I make every attempt to shoehorn as many Graham Thorpe pictures on to my Twitter page as I can, usually with words to the effect, “My favourite ever batsman/best English batsman of his generation etc” to which I’m always delighted to see in the replies countless people completely agreeing with my statement.
Sometimes I feel he’s something of a forgotten man, especially to non-cricket lovers. 100 Tests is a phenomenal achievement but he seems to quite often go under the radar.
During his 12-year Test career that began with his glorious century on Ashes debut at Trent Bridge in 1993 right through to his swansong against Bangladesh in 2005 when he made a fifty, no other Englishman scored more runs. Yet simple stats and figures tell only half the story. Invariably Thorpe would come to the crease with England 2 early wickets down and in trouble. He would nick and nurdle his way to a quick 20-30 before you had even noticed and the pressure on his team was alleviated.
That rare commodity, versatility and adaptability were watchwords for “the Surrey left-hander”, equally adept against Murali in Colombo or McGrath at the WACA, he was a master of all conditions and all types of bowling. Thorpe made at least one Test century in every country he played Tests in with the exception of India (played 1 Test, HS 62) and Bangladesh (2 Tests, 2 fifties). His game and style were easily changed to suit the situation.
Early in his career Thorpe was criticised for his conversion rate, a frustrating habit of getting out between 50 and 100 was seen as some sort of mental weakness. Given the standard of bowling in Thorpe’s playing days merely getting to those scores in the first place was an achievement! Has there ever been an era of better bowlers for an Englishman to face? Warne, McGrath, Ambrose, Walsh, Muralitharan, Pollock, Donald, Kumble, Waqar and Wasim are ten names that would be near the top of anyone’s all-time best bowlers.
Whilst Robin Smith struggled with spin and the more flamboyant and dare I say it more naturally talented Hick and Ramprakash struggled massively on the international stage Thorpe became a fixture in England’s middle order. The glue that held the innings together. So many of his great innings spring to mind, it’s somewhat ironic that his highest Test score, 200* vs New Zealand (at the time the 3rd fastest Test double century) was then overshadowed by Nathan Astle scoring 222 off just 168 balls in response! His century in Lahore, 2000 when he struck only two fours, his bravery in the dark in Karachi guiding England home and his 124 on his England comeback vs South Africa in 2003 – all sparkling knocks. He was an expert at batting with the tail also, trusting in them but his expert manipulation of the strike was never more evident than in his 123 vs Sri Lanka at Edgbaston in 2002. When Hoggard came to the crease England were 9 down and Thorpe on 61 had seen six partners disappear, 30 overs later and a record 10th wicket partnership vs Sri Lanka secured, Thorpe had another Test ton.
There was of course, as with any long career, some controversy along the way, personal problems also played their part in Thorpe missing some tours. But there was plenty of fun, The Sir Geoffrey Boycott bowling impression and the Courtney Walsh slower ball in 2000, the less said about that the better!!
He really was Mr Reliable, a solid fielder and a batsman you would want batting for your life. Disregarded by England all too soon, he could have played an integral part in the 2005 Ashes, which would have provided a fitting epitaph for Thorpe’s career. Finally getting one over on Australia and giving his career neat symmetry.
Follow me on Twitter at: @80s90sCricket