Thorpe's panache holds back the tide

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Australia 402 and 87-2 England 295

Skin protection in the kind of hot weather Perth is currently enjoying is close to a national obsession in Australia, but if England's ability to catch the sun matched their skill in catching a cricket ball, they would have had precious little need of the Factor 15 over the first three days of this Test match.

Michael Atherton's purple complexion has also been more closely related to his team's fielding than the temperature, given that England yesterday took their tally of dropped catches to eight. Michael Slater has made 169 runs in the match, which is scarcely surprising given that he has been given the equivalent of six separate innings, and when England fly home for what remains of the winter, they will doubtless find it pretty difficult to catch a cold.

Even Graham Thorpe, whose hands at first slip are normally like flypaper, spilled one yesterday, although Thorpe had at least kept his team in the match with an innings as classy as anything - even from Slater - previously seen in this series. Mark Ramprakash also contributed a crucial 72, and it was just as well that these two put on 158 for the fifth wicket, as six of England's 10 partnerships failed to register anything higher than single figures.

Thorpe, who came in on Saturday when England were 5 for 2 in the second over, and Ramprakash, who joined him after England had lost another two wickets in the space of four deliveries, took England from 77 for 4 to 235 for 5 until Shane Warne finally prised Thorpe's finger from the dike. After that, the rest of England's batting drowned in the flood.

Perth's hard, bouncy pitch is right up Thorpe's street. A compulsive hooker and puller, the Surrey left-hander also tucked in (as 19 boundaries indicate) when he forced Australia's bowlers into a fuller length, and only Warne, who was almost back to his best after two disappointing Test matches, caused him real problems.

When Thorpe made his debut, against Australia in 1993, he became the first Englishman to make a century in his first Test for 20 years, but while he has an average hovering close to 50, it is when he has made 50 that he has had a disturbing tendency to self-destruct. This was only his second century in 15 Tests, having blipped off the radar no less than nine times after reaching a half-century.

Ramprakash's Test career, by way of contrast, had been placed on temporary hold because of a chronic inability to get out of the 20's. However, summoned from the A tour to India when England barely had anyone fit enough to make the phone call, Ramprakashyesterday played with few of the frustrating inhibitions he had previously shown at this level.

Had he done so a little earlier, to the genuine bewilderment of the many sound judges who regard him as the most naturally talented right-hander in England, the selectors would probably not have brought Mike Gatting out here. Yesterday, it finally dawnedon Gatting that he has been batting like a dog (who had his day in Adelaide) and decided to announce his retirement from Test cricket.

The stroke to which he was out first ball, on Saturday, would have made Devon Malcolm blush, and put the tin lid on a bizarre period in which the last three Australian wickets all fell to run-outs. Even more bizarre was the fact that the last run-out notonly involved three batsmen, but also featured one twin brother getting run out to leave the other one stranded on 99.

Steve and Mark Waugh have never been telepathic twins, and while Mark (running for the injured No 11, Craig McDermott) thought that Steve's defensive prod to Chris Lewis was good enough for his 100th run, by the time he realised that Steve was staying put, Mark was two- thirds of the way down the pitch. He almost got back, but was dispatched by a hairline decision on the TV replay.

It was the sixth time in his Test career, and second in this series, that Steve has been left stranded in the 90s, and only the second time in Test history that anyone has been left beached on 99. The other occasion was also on this ground, in the 1979-80 series, when Geoff Boycott was left a run short by Bob Willis's dismissal. There is no truth in the rumour that this caused a giggle, rather than a groan, in the England dressing-room.

The dressing-room yesterday would have been pretty tense when Thorpe and Ramprakash set off from a precarious 110 for 4, but any dark thoughts about the follow-on had been dispelled by the time they finally separated two and three-quarter hours later, when Thorpe finally had a rush of blood at Warne and was stumped by a substantial margin.

Warne also made a chump of Ramprakash in the end, bowling him through his legs as Ramprakash offered no stroke to a ball that turned at least a foot, and only Chris Lewis, who made 40 after surviving a caught-and-bowled chance before he had scored duringa destructive spell from Jo Angel, put up any resistance in the lower order.

Quite how the lower order managed to contain Steven Rhodes at No 7 is hard to fathom, other than the fact that Atherton has consistently voiced a touching faith in Rhodes, and, as we know, Atherton is a stubborn man. Rhodes made 2, a pretty awful 2 at that, and managed to lower his series average from 4.4 to 4.1. In nine Test innings here he has made 33 runs, which is 12 fewer than the number of byes he has conceded.

Slater and Taylor built on Australia's first-innings lead of 107 with an untroubled partnership of 75 before Slater was well caught by Atherton at second slip off Angus Fraser, but an England fielder managing to catch one was even less surprising than Graham Gooch running out the nightwatchman, Angel. Gooch was so delighted that he did a war dance around the broken stumps, and will doubtless announce sometime today that he is not too old after all, and plans to play on until he is 80.

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