t obvious and this was one. That there is more about this knock than his 138 at Edgbaston against Australia speaks volumes. I really don’t remember a lot about it!
Test Century #12 – 124 v South Africa at The Oval – September 2003
“…..and the crowd rightly stood to salute him in a spine-tingling ovation that lasted for the best part of a minute.” Andrew Miller
You bet they did.
Whenever anyone tells me that the best atmosphere in cricket is reserved for Northern grounds, I say that you should have been at The Oval that day in 2003. It was absolutely amazing. The test had got off to a rip-roaring start, with an immense knock by Herschelle Gibbs, who must have been kicking himself for getting out on 183 just before the close on Day 1. Day 2 was a flexing of muscles day, with England dragging the South Africans back to a total of 484, and then starting out with some trepidation in making inroads into the total. Remember, we were 2-1 down at the time in this series.
This was a proper redemption. Thorpe knew he was batting for his test life. There was a busy winter ahead – Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies – and he was returning to the team to replace Nasser Hussain, who was injured. He had a rival for a batting spot for the winter tours… Ed Smith. Yes. Ed Smith. If this century wasn’t great enough….
Thorpe got the recall and made his feelings clear…
“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.”
“It’s going to be tough. It’s not as though 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 press officers make even a “YES! I’m back” story sound like someone reading the crop reports. His take on the recall in the book is amusing…
He came out to bat on the second evening, with England 78 for 2. He joined Marcus Trescothick at the crease and they started the partnership that would bring the home side back into the match. This was the first Saturday ticket I had purchased a long while in advance (I got one for West Indies 2000 when there was one going spare) and I was committed to this rather than Millwall’s trip to Gillingham (we lost 4-3). What a top decision.
I can tell you when Thorpe came out to bat, my heart was thumping. I have never, ever, wanted a player to do well as much as that. I wanted him to come back and score runs. I wanted our Thorpey back. The passage in his book does it some justice.
“…But then came a surprise. The crowd had realized (ouch, US Spelling in a UK book) I was next man in and gave me an incredible reception that gave me goose bumps. I had never walked out to a reaction like it before, or since, and I was at once overcome with a feeling of pride at having made it back to the England team. The crowd clearly felt for me after all that had happened. To feel their sympathy and support was very special, But it had taken me by surprise and briefly knocked me off my guard. ‘Shit. I’d better not get out first ball after that'”
There’s a brilliant passage in the book about this innings, probably the most uplifting part of a pretty gritty read at times. Being there was an absolute joy as he got back into rhythm, but even when he left the field at the end of Day 2 on 28 not out, I sort of knew he’d make a hundred. I don’t know why, but I was really confident he would. You almost felt as though the Oval crowd would will him there. Of course, at the other end, Trescothick was batting like a dream. As you note here, a lot of them did with Thorpe at the other end.
The third day was a lovely, hot, glorious September day. It is, with Lord’s Day 1 in 2005, my favourite day’s test cricket. Trescothick made 219 brilliant runs, Ed Smith played his last test innings, Alec Stewart did too, and my favourite player made his century.
“Running that second run was the most incredible feeling I ever had on a cricket field. The whole innings had been about more than just a cricket match, although in the match itself, the stakes were really high. It felt like I had played out my life through one innings and the reaction of a capacity crowd – my home crowd – told me all I needed to hear. They went mad and, by going mad, told me they were behind me and happy for me. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Maybe I wasn’t such a bad person after all….
In that one moment, as I took off my helmet to acknowledge the applause, I felt fulfilled as a cricketer and a human being. I clawed back so much through one innings. For that reason it overtook anything else I ever did as a sportsman.”
There is a youtube clip of this innings, and I never tire of watching it.
A pity there doesn’t seem to be more on there.
I took some pictures that day but I had a crappy old camera, so you got more fan shots than anything else. It’s sad that I don’t. But I have memories of being there and that ovation. Without wishing to sound overly churlish, it wasn’t rehearsed, it hadn’t been built up by the media, who were sceptical about whether Thorpe could ever be trusted again (see this article by David Hopps, which is very fair, but captures the mood and reflects on some of the stuff we see today, and a Pringle piece too), but a spontaneous outburst of support. It coalesced well – I don’t think anyone thought of Thorpe as a saint, but we recognised a man in personal turmoil, coming out of the gloom, and doing it in style when absolutely given a one shot deal. This was the brilliance of that knock.
And Marcus got a double hundred!
I could write a very long piece on that day, but let’s leave it there for now.
DMITRI IMPACT – I was there. That is all.
“A marvellous, marvellous innings from Graham Thorpe, a masterful innings”
Bob Willis as Thorpe brings up his 100.
It was a Friday night. I was caught in one of those traffic jams that plagued the approach to the Blackwall Tunnel. I had the radio on as wickets fell. England were on the ropes. One man stood up to be counted. One man had the mastery of a tricky looking wicket. If the Oval was celebratory, this was Thorpe’s masterpiece.
I absolutely never tire of watching this knock on youtube. The 23 minute clip is electrifying. Thorpe loses batsmen all the way, but when hooked up with Harmison he gets the England team from a parlous position to one of parity. From 33 for 3 to two runs in front. From despair to hope. Oh yes, this was a classic England hundred.
Steven Lynch says it well in his report on Cricinfo:
Thorpe, though, was simply magnificent, making up for his near-miss 90 in Trinidad in great style. All angles and attitude, he rolled on to 119 not out, dominating an innings in which the next-best score was a paltry 17, by Michael Vaughan. Thorpe punched 13 boundaries, and somehow wrung 71 vital runs from the last two wickets, of which his studious partners contributed seven. Not that Thorpe was complaining: he was just glad they were still there. And the joy that this undemonstrative man exhibited when he reached three figures showed that he knew just how valuable it all was.
Freddie Auld also chimed in on the same site:
Graham Thorpe, with one of his greatest innings, not only kept England in the third Test, but shifted the momentum of the match their way on another absorbing day at Bridgetown. Thorpe scored a magnificent 119 not out, and dug his side out of a big hole to help them to a slender first-innings lead of two.
He used all his street-fighting savvy to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag England past West Indies’ modest 224.
While his team-mates played uncharacteristically sloppy shots, Thorpe was prepared to wait for the bad balls. Placement and timing were the features of his innings, and he collected 13 fours in all, most of them behind square. Just as importantly, though, he hung in there for over five hours. At tea, England were tottering at 162 for 8, and Michael Vaughan would probably have settled for somewhere around 200. However, Thorpe slowly changed the whole mood of the game. He added 32 with a watchful Simon Jones, and then an even more priceless 39 with Stephen Harmison for the last wicket.
In that time, he notched up his richly deserved century – England’s first of the series, but his 13th overall, in his 86th Test – by stepping down the track and crunching Fidel Edwards on the up past mid-on and to the rope. Thorpe punched the air in delight, and received rapturous applause from all quarters of the Kensington Oval. The adoring Barmy Army, along with the England balcony, appreciated just what a critical knock it was.
I’ve just watched the Youtube clip again, and when he gets through to that hundred, the sheer noise is incredible. I doubt we’ll ever see the like again in Barbados. This hundred captured the mood of the 2005 team, even if Thorpe never went through with it to the end. They scrapped, they fought and they bowled teams out. If they needed the calm head under crisis situations, there was Thorpe.
Thorpe says in his book that this wasn’t the best hundred of his career, but the one at The Oval was. I think that I might argue with that. The one at The Oval was a great moment, a personal triumph, one might say a redemption. It was a crucial knock, but others made runs there. In Bridgetown without him we were dead. Without him the momentum may have been lost. This was a match-winning hundred.
Matthew Engel in Wisden commented:
Thorpe, so often the linchpin of the England middle order, produced an innings of outstanding determination and quality. He held firm in defence and, when the bowlers dropped short, unleashed a series of high-class shots square of the wicket, receiving just enough help from the tail to reach his own century moments after the new ball was taken at 189 for nine. The last man Harmison stayed with him to add 39, which inched England into a psychologically vital two-run lead. Thorpe also had help from a most unexpected quarter: the opposing captain. For 11 overs after lunch, Lara insisted on bowling Gayle’s innocuous off-spin, even though he had four fast bowlers champing at the bit. It gave England important breathing space, though occasionally the batsmen must have been distracted by wondering what on earth Lara was playing at.
The video of this innings is here:
DMITRI IMPACT – My favourite hundred in his career. While it was brilliant to be at The Oval, this one had me transfixed on my screen and cheering the man when he got through. I mean proper cheering. The following day Matthew Hoggard took a hat-trick but if you ask me about Barbados 2004, it’s Thorpe. Every time.
England won seven test in a summer, won 10 out of 11 test matches from March to September, and yet that awesome record depended on Thorpe bailing us out twice. The Bridgetown brilliance, and then this magnificent hundred to see England to a very tricky target at Trent Bridge to clinch the series 3-0.
By now Thorpe had established his role in the team. The elder statesman after Nasser’s retirement at Lord’s. The old head on which the younger players, gaining experience and time together, could rely upon. He’d not done badly since the Bridgetown tour de force, but he hadn’t been needed to. Others took the plaudits, including Strauss and Nasser. However, Trent Bridge was a fiddly one. New Zealand had made a great start, passing 200 for the loss of 1. Their score of 384 let England in, but England conceded a lead of 65. New Zealand then put on 94 for the first wicket and the game looked to be slipping away. England fought back. They bowled New Zealand out for 218. 284 was the target. It never looked easy…
One wicket down on 12. Two down on 16. The task looked a tough one. The third went down on 46, as Vaughan went. There weren’t many players left to rely upon. In marched Thorpe. Butcher stayed with him, made 59, but went with the score on 134. Still 150 to get, and now it was Freddie, Geraint and the tail to come. But with Thorpe there, you felt there was still a decent chance. Flintoff went for 5, and it was 162 for 5. Jones made 27, and got us to within 70, but still, the game was in the balance.
Not for the last time Ashley Giles became a pillar. Thorpe had a partner he could trust, and they took England home. Just before the target was reached, Thorpe reached his 14th test ton. He’d seen England to a series whitewash. He’d been the rock again.
Freddie Auld, on cricinfo, captured the innings:
Thorpe was at his absolute best, punching a host of coverand square-drives in his 13 fours, while staying compact and calm at the crease. He got going by guiding James Franklin through the covers twice in successive balls, and was initially happy to play the supporting role to Butcher. But as others fell around him, Thorpe grew in stature and took the game by the scruff of the neck. He went past his 6000th Test run by creaming Cairns through the covers, and notched up his half-century by steering Scott Styris in between slip and gully for four.
Thorpe just kept on going. He hauled England’s target below the 100 mark by guiding Jacob Oram through third man with a typically precise shot, and later reached a deserved hundred by flicking Oram through point shortly before the end. Just like his century in Barbados in April, it was one of the most important of his sparkling career.
Richard Hobson was more interested in Ashley Giles in the Wisden Almanack:
Thorpe pipped him (Cairns) for the match award, but those who appreciate tales of the human spirit would have overlooked both. David Hopps’s comparison of Ashley Giles to a wheelie bin, popularised via the radio by Henry Blofeld, had captured a general disregard for the slow left-armer, a decent sort who had considered giving up in the face of criticism. Now, the bin wheeled back, removing two of New Zealand’s top three in the first innings, producing a peach of a ball to account for Cairns in the second, and then joining Thorpe for a match-winning partnership of 70 in 14 overs.
Hobson waasn’t as enraptured as Freddie Auld, obviously!
I haven’t found a video clip of this yet.
DMITRI IMPACT – Yep, I saw all this. It was played on a Sunday and while Thorpe was going strong you felt we were in with a shout. Jones played a real decent hand after Freddie was out, and Giles was the consumate pro. But this was a Thorpe knock. A real good Thorpe knock.
The sixth of the seven test matches in the clean sweep summer of 2004 was a bit of a dull weather affair, but an excellent cricket match. West Indies made 395, and England were only in the match, again, because of Graham Thorpe’s first innings hundred, and a valuable 90 by impressive newcomer Andrew Strauss.
Of course, this was the hundred that Thorpe completed with a broken little finger. His absence in the following test as a result brought a new man to the crease for England, and ultimately, the man who played a large part in Thorpe’s premature omission, Ian Bell.
Once again Thorpe was indebted to Hoggard for a late order partnership to get him through to a century:
That gave West Indies what Fletcher later called a “window of opportunity”; stronger opponents might have climbed through and stolen the game. As it was, England, and Thorpe in particular, banged it shut. He and Strauss, his equal in technique and temperament, calmly added 177, though Bravo removed Strauss and Flintoff before the close. Thorpe had already had a huge let-off: on 58, he lobbed a catch to Sarwan at point, who handled it like soap in a bath.
The match pivoted round that miss. Thorpe reached 114, despite a 93.7mph Edwards thunderbolt which broke his hand on 91. His innings was exactly what England needed. The pitch was grudging, the bowling straight – and in the case of the slingy Edwards terrifying. But somehow they weathered his brutal six-over morning spell, and Trescothick remained Edwards’s only victim; some of his missing luck lighted on Bravo, who took six for 55 with his medium-fast swingers. The night-watchman, Hoggard, supported Thorpe for 17 of the 22 overs bowled before lunch, a rate that later cost the West Indians 20% of their fee and Lara 40%. The innings included 18 wides, a Test record.
I saw a bit of this, probably the Saturday morning before I went off to watch my football team, but this wasn’t one that lingered long in my memory.
I don’t have video coverage of this one, either….
DMITRI IMPACT – A very good hundred, with a broken finger, but always going to pale in comparison with the previous two. It merely reinforced his huge value to Michael Vaughan’s team, more of which I will go into later….
Dmitri was an excited old bunny at this stage. I’d gone into the office as England were pulling themselves out of a mighty old hole. We’d won 8 on the bounce, 11 out of 12 (Lara’s 400 the only blemish) and now they were trying to perform the most amazing one yet! Having been skittled out on a traditionally helpful early surface at Kingsmead for 143, they fought back but couldn’t get rid of Kallis. South Africa went from 118 for 6 to 332 all out, as Jacques had a tremendous knock of 162. He opened up and showed what a destructive player he could be as he was running out of partners. South Africa had a lead of 193.
They would be 80 behind before they took another England wicket. Trescothick went for 132, and followed 20 runs on by Andrew Strauss for 136. Butcher and Vaughan did not last long, so suddenly, only 120 or so in front, Thorpe found he had some pressure on him. No change there! A 114 run partnership with Freddie, then 132 with Geraint Jones and England were in a position to win the match. Those two partnerships were collated while I was signing off work for a fortnight, packing my bags, getting ready to get on an aeroplane to Cape Town for the 3rd Test (where the pic at the top of this whole piece was taken).
In his book, Thorpe said he never got to grip with his game, and actually found the spin of Graeme Smith incredibly frustrating. But he ground out runs. He does have something to say about this 118
I reckon that, given how I felt beforehand, the match situation and the heat and humidity, that innings was among the best I ever played for England. I simply fought so hard. I certainly left the ground that night quite wondering how I’d managed to summon up such a performance.
Here’s Jenny Thompson on Cricinfo:
But this day was Thorpe’s: he played just the kind of aggressive, focussed innings that was needed as England marched to a commanding lead after an early-morning wobble in which they lost three wickets for 33. He steadied the ship with Flintoff – they added 114 – then hit full throttle as Jones joined him for an entertaining stand of 132.
Thorpe played in positive fashion throughout, punching a bevy of boundaries, and was generally in the mood to take the attack to the bowlers. He and Flintoff brought up their fifty partnership just before lunch. And they strode on undeterred for the first part of the middle session, as Smith mixed up his bowlers. Makhaya Ntini did his best to ruffle Flintoff’s feathers, extracting some life from a flat surface and a softening ball. Flintoff played and missed more than once, but responded in true Freddie fashion, taking England to 400 with a leg-side four, then adding a meaty pulled six. He did the same in Ntini’s next over, cracking a cover drive to bring up his half-century, then easily clearing Hashim Amla on the leg-side boundary.
He seemed to have timed his gear-change perfectly, each boundary despatched with consummate timing, but then, after a patient innings, he was deceived by a quicker ball from Smith, which he edged to AB de Villiers. It was just reward for Smith, whose part-time offspin had initially troubled Thorpe as well, as he had done at Port Elizabeth. But one aggressive strokemaker was replaced by … another aggressive strokemaker, as Jones – spurred on by Thorpe – went on the offensive from the start, smacking boundary after boundary. He brought up his half-century from 71 balls, just before Thorpe reached his 16th Test hundred. Jones added two hooked sixes off Dale Steyn, which sailed over the despairing Amla, before he finally fell to the perspiring Nicky Boje.
Thorpe and Jones took advantage of some tired bowling late on, from Shaun Pollock – who was slapped for three successive fours – and the hapless Steyn in particular. Steyn repeatedly found Jones’s edge, but could only watch, frustrated, as more than once the ball flew behind the keeper to the boundary, where Jacques Kallis was eventually employed in the unusual position of long-stop. But Boje’s battered figures of none for 154 from 43 overs of left-arm spin were made marginally more respectable as Jones holed out to long-on for 73. Steyn got a consolation wicket, too, as Ashley Giles edged to de Villiers without scoring.
This was Thorpe’s last test century and it was a fitting one to sign off. It pulled England out of some trouble, then built them into a position of strength. He worked well with the lower order. He was reliable. He was nuggety.
Thorpe didn’t make many in Cape Town, and I didn’t see him bat at Johannesburg, and then my last viewing was of him against Sussex in a County Championship game. Then he was gone.
Lawrence Booth captured the mood…
Yet still the game remained up for grabs. England began the fourth day with a lead of just 88, lost three wickets for 33, and could easily have folded. But this just set up the sort of mini-crisis that Thorpe relishes. With the help of a commendably restrained Flintoff and Geraint Jones, he chipped and chivvied South Africa out of the game. And this time there would be no coming back. When Flintoff fell for 60, snicking a long-hop from Smith, Jones took over, carving an impish 73. Thorpe’s 16th Test hundred, after scraping just one run in the first innings, typified England’s topsy-turvy batting: 570 for seven was their third-highest second-innings total.
Here’s a short clip of that century….
DMITRI IMPACT – A fitting farewell to the century column. A gutsy knock, a vital knock, a knock that nearly helped us win the game. He’s part of the 2004 invincibles, a truly world class team. A team to be really proud of. Thanks, Graham.
9000+ words on Graham Thorpe’s test hundreds. 16 of them. The best in terms of runs, 200 not out. My favourite being the 119 not out at Bridgetown. The most momentous, arguably his 124 at The Oval against South Africa. If you’ve ploughed through this incredbily long post let me know what you think. What was your favourite? What memories do you have of this terrific player? What was his most unsung knock?
This was compiled using Thorpe’s autobiography “Rising From The Ashes” written with Simon Wilde. Also copious usage of Cricinfo and Wisden. And the clips seem to come mainly from the brilliant Rob Moody. We owe that man a huge debt of gratitude. I reviewed the book here
I also wrote a piece, back in 2011, that you might appreciate. I’ll link it here, and copy it to The Extra Bits.
Let me know what you think of this sort of longform piece. Do you like them? Do you want more of them?
If there are any more nuggets to add, I’ll do so. If you find any, please let me know. This has been great fun, and hard work, putting it together. Hope it’s worth it.