SPORT

Thorpe, Trescothick lead England fightback

LONDON Sept. 6. Graham Thorpe marked his return to the England side with a century on his home ground the Oval today, Marcus Trescothick made his first Test hundred for a year and England established a python's grip on the final Test against South Africa as the pair took their third wicket stand to 268.

England must win to draw the series 2-2; but there is a rattlesnake's bite to this tale.

If the weather forecasters are right it will rain for the next two days.

Thorpe, who has had more than his share of troubles in the last five years, barely put a foot wrong.

His 12th Test hundred came off 244 balls with 17 fours in five hours and a quarter as he demonstrated just why the South Africans have spent four Tests celebrating his absence.

He was badly hit in the lower body just before his century but it would have taken major surgery to lure him away from the crease at that point.

His century is, strange to relate, only the fourth by a Surrey batsman at this ground, since the Second World War.

Ken Barrington (1967) and John Edrich (1968) of course; none from Peter May nor Alec Stewart but in 2001 Mark Ramprakash hit one in his first season at Surrey.

Thorpe, the match-winner in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the best spell by an England side in recent years was there to stay and this time neither family problems nor injury would stop him.

When he was out he received the biggest of all standing ovations as he almost stumbled under a barrage of back-clapping on his way up the stairs to the dressing room.

No wonder. He had established his second career. Heaven knows England needs him, just as it continues to need Nasser Hussain.

Trescothick, who towers above Thorpe so that he has to stoop when their success is great enough for them to congratulate one another with an embrace, was by far the junior partner.

He scored only 40 runs in the morning and there were times when it looked as if those stuttering feet might lose their way; but the old straight drive was played without a flourish, the characteristic which built his reputation when he started.

Trescothick signalled the return of his self belief by bashing the ball firm-footed over deep wide mid-wicket and standing still, knowing that a four was certain the moment the ball left his bat.

Thorpe began to manoeuvre the ball at will, his bat not so much an extension of his arm as an independent force, capable of directing the ball unaided. Everything went according to the plan England had drawn up before the day began.

It had 165 for two overnight and for 30 overs before lunch Thorpe, who had more of the strike, and Trescothick, who concentrated on defence anyway, added 106 runs and played only two false shots in the two hours.

Soon after lunch the partnership that began when Mark Butcher was out in the 20th over with 78 on the board had added 200; still not a chance nor a suggestion of a wicket.

The South African attack began to look downhearted; the cheers from his Surrey support for every Thorpe run became louder.

When he was bowled, for 124, off his pads by Jacques Kallis, once again the best of the South African bowlers on a flat pitch with all the odds stacked against them, the cheers were not only loud but you could hear individual shouts of "Good old Thorpy, go my son" and similar English sporting cries.

The newcomer Ed Smith, who had been sitting on the balcony all day and must have been vulnerable to a first ball duck, had time to hit a four, make himself at home around the crease before the rain came.

Those forecasters called it a "sudden shower" and it wasted no time but simply brought tea forward. Soon afterwards England was 361 for three — 123 behind.

Forty-three overs later we were wandering out of the ground, slightly dazed that England had been so successful for so long.

It is not a feeling that comes to an England fan very often and for once it was possible to celebrate without inhibition or fear for the future.

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