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Only the June weather can delay the inevitable

Ted Corbett

Graham Thorpe to quit at the end of Ashes summer

A TRUE PROFESSIONAL: Despite several ups and downs, Graham Thorpe has managed to keep his focus and will be playing in his 100th Test on Friday. — Photo: AP

CHESTER-le-STREET: On the eve of his 100th Test, Graham Thorpe has admitted that he will retire at the end of this Ashes summer and that he hopes to play in all five Tests against the Australians. If he can stay fit and continue to make runs he will and, like that other recent Surrey hero Alec Stewart, receive a memorable ovation from The Oval crowd as his last innings comes to a close.

When the second Test — and inevitable defeat of Bangladesh — begins on Friday at the Riverside ground, the sell-out crowd will see for the last time his modified swagger, his jutting jaw and his steely eyes, and realise that for 12 years this chunky batsman had provided most of the cement which holds the England middle-order together.

Thorpe's place in English cricket history is difficult to assess. His left-handed stance has always been more accumulative than beautiful, he has never had the rapier strokeplay of David Gower nor, if history books tell the story properly, the power and elegance of Frank Woolley.

He has missed too many matches through injury, personal traumas and a disenchantment with touring; only in the last couple of years has he become a media darling. His shyness, based on his embarrassment about his lisp, means he has not been readily sought out by television.

Yet, Thorpe's workmanlike batting has built an aggregate of 6,678 runs in 178 innings and an average of 44.23 which is, unfortunately, the figure which seems to prompt selectors to think that a batsman's day is done.

He is as tough as his grizzled chin suggests, he will command instant respect from Aussies who have seen him often enough to know he can, with his precise nudges, square-cuts and prodding drives, turn defeat in victory, given half a day to accumulate his runs.

Thorpe has harvested runs where Gower plundered them. You can forget him for half an hour while the chap at the other end plays flamboyant strokes and suddenly discover Thorpe has added another 25 runs.

Thorpe has never disturbed The Oval pigeons with massive drives but I bet that they, like England, will miss him when he goes. That is the sort of unobtrusive chap he is.

He admits now that he ought to have handled the announcement of his new post with New South Wales more sensitively but with David Graveney in charge of the selection process, a way was always going to be found to keep Thorpe in the team.

Graveney, one of the genuinely nice guys around cricket, also celebrates 100 Tests as chairman of the panel when this Test begins; and even though he began his career as a selector never having seen Test cricket live, he has learnt his trade thoroughly and England ought to be grateful.

I had thought to call it the match of the century but that irony might be misunderstood since only the June weather — which has brought a tornado to Cambridgeshire and days of rain to Yorkshire — can delay Bangladesh's demise.

These unprepossessing visitors can do little to stop the England juggernaut. Matthew Hoggard will certainly collect the wicket he needs to reach 150, Andrew Strauss, the left-hander most likely to fill the gap when Thorpe quits, will drive his average from 57.17 nearer to 60 and Geraint Jones will join the immaculate Bob Taylor as the quickest England wicket-keeper to gather 50 victims with one more dismissal. If only Jones were half the 'keeper Taylor was!

The teams:

England (from): Michael Vaughan (capt.), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison and Jon Lewis.

Bangladesh: Habibul Bashar (capt.), Javed Omar, Nafis Iqbal, Aftab Ahmed, Mohammad Ashraful, Mushfiqur Rahim, Khaled Mashud, Mohammad Rafique, Mashrafe Mortaza, Anwar Hossain and Shahadat Hossain.

Umpires: Daryl Harper (Australia) and Tony Hill (New Zealand); TV umpire: Nigel Llong; Match referee: Alan Hurst (Australia).

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