Ton-up Thorpe keeps England on course for Test victory

GRAHAM THORPE maintained his prolific level of performance since making a return to the international stage by delivering a crucial century to keep England on course for a ninth successive victory in the fluctuating second Test against South Africa.

Since being recalled from a year out of the game with personal problems, and returning with a glorious century against South Africa at The Oval, he has averaged 57.95.

This time his experience was crucial after the tourists, 88 ahead overnight on 281 for one, lost three wickets early in the morning session which threatened to allow South Africa back into the Test.

By the time captain Michael Vaughan called a halt to the innings with England 377 ahead on 570 for seven - only the fifth time in history they have scored over 500 in a second innings - Thorpe had resisted South Africa’s best attempts to dislodge him for over five hours.

His efforts ensured South Africa would have to score the fourth highest innings score in history to win the Test. That seemed more distant than ever by the close, with Matthew Hoggard striking to remove South Africa captain Graeme Smith leg before to leave them struggling on 21 for one, still needing a further 357 for an unlikely victory on the final day.

The day had begun with England setting their sights on different landmarks with Andrew Strauss, who resumed unbeaten on 132, needing a further 33 runs to become the third fastest England batsman in history to reach 1,000 Test runs. After over six hours at the crease, however, perhaps it was inevitable he drove to slip in the fifth over of the day having added only four to his total.

He was the first of three wickets to fall in 14 overs, with captain Vaughan gloving a rising delivery from Makhaya Ntini behind and Mark Butcher also caught at slip attempting to drive all-rounder Jacques Kallis.

Had Kallis won a strong appeal for leg before in his previous over against Thorpe, who had scored just one, the story of the day could have been very different but umpire Simon Taufel gave Thorpe the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps spurred on by that close escape, Thorpe utilised all his experience to guide himself and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff through some nervy early moments for forge a crucial 114-run stand in 35 overs.

Just as the Kingsmead crowd were settling down for a trademark Flintoff innings he was outmanoeuvred by Smith, who came round the wicket and had him caught behind attempting to cut after he had hit six fours and three sixes in his 112-ball 60.

Thorpe was given another naturally aggressive partner in Geraint Jones to replace Flintoff and the pair progressed at nearly five runs an over during their 132-run partnership.

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