Thorpe ton gives England edge

 

GRAHAM THORRPE achieved one of his winter tour goals in Auckland early today, hitting 117 not out as England took command of the first Test against New Zealand. England finished their innings with 521, a first innings lead of 131 runs. Dominic Cork also made a significant contribution with 60 runs for 9th wicket

Thorpe, the 27-year-old Surrey left-hander, had spent the first half of the winter struggling for form - but today he put all that behind him with his third Test century. Thorpe's clenched fist reaction, after he had cover driven Danny Morrison for his 15th boundary, showed just how relieved he was to end a run of 20 Tests without a hundred.

Thorpe's fine innings, plus a sensible supporting 38 not out from Dominic Cork, took England to 448 for six by lunch on the fourth day - a lead of 58.

The unbroken 109 partnership for the seventh wicket between Thorpe and Cork had taken England into a position from where they were hoping to build a lead large enough to put pressure back on New Zealand on the final day.

Thorpe has been frustrated by his inability to turn frequent half-centuries into hundreds - his last ton coming almost two years ago in Perth. He made 114 on his Test debut against Australia in 1993 - and besides those hundreds in his first and 15th Tests he has scored no less than 19 half-centuries.

Before the tour began he went on record to state his determination to score at least one big hundred against either Zimbabwe or New Zealand - but on the first leg in Zimbabwe he was out of touch and only an unbeaten 50 in the second Test in Harare gave him something to smile about.

Initially, too, he struggled for runs in New Zealand but today, after resuming on 57, he accelerated to his century with a stream of high class strokes and looked back to him 211 balls, after a five-hour stay at the crease, and by lunch he had struck 17 fours.

Cork's role was vital, keeping Thorpe company but, also playing the odd pedigree stroke himself - starting with a whiplash pull through mid-wicket off Chris Cairns which provided the first boundary of the day after England had resumed on 366 for six.

Thorpe had added only a couple of singles after lunch when he was out for 119, hitting his own wicket in unlucky fashion his right foot sliding back into his stumps as he slipped in trying to whip a shortish ball from Cairns away to leg.

That brought in Darren Gough to join Cork with England 453 for seven, Thorpe's innings having occupied 340 minutes and 245 balls.