Graham Thorpe: Test cricket 10 times harder than county level

GEORGE DOBELL IN MELBOURNE: Without adequate preparation and without the usual training camps which might have helped prepare players, Thorpe feels England have been left with a steep learning curve when facing a good Australia side


Graham Thorpe has delivered a crushing indictment of the ability of the county game to prepare players for Test cricket admitting they sometimes graduate to the international squad lacking “the basics of the game”.

Thorpe, who is standing in as head coach in the absence of Chris Silverwood, hopes his team show “fight and character” in the fourth Test at Sydney to prove, after the humbling defeat in Melbourne, that “we are better than that.”

But at the same time, he accepts England’s players have had a “wake-up call” in recent weeks and are just starting to realise the standards required to prosper at this level. Without adequate preparation at the start of the tour and without the usual training camps which might have helped prepare players, he feels they have been left with a steep learning curve when facing a good Australia side.

“County cricket is what it is,” Thorpe said. “You’ve got to lift players out of there, then educate them into international cricket. County cricket is like a mental game but you have to be going off and doing other work related to international cricket if you want to play it well.

“The reality is, we are trying to build a Test side. That’s where we’re at. We’ve had a massive focus on white-ball cricket in the last five or six years and our four-day cricket has been pushed to one side. We need to address those things. If we don’t, we need time to continue to work with these players to make them better.


England's batsmen have struggled on their tour of Australia

“There have been no Lions tours and no training camps for our younger players to actually learn the basic skills of the game as well. They’re trying to learn it in county cricket, but the truth is when they come out of county cricket, they have to learn it again, because Test cricket is 10 times harder.

“When I first came in [to international cricket as a coach] in 2014-15, we were trying to make a hit in white ball cricket. Now we have to look at Test cricket pretty hard, if we care about it enough.

“When I look at the batting, I try to teach the basis of the game. We are trying to still educate some of the younger guys into the rhythm of Test match batting: playing situations in the game and doing it for long periods of time. Some of them haven’t been able to do it yet. Some of our young players are getting an education and if they didn’t know before, they understand how tough Test cricket is now. Not just on the field, but off it.

“Are we starting from scratch? To quite a big extent. Every player who comes into this environment, you try to give them the basics of the game from a batting point of view and a bowling point of view. From a batting point of view, you need to create time to play your shots, you need to be in a decent position to do that and you need a positive mind-set. So you need to be setting up to score runs but then actually trust your defence when the ball is in a good place.”

"With some players it's a wake-up call. It could actually kick-start their careers because they've started training a very, very different way. They actually start to train smart. They don't waste time hitting half-volleys"

Thorpe does feel, however, that it could be the making of some players as they learn to train harder and demand more of themselves.

“With some players it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “It could actually kick-start their careers because they’ve started training a very, very different way. They actually start to train smart. They don’t waste time hitting half-volleys.

“I don’t mean that in a bad way but they actually deal with the actual nitty gritty side of international cricket playing high-quality spin, high-quality pace bowling and learning how to put pressure back on. If a guy’s bowling well, [they have to learn to] get through it for six, seven or eight overs.

“You’ve got to show some toughness about the way they go about things as well and also know how to throw punches back at the right time. Some people’s journeys are in different places as players and probably collectively as a team as well.

“You break this England Test team down, where does it rank at the moment? And that’s the simple fact of it.”


Graham Thorpe has offered withering criticism of how county cricket prepares players for the Test team

Thorpe offered a particularly frank assessment of Rory Burns’ future as a Test player. England dropped Burns, who has played 31 Tests, after the defeat in Adelaide. While Thorpe insisted there was “definitely” a way back for him to the Test side, he also hinted the team management were looking for some tangible improvements before a recall would happen.

“I said: you’ve played 30 Test matches and you average 30,” Thorpe said. “So, we want you to be doing more, to be better than that as a player. So we’ve had discussions with him: does he need a major overhaul of his technique or just to tinker with things? He needs to do the simple things better.

“So, can he calm things down with his movements. We’ve been talking him through that. It’s tough in competition. You can’t pick away at people’s brains too much walking into Test matches. Sometimes they have to come out and then you can reset a little bit.

“When players get a little bit of success they then think ‘my way is the right way’. I said to him ‘the best bowlers in the world are going to analyse your technique and the right-hand column is going to tell you whether you’re getting it right or not’. We’ve seen he’s got a good fighting character but, at the same time, you need a technique and temperament at the highest level. I think he can come back again and play for England [again], definitely.”

Thorpe confirmed he would confer with Silverwood, who remains in Melbourne with his family after one of them tested positive for Covid, over the selection of the team for the Sydney Test. But, having worked as an assistant coach in New South Wales for a couple of years, he feels he has a decent understanding of the conditions.

“Yes, I’ll speak to Chris for his general view of the squad and the XI,” Thorpe said. “But obviously he’s not there and I worked at the Sydney Cricket Ground for two-and-a-half years so I have a good sense of what the pitch is going to be like.

“As a player, I was in a team bowled out for 40-odd [actually 46 at Port of Spain in 1994] in the West Indies. We won the next Test match. I look at that and see an opportunity to show people that we are not like that. We are better than that. That’s what I’ll be trying to instil.

“It is an opportunity. The players have an opportunity. I don’t want to look back. You learn from things that have gone on, but I don’t want to look back. It’s a great cricket ground to play at and I want to see us play well.”

Our coverage of the Ashes is brought to you in association with Cricket 22



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