GRAHAM Thorpe provided England with a timely route back into the deciding Test with another display guaranteed to increase his already growing reputation on the world stage.

The Surrey left-hander was almost indispensable even before his controversial year away from international cricket to spend time with his family, but since then he has emerged as England's only truly world class batsman with a series of crucial contributions to the recent revival.

He hit a vital 46 during the incredible two-day victory over West Indies at Headingley and followed that with a valuable 40 to help win the series decider at the Oval later that summer before playing a key role in all three Tests in Pakistan, including a match-winning 64 during the memorable victory in Karachi.

But he saved arguably his best innings for the final Test of a gruelling winter campaign, which not only put England back into contention but also gave the emerging Michael Vaughan an important lesson in what is required to succeed at this level.

Seemingly heading out of the Test and the series at 91 for four in reply to Sri Lanka's 241 on a pitch ideally suited to their spinners, Thorpe once again delivered when it mattered with an innings of defiance, patience and skill to leave the tourists on a healthy 175 for four by the close of the second day.

It left the Sri Lankans frustrated at having missed yet another chance to seize the advantage, but by the close Thorpe had also helped Vaughan forge an unbroken 84-run partnership spanning 43 overs which gives the tourists an opportunity to cap an impressive winter with what would be an outstanding series triumph.

The influence Thorpe had on that key stand was immense, guiding Vaughan out of a nervous start with advice during overs, and guiding him through a high-pressure return to international cricket having been dramatically recalled at the expense of Graeme Hick.

Vaughan, in turn, watched studiously at the other end and examined how Thorpe nudged the ball around during tense periods to keep the scoreboard moving and punished anything which was loose with six boundaries to score an unbeaten 71 lasting over three hours.

''It was important that Thorpe was out there,'' admitted coach Duncan Fletcher. ''It's nice for someone like Vaughan to get out there and have someone at the other end that plays spinners well and works the ball around I'm sure having him out there helped Vaughan along.

''We were in a bit of trouble at four wickets down, but Vaughan and Thorpe did a great job and we ended up in quite a good position.''

Vaughan has had to wait patiently for his chance after being sidelined for nearly all the tour to Pakistan with calf trouble and had not played any competitive cricket for nearly a month.

His rustiness showed initially and although he hit only two boundaries, his composure in progressing to an unbeaten 26 contrasted starkly with the nervous and haunted figure that Hick had become in the previous two Tests.

Their stand capped an impressive fightback from the tourists, who had begun the day impressively by taking only 10.1 overs to end Sri Lanka's innings after they resumed on 221 for seven.

The loss of three wickets for 21 runs in seven overs, though, undermined their earlier good work with debutant Dinuk Hettiarachchi claiming two wickets in successive overs to dismiss Marcus Trescothick and Nasser Hussain.

He was also, unwittingly, one of the central figures in an umpiring drama which eclipsed all that had gone before it in the series with Hussain initially being given out by Asoka de Silva to a disputed catch by Mahela Jayawardene at slip and then given a reprieve.

De Silva correctly conferred with square leg colleague Dave Orchard over the legality of the catch and, according to the baffling explanation, misunderstood his instructions to refer it to third official BC Cooray for confirmation by the television replays.

Instead, de Silva raised his finger to indicate Hussain's demise before realising his mistake and contacting Cooray, who gave the England captain a brief reprieve before he drove Hettiarachchi straight to extra cover two overs later.

''I went to see the umpires at tea to talk about the incident,'' revealed match referee Hanumant Singh. ''I was told there had been a misunderstanding before it was referred but for an umpire to change his mind I think indicates a strong umpire.''

With Muttiah Muralitharan bowling Stewart shortly afterwards after he played across the line on the back foot, a further wicket could have left England battling to avoid defeat during the remainder of the match.

With Thorpe's guidance, though, the great composure Vaughan has shown ever since making his debut at Johannesburg and walking out with England on two for two, allowed the Yorkshireman to guide the tourists into a far stronger position than even they could have envisaged at 91-4.

''Vaughan has a good temperament,'' enthused Fletcher. ''He's a laid-back character in the dressing room and nothing seems to faze him he's pretty confident in his own ability as he showed it with that knock.''

l England have added Vaughan to their 15-man squad for next week's one-day international series against Sri Lanka to provide back-up for the spinners and the likely loss of captain Nasser Hussain.

Vaughan was officially added to the party yesterday following discussions which began after England's opening Test defeat in Galle