Thorpe's slow road to record England stand

Click to follow
The Independent Online

England 393 for 6 v Pakistan

England 393 for 6 v Pakistan

Graham Thorpe and Craig White have not featured large on overseas tours recently but yesterday they rewrote the record books here as Pakistan endured their second lean day in the field. For once, spin was not a word that needed to be associated with an England performance and the 393 for 6 they had reached by the close was their highest ever score in Lahore.

Like the right-left combination of Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothick on day one, the pair complemented each other, with Thorpe's century of hard graft a perfect foil for White's bold, clean striking at the other end. Coming together at 225 for 5, the pair added 166 runs for the sixth wicket, a record in Tests between these two countries. Their stand beat the previous mark of 153 set by Peter Parfitt and David Allen at Edgbaston in 1962.

If anyone had predicted a few weeks ago that England would bat for two days against Pakistan's spinners on a dry, cracked pitch and only lose six wickets, they would have been carted off in a straitjacket. Yet, judging by the tempo of their batting, it looks as if England have decided to get their runs in the first innings, a move that has more or less committed them to seeking victory by making Pakistan follow on.

Thorpe, whose seventh Test hundred this was, spent a sapping seven hours and 13 minutes at the crease. Even more remarkable than this Athertonian-like feat, though, was that only one boundary was scored in reaching it, the first time this has happened in Test cricket. In fact the lone four, a square cut off his Surrey team-mate Saqlain Mushtaq, came on the first day and took his score from 10 to 14. There was another, a blistering hook off Abdur Razzaq, but that only came once he had passed the three-figure mark.

The slowness of the outfield - England's total would have been worth around 50 more on most Test grounds - was perhaps the major factor in allowing Thorpe to beat the previous record of two boundaries, made by the England wicketkeeper, Paul Gibb, who scored his hundred during the timeless Test in Durban, South Africa, in early 1939.

"It was one of my best knocks for England, but I had to be pretty patient and disciplined," the 31-year old Thorpe said afterwards. "In fact it was probably the most demanding innings mentally and physically that I've ever played. I know I only scored one four, but, if I had to run a hundred out there, I'd have run for it."

Pitted for long periods against Saqlain, who took the first six wickets, Thorpe concentrated hard and played the ball late, making subtle adjustments to wrists and feet in order to find the gaps. Playing county cricket with Saqlain probably helped him, though Thorpe maintained he still had to watch the ball hard.

"Actually Saqlain never bowls at me in the nets, but I've fielded at slip to him. So I've tended to watch things from there. I'm very proud to have made runs in conditions I'm not familiar with. But Craig White played a magnificent innings too and [his] was the dominant role in the partnership."

Remarkably, it was Thorpe's first Test century since the Barbados Test three tours ago. If that sounds a long time, a bad back in Australia (he came home after playing just one Test) and his decision not to tour South Africa last winter have limited his appearances.

His return to Test duty - for the third Test against the West Indies last summer - saw him duped by Courtney Walsh's outrageous slower ball. Here, mostly everything he faced was slow, but he was expecting it. Indeed, until fatigue caused him to miscue a slog-sweep off Saqlain, his only blemish came when he was dropped on two the previous day at slip. It was an expensive miss by Pakistan, who must be as perplexed as any by the pitch. So far the slow, low bounce has negated the turn, which only Saqlain has used to any great effect.

White's arrival and subsequent assault, after Graeme Hick had been deceived by a flat off-break to become Saqlain's fifth victim, was perfectly judged. Until then the scoring rate had been slow and Pakistan were still controlling the game. Once White had reached only his second Test fifty - the other was against New Zealand at Lord's six years ago - it was the home side who were slowing things down. In fact, by the time play was ended by bad light some five minutes after the scheduled close, they had bowled just 77 of the 83 overs required.

Quick to use his feet and with a cleanness and certainty of stroke that comes from being in form, White found the boundary rope when others could not. He survived a caught and bowled on 22 as he blasted one back at Saqlain's right hand, but only a hard heart would have called it a chance.

Perhaps more fortunate was the mix-up over a quick single with Thorpe, a let-off that came when the ball was thrown to the wrong end. He also survived a sledging from Shahid Afridi after he had belted the leg-spinner for a glorious six over long-off. Whether the conversation held was in Pushto, the native tongue of Pathans, Urdu or plain English, it probably did not translate as "Good shot, old boy".

With match-fixing still a keen topic of conversation there were still those who felt all was perhaps not well with the home side's performance. From the sidelines, though, everything looked strictly halal and England have so far played stoically. If the bowlers can show the same application, a rare victory, England's first in Pakistan since 1961, may not be the fantasy it seemed at the start of the tour.