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'Players have got to show desperation and earn the right to stay in the side' - Thorpe

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Published in Cricket
Monday, 14 June 2021 10:07
Graham Thorpe, England's assistant coach, has called on his team's young batters to prove their "desperation" to stay in the Test team, after New Zealand's eight-wicket win at Edgbaston on Sunday completed their first series victory in this country since 1999, and England's first loss on home soil in seven years.
Thorpe, who was a part of the England team that slumped to the bottom of the unofficial world rankings with their 2-1 series loss in 1999, said that he hoped this defeat would spur a similar quest for higher standards among the class of 2021, after he himself played a central role in the Nasser Hussain-led team that went on to win four series in a row in 2000-01, including their first against West Indies in 32 years.
But, Thorpe warned, while today's selectors were far more tolerant of short-term failure than they were at the start of his own career in 1993, the management would need to see evidence of greater mental application than was the case in the past two Test matches. That was particularly the case in the second innings at Edgbaston, where England slumped to 76 for 6 and ultimately 122 all out.
"We have some younger players in our team who are still developing and we're wanting them to improve," Thorpe said. "But sometimes the intensity and the spotlight of Test cricket, when you're up against a good team like New Zealand, just highlights how much of a challenge our players found their decision-making and the execution of shots.
"Whatever technique you have, the basics are still the same," he added. "You have to get in, you have to be positive in your defence, leave the ball well outside off stump and play straight. These are the things that have applied to batting in Test match cricket for as long as it has been going.
"So it is a mental skill to be able to train the brain to do these things, and if anything we've been lacking consistency in that area."
Aside from Rory Burns, who made two of England's four fifty-plus scores, including 132 in the first Test, England's batters struggled collectively for form. Dan Lawrence battled well for an unbeaten first innings of 81 at Edgbaston, but fell for ducks in each of his other two visits to the crease, while Dom Sibley's dour 60 not out at Lord's inadvertently showcased the team's wider mental frailties, as they opted against taking on New Zealand's tantalising target of 273 after a final-day declaration.
"If you look at the techniques of all our batters from Sibley to Burns, to [Ollie] Pope to Lawrence, you can go down our batting order and to me it comes down to decision-making," Thorpe said. "They have all scored runs at Test level and so it is about doing it more consistently and that is a mental thing really.
"It is about coping with the anxiousness when you first go out there and once you get in, and things become easier, it is about being hungry to score runs and to stay out there to accumulate. You can do that in a number of ways, rotating the strike, putting overs into the bowlers and making them work hard, and then we have the players who can take advantage.
"We have the talent, but you have to mentally push yourself on further as well and that is the area where we have fallen down in this series."
The wider concern for England, who face India in five Tests from August before heading to Australia for the Ashes in December and January, is that the batters who failed against New Zealand were, broadly speaking, among England's first-choice picks.
Ben Stokes was missing, of course, and Jos Buttler's presence as wicketkeeper will provide more ballast than James Bracey was able to offer at No. 7. But with Joe Root making a top-score of 42 in four innings, the onus had been on his young team-mates to step into the breach, and none of them was able to do so on a consistent basis.
Zak Crawley's form at No.3 was a particular concern. In his previous home series against Pakistan last summer, Crawley showed the full extent of his talent with a career-best 267 at the Ageas Bowl. Since that innings, however, he has made nine single-figures scores in 12 innings, including a tally of 21 runs at 5.25 against New Zealand.
"He's young, both in terms of age and his Test career," Thorpe said. "He's played 14 matches and he's starting to get an understanding of what Test match batting is all about.
"He'll be very frustrated. It is important for him to keep learning about what it takes to keep himself at the crease. That is the thing he will be most disappointed about in this series, but he has got to reflect and learn from what has happened. If he goes away and keeps working at his game I'm sure he will be successful, but you do have to learn from these moments so that when you come back you are better for it.
"As coaches that is what we are looking at. Do you have the game, the mental fortitude to improve and learn and push yourself forward when you have a bump in the road?"
The itinerary for the rest of the English summer does not offer much opportunity for the incumbents to groove their games on the county circuit, or for rivals to challenge for their berths ahead of the Trent Bridge Test on August 4, with two rounds of the Championship in early July giving way to the opening matches of the Hundred later that month.
As a consequence, Thorpe indicated that England would not be making wholesale changes against New Zealand, but warned that pressure for places was part and parcel of the job.
"These players have to show a desperation to stay in the side," he said. "They've got to earn the right to stay in the side.
"And they will be fully aware of that, because we've got some players who will come back into that team and there are others on the outside putting pressure on so there is competition for places, which is a healthy thing for a team.
"That competition should drive the individual on so, when they get in, they smell that opportunity to perform and go and do it. Of course, that goes with the territory of playing at the highest level. You do have to keep producing. Your right-hand column is very important, it is what keeps you in the team.
"It is for us to keep observing the players to see whether they have the temperament to apply their techniques to score runs," he added. "Technique is hugely important and that is what keeps you scoring runs, but it is your decision-making that keeps you out in the middle whatever technique you have."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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