Thorpe urges England to show intent
Graham Thorpe believes a positive approach will be key if England’s batsmen are to prosper in Sri Lanka.
Renowned as an accomplished player of spin throughout his distinguished 100-Test career, Thorpe enjoyed success on two tours of the south-Asian island, averaging 45 in six matches and playing an integral role as the tourists came from behind to secure a memorable 2-1 series win in 2001.
The left-hander is well qualified, therefore, to assess what it takes to score runs on Sri Lankan soil and feels it is imperative England do not allow themselves to get bogged down when their two-Test rubber begins on Monday.
"It’s something which will often be spoken about in team meetings,” Thorpe told ecb.co.uk. “When you’re playing against good spinners, if they get a hold of you and you are not able to get off strike against them, it can be tough.
“Generally it means it’s hard to get them away, they’re bowling well at you and you are not finding enough options in your scoring strokes. It’s a very big thing and a big part of building partnerships if people are able to rotate the strike. Bowlers like getting batsmen down at one end for a long period of time.
“A first day pitch in Sri Lanka is a decent pitch to bat on, but as the games go on they generally start to turn more and more. It requires you to be able to adapt.
“The fundamental thing is being able to score at 360 degrees - all around the wicket, being able to have a game down the ground and also being capable of using your feet if needs be. Also, being able to rotate the strike and being able to sweep when the time comes as well.”
It is 11 years since Thorpe produced a masterful performance to help England to an historic series-clinching four-wicket victory in Colombo.
Written off by many after losing the first Test of the three-match rubber, Nasser Hussain’s side battled back with a shock victory at Kandy before Thorpe took centre stage.
It was his defiant unbeaten 113, an innings that spanned five-and-a-half hours, that ensured England eked out a lead of eight.
After Sri Lanka had spectacularly collapsed to 81 all out on day three, Thorpe then guided the wobbling tourists to victory, finishing on 32 not out in a score of 74 for six.
Unsurprisingly, Thorpe ranks his first-innings century, one of 16 he compiled for England, as one of his finest.
“It was in my top three knocks,” he acknowledged. “The temperature we were playing in; there was a lot of Vaseline on the forehead and the eyebrows to deal with the sweat, and the shirts would get wet very quickly. So there were all these things that you had to deal with playing in those humid temperatures.
“Your fitness level had to be very good and it was definitely one of my best knocks. (Muttiah) Muralitharan was a top bowler and the pitch was very much made for them, it was a home pitch.”
The team’s success also represented a high point for Thorpe, who added: “It was one of the most rewarding victories I’ve played in. Anytime a team from outside the sub-continent, be it South Africa, Australia, England or whoever, wins on the sub-continent it’s a big achievement.
“I do remember when we went down in the first Test that we did have harsh words among ourselves about how we wanted to play. Even if we were going to lose, we at least wanted to lose throwing punches and I think that’s really what happened. Certainly in the second Test match, which we won in Kandy, and the third one, it was a bit of a dogfight.
They actually crumbled, really, in their second innings (at Colombo) when they felt under pressure and sometimes that’s the style of cricket over there. You have to know when to stay in a game and then there are times where it’s a case of taking your opportunities.”
Thorpe is now charged with bringing through the next generation of England batsmen in his role as the ECB’s lead batting coach.
Sri Lanka was one of several sub-continental destinations for the England Performance Programme and Lions squads this winter, and Thorpe feels the players involved will have benefited greatly from their experiences.
“To get out to that part of the world as young players - they will all have learned,” he said. “I was really pleased with the winter.
“To spend three or four months as we did, in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and then the UAE at the end - you learn loads more about players than you may do in other parts of the world, in terms of their ability to actually play the turning ball.
“Even for some players, if it didn’t go as well as they had wanted, they will be well aware of the skills required in that part of the world, and awareness is a massive thing. I think we made some good progress.”