Fairytale day for grown-up favourite son

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The head on Graham Thorpe's shoulders was just fine. This is often not the case. In his last Test at Lord's, against India last summer, he was a shadow of his former self, debilitated by a marital separation.

He quit Test cricket and funked a return against Australia last winter, and he had wondered whether he would be able to wipe out the memory of those innings.

Yesterday his comeback was memorable: 124 out of a partnership of 268 with Marcus Trescothick in front of a home crowd that stood and cheered, out of relief as well as satisfaction. He had overcome his fear of failure. This was the return of the prodigal son. Before this game he had been more nervous than on his debut. On Friday evening he had concentrated on surviving; he was 28 not out overnight but he felt freer yesterday morning. His fifty came at a modest pace - 118 balls with six fours - and it was a pleasure to watch him bat - defence solid, cracking square cuts, playing wonderfully late to the spinner. His running between the wickets is cheeky and combative.

As the morning went by Thorpe became a reassuring presence. His batting looked effortless, his timing was admirable and his economy of effort gratifying. He batted without error until he reached 82 - his highest Test score at The Oval - when he went forward to a wide out-swinger from Jacques Kallis and edged the ball at waist height to second slip. But there was no one at second slip.

While he looks resilient at the crease, experience tells us that his batting reflects an internal dialogue in which strong emotions like anger compete with despair. When his marriage began to crumble while he was touring India two winters ago the evidence that his mind was elsewhere was dropping a straightforward catch in the covers. When he feared that he might be prevented from seeing his children regularly last summer he went to pieces.

This summer he has successfully put the pieces back together again. He had dragged himself off the floor (his phrase) and had begun to enjoy his cricket again.

He has scored runs consistently for Surrey, but he did not win back a Test place. The gossip was that Michael Vaughan did not want a clique of hard-headed veterans in the dressing room. Thorpe plus Hussain and Stewart could be interpreted as a threat. Hussain's broken toe was his readmission ticket.

By the time he was in his nineties yesterday he had justified his recall and, quite probably, guaranteed himself a place on the tour to Sri, Lanka where he excelled in 2001. He swished wildly on 91. On 93 he hobbled a bye, not off his leg but off the tender section between groin and solar plexus. A deliberate edge through third slip brought a single and an equally deliberate steer, though finer, went to the boundary. A neat square cut brought up the hundred. "I felt like I'd climbed a mountain, coming back," he said.

As he completed the second run, Thorpe raised his arms to the Vauxhall stand whose occupants were just as pleased. The hundred had taken 199 balls and 258 minutes, and included 12 fours. It was his 12th Test century, the sixth in his last 30 Test innings out of a total of 140, an indication of how much he has been missed. There were five more boundaries in his next 23 runs, a flurry that briefly took him past Trescothick. "It felt better than a century on debut," he said, and he knows - he made one against Australia.

"I couldn't have written it any better than it turned out." He was out after five hours and 17 minutes during which he had faced 244 balls. He played back to a ball only slightly short of a length from Kallis which nipped back sharply on to his pad. Had the pad stopped the ball he would not have been lbw, but the ball glanced off the pad on to the off stump.

When it was over, Thorpe said: "There were times when I questioned whether I wanted to play at this level again. Was it worth it? I decided it was." No one at The Oval would argue with that.

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