A tough call, but England must ease Thorpe out

<preform>Bangladesh 108 & 159, England 528-3 dec, England win by an innings and 261 runs</preform>
Click to follow
The Independent Online

England's selectors were entitled to spend the Bank Holiday weekend relaxing in their back gardens on sun-loungers, reflecting on a job well done with some nice cold glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.

Whether Bangladesh should retain their Test status is not an issue for David Graveney, Duncan Fletcher, Rod Marsh and Geoff Miller to worry about. This committee's first responsibility is to English cricket, and it is their job to pick teams that are capable of beating England's opponents. Following the excellent performance at Lord's of Michael Vaughan's side, who defeated Bangladesh on Saturday morning by the huge margin of an innings and 261 runs, it is safe to say that this goal was achieved.

After a victory of this magnitude selecting the side for another match against the same opposition should be a doddle. But on this occasion it is not. Before announcing their squad for the second Test against Bangladesh on Tuesday morning, England's selectors have a great deal to think about.

Graham Thorpe is the reason for their angst. On the eve of the first Test the England batsman effectively announced his intention to retire from Test cricket at the end of this summer's Ashes series. Thorpe had been offered the chance to play and coach for a club side in Sydney when England are scheduled to tour Pakistan and India, and, with an eye on the future, he accepted this exciting proposal.

Nobody can blame the 35-year-old for acting as he has. Playing sport at the highest level is unbelievably rewarding, but it is also precarious and by choosing to travel to Australia, Thorpe is preparing for the next stage of his life.

What the selectors have to gauge is whether it is in the best interest of the team to pick a player who is effectively seeing out time.

There are many who feel the decision is simple, and that Thorpe should make his 100th Test appearance against Bangladesh at Chester-le-Street on Friday. Those lobbying for Thorpe's inclusion also feel that England will need his experience and class when they take on Australia in seven weeks' time.

Yet, I do not concur with this point of view - quite a lot has changed in the past week. Since scoring a hundred against Australia on his Test debut in 1993, Thorpe has been an outstanding cricketer for England. In 99 Test matches the Surrey star has scored more than 6,600 runs at an average of 44, and - with the notable exception of India - has posted two or more centuries against every other major Test-playing nation. These figures place him amongst the greats of English cricket.

But as Bangladesh found out at Lord's, there is no place for sentiment in Test cricket. Thorpe accepted he may have played his last game for England in his Sunday column, yet he went on to stress that his decision would not diminish his commitment to the team's cause.

If only it was that easy to control the way your body works. Thorpe will work as hard as ever at his game, but now that he has publicly admitted his intentions, there is a danger that something inside will subconsciously switch off.

In my view this is one of the principle reasons why England's batsmen struggled for early season form with their counties. Each would have been desperate to perform, mainly to prove a commitment to their team-mates, but deep inside their bodies know that bigger challenges lie ahead. And for Thorpe these start in the winter.

The example of Alec Stewart should also be looked at. During my career I did not play with a more dedicated cricketer than Stewart. The former England all-rounder made the same statements when he announced his intentions prior to England's Test series against South Africa in 2003. In the 20 Test matches Stewart played before making this decision to quit public he scored 1,197 runs at an average of 46. And in the five against South Africa he scored 182 runs at 22.75.

England need look no further than Kevin Pietersen for a replacement. Kent's Robert Key is also in excellent touch but the Hampshire batsman deserves the chance to bat at five.

The decision the selectors make today will have a major bearing on the Ashes this summer. The important question is will they play safe and hope that Thorpe has one more series left in him? Or will they go for a young thruster who is desperate to make a name for himself.