Graham Thorpe © Getty Images
Graham Thorpe © Getty Images

Graham Thorpe, born August 1, 1969, was one of England’s most prolific middle-order players who was a figure of success even during the side’s wobbly phase. Karthik Parimal looks back at the highs and lows of this southpaw from Surrey.

He made his debut under Graham Gooch, blossomed when Michael Atherton was at the helm and peaked when Nasser Hussain took over the mantle. Graham Thorpe was an asset to some of England’s finest captains. Flip through the pages of the autobiographies written by these skippers and the verdict is unanimous: Thorpe’s infusion of stability into the English side was unparalleled. England struggled during the late nineties, no doubt, but Thorpe stood tall despite the rubble around him. As was reinstated by several of the English players, his presence was a boon during one of England’s worst phases.

Graham Thorpe was an asset in the England middle-order © Getty Images
Graham Thorpe was an asset in the England middle-order © Getty Images

A debut to remember

To wear the England shirt and flannel for the first time, and that during an Ashes series, would certainly have been a momentous occasion for Thorpe. However, the circumstances under which he was drafted weren’t exactly amiable. Australia won the first Test by 179 runs and the second by an innings and 62 runs. Clearly upset at what had transpired, Gooch made seven changes — bringing in four newcomers — for the third fixture at Trent Bridge. Mark Ilott, Martin McCague, Graham Thorpe and Mark Lathwell replaced Mike Gatting, Graeme Hick, Neil Foster and Chris Lewis. The four debutants were all impressive, but Thorpe edged ahead in the second innings.

After four successive England ‘A’ tours, Thorpe was finally called upon and that relieved him. He grabbed the opportunity like any classy player would. The southpaw could muster just 6 in the first innings, but that was followed by a crafty 114. A 150-run partnership with Gooch ensued and with that England eked out a draw. That knock made Thorpe the first England player since Frank Haynes to score a century on Test debut. A bid was made for a spot in the middle-order which, in due course of time, rightly belonged to him.

Rise in stature

The Ashes concluded, and England toured West Indies in the summer of 1994. At Port of Spain, he scored 86 in the first innings against the might of Curtly Ambrose and the guile of Courtney Walsh. That knock, though, was in a losing cause, for England were gunned down for a paltry 46 in the second innings. At Bridgetown, he scored a brisk 84 and assisted in his side staging a comeback with a 208-run victory. In the same year, he registered scores of 72, 73 and 79 against the touring South Africans before plundering 83 and 123 in Australia in the January of 1995. In just over a year, Thorpe paved his own way to become England’s premier batsman.

That century scripted at Perth, the bowlers’ paradise, propelled him into limelight, but, the next hundred was two years away, although his scores kept frequenting the fifties during that period. He plundered back-to-back tons at Auckland and Wellington before returning to England and belting Australia during the 1997 Ashes.

The series was lost, yet again, but Thorpe was England’s highest run-scorer (and second in the overall list) with 453 runs — inclusive of a century and 3 fifties — at an average of 50.33. The runs kept flowing from Thorpe’s willow for the next couple of years, but he still had his detractors. Apparently, Gatting had once remarked during a selectors’ meet: “Thorpe? What does he bring to the equation? What apart from runs?”

The troublesome back and eventual return

The spot in England’s line-up was for Thorpe to keep, but the left-hander kept representing the ‘A’ side, too, occasionally. By 1999, he had 10 consecutive years of touring, both for the ‘A’ and the national team, under his belt. That instigated an issue with his back. Moreover, Thorpe’s recovery speed was tortoise-like. Nasser Hussain made an apt observation in that Thorpe was one hell of a fighter as a cricketer, and you would always back him to come through in a rough situation, but the one thing he didn’t fight well was an injury. A bad back meant that he was out at least for a month. This issue came to the fore, in a more intense way, during a series against South Africa and then against New Zealand. It was widely believed that Thorpe would soon hang his boots; very few expected him to recover.

On Hussain’s insistence, Thorpe returned to the fray in August 2000, exactly one year after the injury. A couple of scores in the forties against West Indies proved he was still capable of performing on the big stage, but it was the 138 against Pakistan at Old Trafford that announced his second arrival.

The following year in 2001, he smashed an unbeaten 113 and 32 to help England win a Test series in Sri Lanka. Thorpe later admitted that he had never played in such draining conditions. He then slayed New Zealand in 2002 and brought up his double-hundred, his first in Tests and the third-fastest in Test history at the time.

The knock contained 28 hits to the fence and four over it. It was during the same Test that Andrew Flintoff scored his first century. In his autobiography Being Freddie, Flintoff credits Thorpe for the ton, since the latter had consistently helped the young all-rounder during the course of his innings, dishing out advices to him at crucial junctures.

It was a sentiment echoed by many of the English players. They believed Thorpe had the uncanny knack of knowing when a batsman (at the other end) would throw his wicket away and guide them accordingly.

Controversies and marital problems

It was in 2001, when England embarked on a short tour to Zimbabwe, that a few of Thorpe’s team-mates got to know of his marriage problems. Although Thorpe wasn’t the kind to open up to everybody about what he was going through, his mannerisms dropped enough clues. He was, nonetheless, named in the squad for the gruelling tour of India later that year. Upon arrival, though, it became evident to skipper Hussain that the issue was still raging on.

Every night after the game, Thorpe would go back to his room and play on the PlayStation. Then, the next day, he would go about telling his worries to everybody. Before a warm-up match at Jaipur, he decided to head back home. “I went to see Thorpey and he told me he had had a terrible phone call and that he might have to go home because his marriage was falling apart,” recollects Hussain in his autobiography Playing With Fire. Tabloids in England revealed Thorpe’s crumbling marriage. This, understandably, had a devastating effect on the southpaw and he was forced to take an indefinite break from international cricket. He did not play a Test match from July 2002 to September 2003.

Nevertheless, the fighter in him dragged him back to the field and, in his return match against South Africa, he smashed 124. The next one-and-a-half years saw him amass over 1,500 runs at an average of over 55. After he played his 100th Test, he was dropped from the Ashes squad for the 2005 series, which finally led him to retire from the game after 12 years at the fore.

Career statistics:

Format Matches Runs 100s 50s Avge
Tests 100 6744 16 39 44.66
ODI 82 2380 0 21 37.18

Like stated by many of his peers, Thorpe was indeed a fighter who came through to the other side eventually. His career was full of such examples.

In Photos: Graham Thorpe’s cricketing career

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)