Usually the cricket here is more somnolent than spectacular but the Army's barmy singing and England's positive start to the match kept everyone awake. The third day was about grinding out a lead, and Graham Thorpe typified the approach.
To say his fourth Test century was like watching ice melt would give the wrong impression. But there were essential characteristics in common in that it was an innings stronger on inevitability than aesthetic beauty. This is not the Surrey's batsman's typical suit, which is more sweet 70s and elegant 80s. He may have a higher ratio of innings producing more than 50 runs per innings than any of his colleagues in England's top six, but he has the lowest success rate of turning 50s into 100s. On leaving Zimbabwe it stood at two out of 21, a percentage that has been dramatically increased with his past two innings.
Thorpe spent much of his innings facing Geoff Allott and Daniel Vettori in something of a left-handers' convention. The faster of the two caught Thorpe on the helmet, via a glove, with the first delivery with the new ball while the young spinner earned his respect in an intriguing tussle. Thorpe used his feet to come down the pitch and hit over the top, though ultimately perished trying to do the same against Patel's off-spin.
The hundred, greeted with the first signs of life from the Barmy Army, came with a typical clip through midwicket from Vettori. The celebrations were more reserved than in Auckland. "That one [at Eden Park] was special because I had not been there for so long, 20 Tests or whatever," Thorpe said. "But every time you score a hundred it helps. I don't want to lose the good form I'm in at the moment, but I know how quickly cricket can turn around."
Just think back to Zimbabwe. Thorpe has grafted his way out of that trough in a manner Nick Knight, whose form has made the reverse journey, would do well to observe. Whether Thorpe's five-and-a-half-hour innings can bring the victory that has been so elusive this winter would be in the hands of others.
"We know we have been very close but not quite nailed it and that's why we will be more determined," Thorpe said. "At the same time we mustn't put too much pressure on ourselves. We would love to have got a couple out tonight but it didn't happen. It is still a good wicket but there is a bit there both for the seamers and the spinners, although the wind makes it difficult."
As for the Barmy Army, the same accusations were levelled at them as had been at some of the Kiwi players. There was no statement denying they were outside their hotel late the previous evening or that they were not prepared or focused for the task at hand. Plainly, they were and they were not.Reuse content