Thorpe calls on England to 'dig deep'

Graham Thorpe will be advising England's players not to panic in the build-up to Friday's first Test against South Africa. The veteran of 93 Test matches will attempt to encourage Michael Vaughan's squad to forget the poor performance in Potchefstroom - where they tumbled to a seven-wicket defeat to South Africa A - and their lack of match practice. Thorpe wants his team-mates to relax and remember the success they have had in the last 12 months.

Graham Thorpe will be advising England's players not to panic in the build-up to Friday's first Test against South Africa. The veteran of 93 Test matches will attempt to encourage Michael Vaughan's squad to forget the poor performance in Potchefstroom - where they tumbled to a seven-wicket defeat to South Africa A - and their lack of match practice. Thorpe wants his team-mates to relax and remember the success they have had in the last 12 months.

"Somebody like me needs to tell the boys not to fret too much, and to focus on the good things they have done," Thorpe said. "The key is not to panic, to try and get the right balance between enjoyment and wanting to win the game. That is the key to me. You have to develop a state of mind where you go out and enjoy the match.

"You must look forward to going into the game and facing the challenges which come your way. It is not always a bed of roses out there, and you are not always going to cream it around. A few of us would liked to have spent more time at the crease but the fact is we haven't. Ideally I would have left 50-60 balls, tucked a few off my legs and hit a few cover drives. Then it would be hunky-dory."

Much has been made of England's rustiness and their lack of competitive cricket in the build up to this Test series. And quite rightly so. Even Australia's players would need more than one three-day match to adapt to unfamiliar conditions having had a two-month break, and England are hoping, rather than knowing, things will work out well here on Friday morning.

Thorpe also questioned the tour itinerary. "You cannot just switch on and off," the 35-year-old said. "When you haven't played a competitive match for between two and two-and-a-half months it takes time for your mind to get its sharpness back.

"You can have indoor nets and you can do your gym work, but nothing prepares you for standing on a cricket field, bending down, picking up balls and getting into the nets on a regular basis. At the moment we are a fraction short of where we want to be. But you can't feel sorry for yourself and over the next two days we are going to have to dig deep into the memory bank and work pretty hard."

South Africa will have taken encouragement from England's dreadful display on the high veldt but they themselves have a few problems to sort out before Friday.

The Proteas' major concern is Nicky Boje, their left-arm spinner. St George's Park is traditionally a ground which assists spinners yet Boje is still recovering from an operation that removed a cancerous growth from his thyroid gland.

The 31-year-old is undergoing a course of chemotherapy and his chances of playing in the first Test are slim. Boje missed South Africa's recent tour of India because of fears of being detained by police after his alleged involvement with Hansie Cronje and match-fixing. And while South Africa were in Asia he went for a routine X-ray on a shoulder complaint; it was from this that the growth was identified.

"Nicky's heart rate is still very high and he gets tired quite quickly," said Shane Jabaar, the team physiotherapist. "We are taking it day by day but we have to remember Nicky is also suffering a bit from the effects of the medication he's using. We are giving him a chance to show he is OK but we're certainly not going to push him."

Boje is not the only member of South Africa's squad to be struggling with illness. Graeme Smith, the team's captain, Andrew Hall and Zander de Bruyn are all suffering with stomach ailments, which are thought to have been brought back from India. Boeta Dippenaar has food poisoning and Thami Tsolekile, the wicketkeeper, has tonsillitis.

Jacques Kallis is also struggling with an ankle complaint. The all-rounder had a cortisone injection this week but he is unlikely to bowl in Port Elizabeth.

This did not stop Ray Jennings, South Africa's controversial coach, putting his squad through their paces during a training camp in Pretoria. Jennings' position with Cricket South Africa is only temporary and his attempts to toughen up cricketers in his squads have brought ridicule. On the recent tour of India he told the bowlers that they would have to run a lap around the ground for every 0.1 of a run they conceded over an average of 2.6 runs per over.

Before this, on a South Africa A tour of Zimbabwe, he removed the fridge containing isotonic drinks from the dressing room and told the players to drink warm tap water if they were thirsty.

But his latest idea is quite a smart one. During South Africa's training camp Jennings invited Wesley Whitehouse - the former Junior Wimbledon champion - and J B van Rensberg, another promising young tennis player, to join his squad and serve tennis balls at their batsmen.

The fastest bowlers in the world bowl at around 90-95mph while tennis players serve at about 120-130 mph. The aim of this is to help prepare them for the aggressive, bouncy bowling of Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff. "I think it is something different for the players," said Jennings. "They have to get used to the bounce and it is sure to help them with their reflexes and hand and eye co-ordination."

Following England's ineffective bowling display over the weekend Jennings may have been better off making his batsmen face beach balls.

* Leicestershire have added the South African batsman Hylton Ackerman to their staff for the 2005 season. The 31-year-old joins on a three-year contract.

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