Vaughan quick to back Thorpe

First Test: Sudden announcement of Australian career-move makes 'no difference' to pivotal batsman's Ashes role
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The Independent Online

There is a school of thought, formed a little while back but which added a few more followers last week, that it is time to say hail and farewell to England's No 5 batsman. Perhaps it should be called a school of Thorpe.

There is a school of thought, formed a little while back but which added a few more followers last week, that it is time to say hail and farewell to England's No 5 batsman. Perhaps it should be called a school of Thorpe.

Whether it will gain much more support, certainly among those who matter, is doubtful, but overnight England's quest for the Ashes has been made to look trickier, if that is possible. It was widely assumed, if not known, that Graham Thorpe would abandon his international batting career at the end of this summer. He is 35, embarking on a happy new personal life and knows he should not be hanging around too long. It would, of course, take a hard-hearted selector to ditch him before his 100th Test appearance, which could come at the Riverside on Friday.

A wide assumption is not hard fact. On Wednesday, the very day before the international season began, it was announced that Thorpe would be taking up a coaching-cum-playing role in Australia with New South Wales next January. Suddenly the whole thing crystallised.

Only those personally close to him can have known. England's captain, Michael Vaughan, coach Duncan Fletcher and chairman of selectors David Graveney did not. They would not be so foolish to go public but the suspicion is that they were miffed, though some were more miffed than others.

Thorpe remains available for selection for the rest of the summer, ready, nay eager, to play his role in the attempt to beat Australia. It could be said that he is wise to plan for his future and his mind will be at least partly free from the uncertainty that can dog sports-men in their twilight years.

Equally it may drift to distant, fresh horizons, and Thorpe's mind has been known to drift before. Ideally, he would have preferred to keep his plans quiet but it has been indicated that they would have become known in Sydney, which might have made him look almost duplicitous.

The selectors will pick him, partly on form, more on experience. It will help that the captain wants him. Vaughan said after the formalities of the First Test had been completed yesterday that it was up to the selectors but paid handsome tribute to Thorpe.

"We've known for a couple of years that he's quite old, so that doesn't change anything," he said. "But he's been a tremendous player and has brought a great deal to a relatively young England team. His experience has been invaluable especially in the last 12 months. As long as he keeps playing well, keeps hungry and keeps fit I'm sure he'll make the selection. I just want the best England team, the best players out there and Graham Thorpe at the moment is probably in that XI."

So with a few caveats, Vaughan could not have done much more to nudge the selectors. None the less, Thorpe's place and standing in the team have changed. His colleagues, all younger, may feel he is no longer one of them. He has placed one foot on the other side of the threshold of the changing room and there is no dragging it back.

If England have got one thing wrong recently, it is their approach to retirements. In 2003, Alec Stewart, having announced his departure, was allowed a kind of farewell tour round the Test grounds of England. From Chester-le-Street to The Oval, Stewart kept wicket and batted at six. In 10 innings he scored 276 runs and then was no more.

It was all romantic and sentimental, tugged gently at the heart strings and made you want to watch Sleepless In Seattle again if you thought about it long enough, and ultimately made little sense.

There might not have been an obvious replacement but, arguably, Chris Read was denied a chance to claim a place. Stewart was 40, he owed English cricket nothing but the debt was identical on the other side of the balance sheet.

Michael Atherton's valediction in 2001 was less formal and thus more adroitly handled. When asked, Atherton said nowt. But it was as widely assumed, as in Thorpe's case, that he would go at the end of that summer's Ashes series. It was also feared that England could do not do without him. He contributed 226 Ashes runs, was dismissed six times by his nemesis, Glenn McGrath, and then went off into the sunset of the commentary box. Maybe England could not not have done without him, but subsequently they did. And how.

Of recent vintage, only Nasser Hussain went with real style. He scored an epic, match-winning hundred at Lord's and called it a day, aware there could be no higher note on which to bow out. Then again, Steve Waugh had a farewell victory tour of Australia two winters ago and rounded it off with a spine-tingling century in Sydney.

There are batsmen waiting in the wings. The selectors will pick Thorpe, but they should recognise the risk.