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My Cricketing Hero: Rob Key picks Graham Thorpe

My Cricketing Hero - Rob Key on 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.

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'.

Graham Thorpe
Image: Graham Thorpe swats one away to the boundary with his Kookaburra bat and yellow bat handle

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.

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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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World Cup-winning England captain Eoin Morgan and Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes talk to Rob Key and Michael Atherton on the Sky Cricket Podcast

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.

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 21: Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe of England celebrate as England win the first Test Match between South Africa and England at St.Georges Park on December 21, 2004 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images).. *** Local Caption *** Andrew Strauss; Graham Thorpe
Image: Graham Thorpe was a great help to younger members of the England side like Andrew Strauss before retirement

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!

Nasser Hussain
Image: Nasser Hussain celebrates his double-hundred against Australia in the 1997 Ashes at Edgbaston

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.

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: Dan Lawrence of England Lions hits out and is caught in the deep during day 1 of the match between England Lions and South Africa A at The Spitfire Ground on June 21, 2017 in Canterbury, England. (Photo by Sarah Ansell/Getty Images). *** Local Caption *** Dan Lawrence
Image: Essex batsman Dan Lawrence could be an England batsman of the future

There's also Dan Lawrence at Essex, who I've thought a lot of ever since I saw him play for England Under-19s. I remember thinking that about Alastair Cook when watching him play a pull shot when he was U19 captain.

All it takes is three or four shots to make you think 'wow, this bloke has got something', just like that day watching Thorpe on TV.

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