Thorpe century revives England as West Indies show signs of fight

West Indies 224 & 21-1 England 226
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The Independent Online

Graham Thorpe has played many valuable innings for England during his 87 Test career but few can have given him as much pleasure as the brilliant unbeaten century he scored yesterday at the Kensington Oval. Thorpe's hundred, which took 181 balls to accumulate and contained 11 boundaries was his 13th for England.

The huge contribution of the left hander was crucial for Michael Vaughan's side, who, for the majority of the second day, seemed intent on throwing away the advantage they had gained during the first two Test matches. The bowling of the West Indies demanded a great deal of respect, but England helped the cause of their opponents with some pretty ordinary batting.

However, through the excellence of Thorpe and the late wicket of Chris Gayle, who was bowled playing a reckless drive at Stephen Harmison, England have moved into a position of parity. When bad light stopped play the West Indies were on 21-1 and only 19 runs ahead of England.

Thorpe received little support from England's top-order during his innings of 119. The next highest contribution from a team-mate was 17, and it was their reckless batting which had left him 34 runs short of three figures when the tourists lost their eighth wicket.

But in Simon Jones and Stephen Harmison he found two obdurate tail-enders who stood firm. The pair frustrated tiring bowlers and allowed Thorpe to move to his century. Together the trio put on 71 valuable runs.

Thorpe has never been a powerful stroke player ­ his innings are built on skillful judgement, crisp stroke-play and the ability to work the ball around and this performance contained all these trademarks.

Thorpe had taken few risks before Jones was caught by Ramnaresh Sarwan at short-leg but the arrival of the lanky and limited Harmison changed his approach. Thorpe still needed 10 runs for his century.

Thorpe moved to 92 before the second new ball was taken. The first ball with it was a bouncer from Fidel Edwards and Thorpe pulled it for four. He blocked the next delivery but against the third he danced down the wicket and drove the fast-bowler through mid-off for four. It was a magnificent way to reach a hundred and he received a standing ovation from the huge English contingent in another full-house.

England's resistance ended when Harmison was bowled by Pedro Collins but the pair had given their side a two run lead.

This period of play spoilt what had been a good day for the West Indies. Before this late onslaught the bowling had been disciplined and England had struggled. Edwards was the main reason for England's problems early in the day and he and Corey Collymore shared three wickets in the morning session.

Mark Butcher was the first to fall. The Surrey opener had watched Michael Vaughan receive a life in the previous over, when Sarwan dropped a simple chance at second slip, but this failed to stop him flaying at a ball from Edwards he should have left alone. The edge flew high to Chris Gayle at first slip and the Jamaican took a good catch in front of his face.

Edwards is developing as a bowler with every game he plays. A low slingy action, and a desire to bowl wicket-taking deliveries, will make him expensive at times but the cricket is never going to be dull when he has a ball in his hand.

Edwards missed the Trinidad Test because of the back injury he picked up in Jamaica but yesterday showed no discomfort as he raced in from the Joel Garner End. The 21 year-old's pace, along with that of Best, troubled both Vaughan and Nasser Hussain.

Express bowlers make batsmen play a different game to that they originally intended. The speed at which the ball comes down gives them little time to think and stroke-play becomes instinctive. However there is one shot which is premeditated ­ the hook.

There has been plenty of talk about England's batsmen hooking on this tour and it is a stroke they have had plenty of opportunities to play. Several have perished playing this shot but on each occasion the England captain has defended him stating that it is up to the individual to decide. Yesterday, however, it led to his downfall.

Following the dismissal of Butcher, Edwards turned up the heat and this affected Vaughan's stroke-play. The ball that sent him back to the dressing room bounced more than he expected but it was too full to pull and took the top edge of his bat. Ridley Jacobs took a simple catch above his head and England were 33-3.

Hussain tried to get England's innings moving but once again struggled to time the ball or find gaps in the field. Hussain is a magnificent fighter but this type of attritional innings is becoming the norm for the former England captain.

The plan of the West Indies bowlers appears to be to bowl full and straight at Hussain and it was this type of delivery which skidded through his defence and knocked back his leg stump.

Andrew Flintoff and Thorpe survived until lunch but England must have felt their hopes of getting close to the West indies first innings score of 224 rested in the batting of this pair. A partnership failed to materialise when Flintoff, after receiving several fast short deliveries, lobbed a simple catch to extra cover.

Chris Read has plenty to play for at the moment. The Nottinghamshire wicket-keeper has kept superbly on this tour but runs are needed from his bat if he is retain his place in the side. The right-hander appeared to be handling this pressure well and had moved to 13 before he was trapped plum in front by Edwards.

Giles came in and played a few nice shots before succumbing to the left arm swing of Collins and Hoggard soon followed when an in-swinger caught him in front. But it was from this moment that England started to fight their way back into the match.