Thorpe hits defiant ton to complete whitewash

New Zealand 384 &amp; 218 England 319 &amp; 284-6 <i>England win by four wickets</i>
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The Independent Online

A brilliant century by Graham Thorpe robbed Chris Cairns of the retirement present he was looking for in his final Test match for New Zealand, and took England to their first whitewash in a series of three Tests or more since 1978.

A brilliant century by Graham Thorpe robbed Chris Cairns of the retirement present he was looking for in his final Test match for New Zealand, and took England to their first whitewash in a series of three Tests or more since 1978.

The Surrey left-hander received excellent support from Mark Butcher, Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles, as Michael Vaughan's rampant side knocked off the 284 runs they required to complete a four wicket victory.

In all three Test matches England have been behind after three days, but on each occasion a player has stepped forward and taken the game away from New Zealand. At Lord's it was Nasser Hussain, at Headingley it was Jones and here it was Thorpe.

Thorpe's 14th Test century, which came off 163 balls and contained 13 stunning boundaries, was a gem of an innings. As England's most experienced player, Thorpe should get his tactics right more often than his team-mates and yesterday he did just that. The 34 year-old looked to be positive from the moment he arrived at the crease, and put the "black caps" limited and inexperienced bowling attack under pressure.

The cutting of England's man-of-the-match was as dismissive as ever, but it was his driving that stood out. The Londoner, who is a small man, is not noted for getting forward, but on a slow wicket, he gracefully moved to the pitch of the ball and effortlessly struck it through the covers.

Support came from Butcher, Jones and Giles, who finished the game off with a swashbuckling innings of 36. Each shared partnerships of more than 50 with Thorpe.

Whilst England celebrated it was hard not have sympathy for Cairns. Since making his Test debut in 1989, the all-rounder has been one of the most exciting players in cricket and his efforts in this match deserved more.

Here Cairns has been at his best with the ball. At Headingley, on a pitch offering far more assistance than this, the 33 year-old was a disappointment. Indeed, if he had bowled as well as this a week ago, New Zealand would have been competing for a series rather than a consolation win here.

Running in from the Radcliffe Road End with his long black hair flowing behind him, the fast bowler varied his pace superbly and it was this which allowed him to breach the defence of England's top order.

Andrew Strauss was the first to be beaten by a quicker delivery. The Middlesex captain was unlucky to be given out lbw - the ball pitched outside leg-stump - but Marcus Trescothick could have no complaints when he chipped a simple catch back to James Franklin.

With England on 16-2, the 284 runs they required for victory now appeared a long distance away. Vaughan came in and cracked a couple of lovely fours but on 10 he too was beaten by an effort ball from Cairns. The ball kept a fraction low and thudded into the England captain's pads and he was plum. It was then that Thorpe joined Mark Butcher and the pair changed the course of England's run chase. Before this innings Butcher had scored only 46 runs in five visits to the crease but yesterday, batting with positive intent, his feet began to move with confidence and purpose. His half century contained 11 crisply struck boundaries, but his demise - lbw to Cairns - once again put the game in the balance.

New Zealand began the fourth day in a healthy position. With five wickets still in tact and a lead of 255, the 'black caps' would have been hoping to extend their lead to 400. Simon Taufel made several poor decisions on Saturday and he was at it again yesterday when Craig McMillan was wrongly given out lbw.

This wicket raised England's spirits and spurred Stephen Harmison's tired body into one last effort. Jacob Oram fell to the Durham paceman in his next over and the Kiwis were now under pressure.

Cairns arrived to a standing ovation but in his last innings for New Zealand, failed to thrill. It was disappointing to see this thunderous hitter of a cricket ball falling in such timid fashion.

Ashley Giles deserved the wicket. The much maligned spinner has bowled well in this match. Bowling over the wicket and into the foot-holes, Giles beat Cairns for pace and the ball squeezed through his defensive shot and clipped the top of off-stump. With the crowd on their feet again, Cairns stopped, took his helmet off and acknowledged the applause.

Harmison, whose 21 wickets rightly made him England's man of the series, ended another excellent spell of fast bowling with figures of 2-7 in eight overs. He was replaced by Flintoff who made short work of Franklin. It was left to Giles to complete the rout when Kyle Mills top edged a sweep to short fine leg. In 20 overs New Zealand had lost 5-28 and it is this period of play which cost them the match.

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