Thorpe primed to play England's guiding hand

Angus Fraser,Jamaica
Sunday 29 February 2004 01:00

West Indies may no longer be the force they once were, but Michael Vaughan's side cannot afford to take that for granted during the two warm-up games before the first Test in 11 days' time.

The batsmen and bowlers of Jamaica and the Vice Chancellors' XI will be looking to hit England hard over the coming fortnight, and it is vital that Vaughan's green squad quickly become accustomed to the unfamiliar surroundings out here. The home side's batsmen will waste little time before they try and get after England's inexperienced bowling attack, and they will look to undermine the visitors' confidence by playing aggressive cricket. Life will be just as hard for England's top-order batsmen. Each opponent will possess at least two quick bowlers, and it will be their job to intimidate. They may - will - be wayward, but they know they only have to get one short ball on target to achieve their goal.

There is nothing new in this. It happens at the start of every tour. However, the Caribbean is a destination where this England party's experience is limited. Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, have never toured here, so they will be looking to Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher - the only members of the 16-man squad who have - to guide them.

Thorpe certainly knows what to expect. "I think they will look to hit us hard to begin with," he said at the start of his third full tour of the region. "After a break we are playing a bit of catch-up, and I would expect them to try and unsettle us. It is something we will have to take, and the challenge is to stay calm. If we have a couple of setbacks early on we just have to ride them. The main event is not until 11 March, and that is the day by which we want to be mentally right and to have our game in some sort of order.

"There will always be guys who don't score as many runs as they want and bowlers who haven't taken wickets, but the most important thing is that we are mentally right by the 11th."

Coming to terms with the different physical conditions of a foreign country plays a crucial part in preparation. But England also have to adjust to the way cricket is played here. West Indies are an ordinary side at the moment, but there is still an enormous passion for the game in the Caribbean. In Australia, South Africa and England the aim is to build a game based on consistency and discipline. Here, cricketers tend to play the game as they feel it. The heart ruling the head makes their cricket unpredictable and prone to moments of calamity, but it does also make for wonderful viewing.

Thorpe's input is essential to helphis team-mates acclimatise quickly. "We have to practise according to what we might come up against," he said. "But we also have to take into account the culture of how they play cricket here. We have to try and understand the mentality of the opposition and how they will respond to situations.

"Each country has a style of cricket they are renowned for playing. In the West Indies they play'aggressive and positive'. When we were last here, in 1998, Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert [the West Indian opening batsmen at the time] teed off at us at the start of the innings and it caught us by surprise. And if you look at the guys who have played for West Indies recently, they have the ability to do that.

"Our bowlers have to be aware that there will be occasions when a good-length ball gets cracked over cover for four. The bowlers must realise that this can also work to their advantage, because it can also get a wicket. As a batter you have to get into the zone and work out how you will best succeed. There will be times when you go through long periods without scoring, but you know that all of a sudden you will get two or three boundaries away and then you are off and running. It is important to play positive cricket here but it is dangerous to get too caught up in the way they play.

"Often when batting against quicker bowlers there are times you need to play aggressively. It is a natural thing to do. but you need to be careful."

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