With the mode of dismissal today – playing a short ball poorly – the cricketing obituaries for Jonathan Trott’s international career will doubtless be written overnight. Yet he has been put in an extremely difficult situation, being asked to come in an open the batting, something he’s not remotely experienced in. The suspicion that he was a sacrificial lamb to avoid placing the spotlight on Cook should he have had a bad tour remains, particularly if, as has been suggested, Cook and Moores were the two prime movers behind the selection of him in that role. That it hasn’t worked particularly well is at least partly their responsibility, especially given England do have a specialist opener in the squad.
Trott himself would of course have leapt at the opportunity even to take on an unfamiliar role – it was a chance to get back in the side, and there was a seeming vacancy in order to do it. But the odds were always against him being a success in the position, even in his best form. The focus on his technical flaw against the short ball seems to be a little inconsistent with the belief that Cook (for example) would overcome what has plainly been a major technical flaw in his own technique and the patience shown towards him. You can certainly make the point Cook deserves that patience; perhaps the nature of Trott’s departure from the Ashes tour makes people less inclined to do the same, along with his age. Trott has played fast short pitched bowling well in the past; is it entirely inconceivable that he could do so again?
Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that there seems to be a problem when looked at in its own right, even if the point about choosing the technical issues to focus on is a valid criticism. And given that age and past history, it is likely enough to mean that we are witnessing the end of his Test career. It is notable that the prevailing response to that seems to be sadness more than anything. And perhaps when it is looked back upon, that is in itself evidence of the regard in which he is held.
Trott’s performances did tail off significantly in the last couple of years before he left the Ashes tour, but overall a Test career of approaching 4,000 runs with an average in the mid forties represents a player who performed admirably during a period in which England did have a fair measure of success. To put this into context, even with that decline in form, Trott scored more runs at three than any other England player in history (3,109 runs), bar Wally Hammond. When defined by average, for those players who have scored more than a thousand runs, then in the last 30 years only Gower has been more successful – until the arrival of Gary Ballance last year. Ballance of course is at the start of his career, only time will tell if he continues in the same vein, but let’s be clear here – if Ballance performs across his career at number three at the same kind of level as Trott has done, then England will have an excellent player.
Of Trott’s ten centuries, some will live long in the memory. His partnership with Stuart Broad against Pakistan, while subsequently tainted through no fault of his own – was a rollicking performance by the pair of them (perhaps a repeat from Broad is just as unlikely as one from Trott come to that), while the iconic image of Gabba scoreboard showing 1-517 probably represented the personal high point of his career.
In ODI cricket, his presence in the side, while often criticised, did lend England a solidity that has been sorely lacking in the last 18 months – perhaps it is ironic that his absence has been that which highlighted his contribution most of all.
All of which is intended to be a reminder that Trott is hardly alone in seeing declining returns across a career, indeed you could argue it is probably the norm, as few get to end on their own terms. If it is the end for him, let’s remember that for a few short years we thought we had the answer to a problem batting position, a position that had been a problem since David Gower left the scene. And you know something, we did have the answer.
It was called Jonathan Trott.