My Cricketing Hero: Rob Key picks Graham Thorpe

Who did the Sky Sports Cricket pundits idolise growing up? Every Monday, we will be asking one of our experts for their cricketing hero and this week it’s Rob Key’s turn…

I’m very proud to have played with Graham Thorpe.

I always felt he was such a good player, and so underrated actually.

I remember watching him; you know how you feel like you discover people because you see them on an obscure TV channel or have a walk-on part in a film and you think ‘that person is going to be a big star’, I remember thinking that after I saw Thorpe.

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I was probably 12 or 13 at the time and I saw him get a hundred for Surrey on a rare game that was on TV at the time. I can’t remember what game it was, but it was my first sort of judgement of a cricketer, thinking ‘this bloke can play’.

Not long after, I went to The Oval and watched him bat for England in a [1994] Test against South Africa, and he was taking on Allan Donald, hooking him and making it look easy.

Left-handers are always so elegant. Because of the likes of Thorpe, Brian Lara, I always used to like watching myself bat in the mirror. It always felt like I looked a much better player.

I also remember changing my bat grip to yellow when I was a kid because Thorpe had the same. I’d be batting in the garden, thinking I was like Lara, or like Thorpe – with the little double-taps he had in his pickup.

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Thorpe scored a fifty that day at The Oval and, actually, early on in his career, he got a lot of fifties and didn’t always convert them into hundreds.

I remember asking him about that when I came into the England team, around the time he was scoring tons for fun, thinking he could have had around 30 Test hundreds for England looking back.

He said he did often think about that, but just there were too many bowlers capable of getting you out on 70-odd in his era.

There was Wasim [Akram] and Waqar [Younis] with their reverse swing, Shane Warne, [Shaun] Pollock and Donald etc. He was right.

When I got to play with him, he didn’t disappoint at all, he had a lot of time for younger players. I remember myself, [Andrew] Strauss, Geraint Jones sitting down for a meal on a tour of South Africa and Thorpey came down and just chatted to us about batting.

He was coming towards the end of his career around then but he had time for all of us.

It was surreal. When I first broke into the England team, Alec Stewart was still around, Nasser Hussain was captain, all these were people I watched play when I was at school, watched go through the ringer against some of the best attacks that have ever been and then, suddenly, you’re in the same dressing room as them.

My cricketing life early on was watching Michael Atherton, Nasser, Thorpey play against the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh at Sabina Park on a wicket that was like glass!

There was Nasser and Thorpey against Australia at Edgbaston in the 1997 Ashes, when Nasser got a double hundred, Athers’ knock in Johannesburg when he batted all day – I remember listening to that through like a Walkman, hidden in the arms of my school blazer.

Thorpey, along with Stewart, was someone who could throw a few punches back, that’s why I liked him.

There’s a few of them out there in today’s game. Just like the first time I watched Thorpe, I’ve had the same ‘star’ feeling about Zak Crawley. It’s well-known how much I rate the Kent and England man.

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