Mike Holmans August 30, 2010

Cool to Trott

Our esteemed editor Sambit Bal has already said everything I would want to say about the betting scandal, so I'm going to write about cricket, if that's all right with you.

Our esteemed editor Sambit Bal has already said everything I would want to say about the betting scandal, so I'm going to write about cricket, if that's all right with you.

It has not been all that easy to make any judgements about the progress of the England Test side this summer, since the first series was against the relatively unchallenging Bangladesh and the second against a Pakistan side which contained several unknowns and whose performances ranged from sublime through substandard to, unfortunately, sub judice. Saying anything about how well England players have done therefore has to be hedged round with caveats.

One long-standing issue, though, has probably been settled: Jonathan Trott looks to have nailed down the No. 3 spot which has been a problem for most of the last thirty years, if not longer. There has been something of a campaign this summer to promote Kevin Pietersen to three, spearheaded by some of the lamer brains in the Sky commentary box using the argument that it is a well-known principle that your best batsman should bat in that position. It's such a well-known principle that Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards enjoyed their peak periods batting at four, so the best batsmen in their sides on the beefy argument must have been Ramnaresh Sarwan, Rahul Dravid and Larry Gomes.

Even though I've taken fewer Test wickets than Botham (his standard challenge to anyone who disagrees with him, including wine waiters, is to ask how many wickets they took), I think I can see the flaws in his proposition.

What you actually need at No. 3 is a batsman with sound defensive technique who can cope with coming in at 15-1 and seeing off the new ball but who has the flexibility to be able to keep up the momentum generated by 153-1, if necessary just by rotating the strike until he gets going himself, and has the strokeplay in his armoury to dominate an attack if he's still there at 245-3.

The best No. 3 I have seen, or at least the one who has best fulfilled that job description, was Greg Chappell, who could block or blockbuster to order. England haven't really had anyone like that in thirty years, although Mike Gatting came close in the mid-1980s. The only other reasonably successful three was Mark Butcher, who fell somewhat short on the domination bit – even when he was scoring freely, he never looked in command. David Gower's average in the position was good, but he failed too often at the primary task of collapse-prevention: the first duty of a No. 3 is to make sure that 15-1 does not swiftly become 19-2, and Gower wafted early to third slip too often in those situations.

Trott is probably not going to do all that well on the domination front either but that is the least essential quality of a first drop batsman, as demonstrated by current masters Dravid and Hashim Amla, to whose school of batsmanship Trott obviously belongs.

He was badly unsettled by the sledging he underwent in South Africa, but the first Test of that series was only his second and he was being made acutely aware that he had been born in Cape Town and grown up playing age-group cricket with most of his opponents, so special circumstances applied. The Australians will naturally give him heaps, to use their vernacular: if Trott weathers the verbal assault, it will completely settle his place.

I cannot say, though, that the prospect fills me with gladness. Anyone who supports a team has favourites within it; when one of them scores a hundred or takes a five-for, there's an added glow of satisfaction because your boy was the hero. But if you like some more than others, it follows that there are also those you like less. Fortunately for me, most of the England players I've disapproved of haven't been much good and so I've only had to endure them for a brief span, but just occasionally someone appears whose results mean that he is completely undroppable but whose style of play or personality is teeth-grindingly annoying, and Trott looks very likely to take over the spot as the England player I can't stand vacated some years ago by Alec Stewart.

Stewart combined irritating mannerisms at the crease with yelling appeals for things which were obviously not out and an interview style reminiscent of an obtuse police sergeant explaining that you have to park your car somewhere else because the space has to be kept clear for the Duke of Edinburgh's visit in three days' time. Grateful though I was when he did the business on the field, part of me always wished it wasn't him.

Unless Trott is an ICC plant designed to raise revenue by making sure that any team which has to bowl at him can be fined for a slow over-rate, I can see no excuse for his interminable preparation rituals. I hope some Australian close fielder has the wit this winter to smuggle a ferret on to the field, feed it up Trott's trouser-leg and claim that Trott unearthed it with his archaeological digging. That would at least bring a bit of life to someone who looks like a corpse peeved at being revived.

But his Test performances this summer have been solid and dependable, and while his shotmaking rarely transcends the functional, the selection is good and the execution clinically efficient. In other words, he looks the goods. I just wish it were someone else.