A test match starts on Thursday in Durham, but it is unlikely that any of the 22 representing England and Zimbabwe will play a classier innings than that played by Graham Thorpe here yesterday. True, a dry flat pitch and a red hot sun, which took its toll on the Sussex bowlers, loaded conditions very much in favour of the former England batsman, but this was a chanceless exhibition of high-class batting from a player who appears to have regained his hunger for the game.
It has taken Thorpe some time to overcome the personal problems that last summer made him contemplate quitting the game, but this hundred, the 44th in his first-class career, gave the clearest indication yet that the bad times are a thing of the past. This was an innings to catch the eye of an England selector.
On the back of a match-winning century against Somerset on Wednesday in the C&G Trophy, Thorpe looked at ease from the moment he arrived at the crease. Runs were hard to come by before lunch as disciplined bowling took two early wickets. Through this testing period the left-hander never appeared distracted and waited for the rare bad ball to come. When it did he clipped it away with the minimum of fuss.
His partner for most of the morning session, Mark Ramprakash, found runs even harder to come by. It took the right-hander 28 balls to get off the mark. After he had gone to Mushtaq Ahmed, Surrey's innings gained impetus with Alistair Brown. Thorpe was happy to play second fiddle while his aggressive partner set about the wilting attack. In his 69-ball stay the ball flew to the boundary on 11 occasions with one huge six landing just in front of the press box.
In the middle of this carnage Thorpe moved to three figures with a single to cover. Taking his helmet off and acknowledging the crowd, Thorpe's smile said it all. It is something we have seen too little of in recent times.
When Brown fell caught in the gully, in came Adam Hollioake. He ensured the runs continued to flow by batting in a similar style to Brown. The Surrey captain showed little mercy for his opponents.
Thorpe's innings ended when a tired cut shot found its way to short third man. His dismissal signalled the start of a minor collapse as five wickets fell for 35 runs. Ian Salisbury completed a profitable day for the champions when he brought the 400 up with the last ball of the day.
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