August 28, 2013

The Trott problem

He has fallen off his early peak, perhaps inevitably, but it might have to do with having to play in a manner that does not come naturally to him

Does Trott's decline in Test cricket have to do with his role in the shorter formats? © Getty Images

The recently concluded Ashes series brought forth a confusing version of Jonathan Trott. The England No. 3 has historically been portrayed as the embodiment of the soul-sapping grind-till-they-quit style of Andy Flower's England team. Yet apart from the first innings of the fifth Test Trott played precisely the sort of stuff that Flower would not approve of - flighty forties and fifties before inexplicably getting out.

This inability to convert is not new. Trott has had a decline even as the popular perception of him hasn't altered. Over the first 18 months of his career, leading up to and including the Ashes in 2010-11, he averaged over 61 in Test cricket; but, like Mike Hussey a few years before him, the gods of cricket averages caught up to him and dragged him back towards more mortal numbers. In fact, since that series Trott has averaged a mere 40 in the longest format.

How much is a man averaging 40 worth to a team gunning to be the best in the world? A sample size of 30 Tests (over 27-odd months) is not small enough to be considered an aberration. Do you prefer someone who averages 40 but has the capability to bat for nearly seven hours in the final four sessions in India, against Indian spinners (as Trott did in Nagpur) to win you a historic series? Or do you prefer someone who averages 45 over a long period but on the basis of scores against weak bowling attacks on easy pitches, or as the supporting act in an innings (pointing fingers at no one in particular - especially after the Ashes just finished). How do you statistically measure someone's ability to win or draw you a game singlehandedly?

Secondly, we take it for granted that the cricketers we see, praise and castigate should be able to adjust their games as per our demands. Much of Trott's "decline", I believe, has to do with the role he has been given in the shorter formats. Over the first 18 months, when he batted in the manner of the second coming of Sunil Gavaskar, he wasn't England's first choice in the 50-over game - he only played 11 of 32 ODIs from his debut till the Ashes series Down Under. Since then he has played 54 of 61 games that England have played, and through the maelstrom of harsh criticism has adjusted his game - this year he averages over 70 and has a strike rate of 87.4 in ODIs.

But it has had an effect on his game in Test matches. The reasons for his failings, particularly in the current Ashes series, seem to be down to him playing more shots and being more "proactive" than he has previously been. The 49 off 60 balls in the fourth Test was perhaps the best example of this. Of Trott's 27 scores of 50-plus, only once have his first 50 runs been scored in under 75 balls (16 of those 27 times he has taken 100-plus balls).

One of the major reasons for the drop in his stats has to do with his conversion rate. His ratio of innings to 50-plus scores is pretty similar before and after the fifth Test of the 2010-11 Ashes (about one in three), but his conversion has dropped significantly. Five of his first ten scores of 50-plus were converted into centuries; since then he has scored four hundreds and 13 fifties.

In ODIs, Trott has four hundreds, 22 fifties overall, but while a 70 or 80-odd in an ODI can be a match-winning innings, it is often a job half-done in Tests. So the question to be asked is whether England want Trott to be their second-best ODI batsman and fourth-best Test batsman, or if they want him to return to being a great Test player while not playing many ODIs. In an ideal world, Andy Flower would have Trott averaging 60 in Tests and 50-plus in ODIs, with a strike rate above 80, but that ideal world seems to contain contradictions.

And finally, there is the matter of being proactive. We are told that being proactive is the best thing to do, that there is a "right way" to play cricket. This is a debate not restricted to cricket alone. The Tiki Taka Taliban - as Barney Ronay famously called them - have a similar viewpoint in football. What this ignores is that, unlike in ice-skating, you get no points for intent and style.

England already have Pietersen, Bell and the lower order to do the forcing, if need be. Do they really want to turn Cook and Trott into more "expressive" players? Their rise under Flower came by reactive, not proactive, cricket - build at the top and then capitalise. Five of their current top six have career strike rates under 50 (as did Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood). Asking of them to do what is unnatural could turn them into less productive players.

England are fond of being meticulous, so I wonder if they have done a cost-benefit analysis of Trott 2.0 compared to the original version. Perhaps allowing him to return to doing what he did best is the solution.

Or it could just be that he's out of form.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • arjun on August 30, 2013, 17:07 GMT

    Remember Andrew Strauss, when he started off everyone was talking about how he is going to break all those records etc. Trott is no different and count Cook also in this. The point is how you start is no guarantee how you finish. I remember how Cook is supposed to break all Tendulkar's record etc. (Thanks KP for this). Second related point is your body changes with time and how you cope with it is important. Tendulkar could to some extend did it. Lets see how it turns out for English players.

  • Dummy4 on August 30, 2013, 15:21 GMT

    It's sad when journalists, both real and armchair ones, try to analyse a highly skilled and talented cricketer like Trott, based on one series. Trott was the fourth highest scorer for England in this five test outing. If anybody knows what adjustments need to be made to convert good starts to higher scores it is Jonathan Trott himself, perhaps assisted by a technician coach. Do not see the emergence of a new product for England, but merely a professional going through leaner times, as they all do. Trott is dedicated to England and has the ability to respond to the many demands placed on him.

  • David on August 30, 2013, 0:26 GMT

    Who is this soft player averaging 45 against weak attacks? Any player who doesn't play at their best and still averages 40 is worth having. But it's true Trott no longer produces his interminable epics. Perhaps he has felt pressure to change his game. He seems to play as well as ever, he just seems to make mistakes sooner in his innings - now at 50 rather than 150. I think it's a touch of mental fatigue, something which is afflicting many of the English players at the moment. No other international side seems so expected to play test cricket all year round, year after year.

  • Android on August 29, 2013, 17:05 GMT

    trott will get loads of runs in Australia where wickets are quick. tighten up on bouncer and he will convert again. The Accumulator will be back in Oz.

  • Clifford on August 29, 2013, 14:09 GMT

    Prior to the Ashes I picked Trott to score 500 runs in the series so if you told me Bell got 500 and Trott only got 293 I'd have been mildly confused. Trott averaged 57 (91 strike rate!) in the Champions Trophy and displayed a level of fluency and strokeplay that belied all the "Trott can't score fast" talk. In the tests he generally looked good until the shot that got him out. The Aussies bowled & fielded a strict plan against him but his 50+ SR indicates he was scoring relatively fluently (compared to England's overall scoring rate) so their plan wasn't to slow him down it was to get him out. I think his plan going into the next Test series is to either restrict the shots he gets out to or (and I prefer this one) expand his options he's not so easy to plan for.

  • naresh on August 29, 2013, 12:31 GMT

    "or maybe he is just out of form" - yeah nice one :):)

    or maybe he is just the poor man's Hussey.

  • Jon on August 29, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    Trott looked better than I have seen him before this Ashes series. Whilst he was in he batted with greater authority, he hit the ball more cleanly, and until the moment he was out he never looked as though he was in the slightest difficulty. The reason he didn't score big this series is simple, the Aussies identified his main scoring region and cut it off with two short mid wickets and a deep square leg. Shots that normally would have found a gap on the leg side were numerous and mostly cut off. Routine field placings would have yielded big scores for Trott. Instead of being forced to bowl outside the off stump to Trott, they bowled to his strength at the stumps, but they strangled off the runs that he usually gets from that line of attack. He needs to figure out a way to score elsewhere from that line of attack. Maybe by playing straighter through mid on off a fuller length or finer from a shorter length? Free advice from the armchair Jonathan :)

  • Dayne on August 29, 2013, 6:41 GMT

    Whilst the format, regularity of appearance and media pressures re: scoring rate (relative to ODI's) will have had an impact I simply think that Trott was never going to continue averaging 60+.

    He's a good player with good stats, but they are in decline. Even Pietersen's average in Tests and ODI's declined after a long enough period of time.

    Still a good player, be interesting to see how his next few years go in Tests.

  • Heath on August 29, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    He relies way too much on the legside. Teams just set fields on the legside and wait for a mistake.

  • David on August 29, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    The problem is not with Trott: the problem is with the bastard offspring of T20, the Strike Rate Police. Trott receives much of the criticism that Kallis does. "Bats too slowly - look at his SR." But, an SR based analysis is outcome independent. If a SR of 50 is required to win on a demonic wicket, would one choose Kallis or KP to bat for the match?

    The strident voice of the SR police obscures a batsman's ability to be PROACTIVE WHEN REQUIRED. Looking at 'proactive' records reveals insights that a SR figure may not. Of the top 4 test run makers, SRT, Ponting, Dravid & Kallis, who was/is the most proactive? Many would answer "Ponting." Yet, Kallis struck more 6s - 97 in 274 inngs - than did Ponting - 73 in 287, or Tendulkar - 69 in 327 inns. Kallis also still holds the record for the fastest 50 - 24 balls. Of these 4, he alone appears on the "most consecutive 6s record!

    Ponting scored faster, SR 58.72, but Kallis, SR 46.08 scores more runs & makes more tons & that's what wins tests.

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