Speaking on The Top Order podcast, England batsman Graham Thorpe recalled one of the great innings played in a losing cause, Nathan Astle’s 222 for New Zealand at Christchurch in 2002.
Chasing 550 runs to win, the game seemed to be done and dusted when the hosts slipped to 333-9, only for the No.5 to peel off what still stands as the fastest double century in Test history. Having brought up his hundred in 114 balls, the double came up just 39 deliveries later. With Chris Cairns at No.11, a bowling all-rounder demoted only due to injury, Thorpe admitted England were nervous as the runs required ticked below 100, and described his team’s relief when Matthew Hoggard finally struck the decisive blow.
“I can remember thinking, even though we won by about 100 runs, literally if another 10 overs had gone by, New Zealand would have won,” he said. “I remember Nasser came up to me and said ‘I reckon we’ve got about eight overs to win this game’. I said ‘They still need 100.’ He said, ‘Yeah but they’re scoring at 16 an over.’
“Hoggard bowled him a slower ball and that was it, the game was over, but the relief, you wouldn’t believe it. We’d won the game by 100 runs and we were running around like we’d just won a nail-biter. That’s how we felt.”
Astle’s eventual score read 222 off 168 balls, with 28 fours and 11 sixes, and still sticks in Thorpe’s mind despite some of the legendary names he played against in his 100 Test career. “It was a hell of a game of cricket,” he said. “Nathan’s knock was astonishing I have to say. I’ve seen some innings in my career from some great batsmen but I remember how sweetly he hit the ball that day, a couple of balls which went out of Lancaster Park off Andrew Caddick. I remember thinking, ‘Crikey, that one’s not coming back’.”
The performance rather overshadowed a proud moment for Thorpe himself, with the Englishman bringing up his only Test double-century in the third innings, off a usually brisk but relatively sedate 231 balls. However, as he explained, he had Astle to thank for him making the big score.
“If it wasn’t for Nathan I wouldn’t have got anywhere near 200,” he said. “He dropped me second ball in the second innings. It’s strange, sometimes sport can be like that. You can get a break every now and then, and that ended as my highest Test score. I look back and I was dropped second ball on nought.”
The match was also notable for containing Andrew Flintoff’s maiden Test hundred, and also featured one of Nasser Hussain’s best Test knocks. In the first innings, with batting conditions tricky, the England captain made 106 to prop up his side’s total of 228 and help them secure a lead of 81. The next highest score in the innings was 31.
“It was a wonderful pitch, it was a drop-in pitch,” said Thorpe. “It did a bit first up, and I’ll give my old mate Nasser a pat who played a wonderful knock in the first innings, but then the pitch just flattened out, it was beautiful and true.”