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May 27, 2010
Of all the South African-born cricketers to have been selected for the England team in recent times, Jonathan Trott has attracted more opprobrium than most. The perception has been that he is a prickly character to whom it is hard to warm, and the gratitude that England's fans felt for his Ashes-winning heroics at The Oval last summer was swiftly replaced by schadenfreude as his confidence collapsed in the course of a traumatic winter.
And yet, for anyone who tuned out of Test cricket at the end of the English season last August, here was the sight of Trott striding onto the front foot on the first Test of the 2010 summer at Lord's, with confidence renewed and mindset focussed only on each of his 270 deliveries. No-one who missed it would believe the mental fluctuations that his career has encountered in the intervening nine months. Ironically for a man who struggles to come across as sufficiently "English" to his detractors, there's nowhere quite like England for bringing out the best in his game.
Right now, Trott's home Test record stands at 335 runs in three innings, with back-to-back centuries and an average of 167.50. Those are not the statistics of a man in crisis, but had it not been for the decision to rest Paul Collingwood, it's hard to see how Trott could possibly have made the cut for this contest. Match by match, format by format, his apparently integral role in all three England squads has been eroded by doubt on his own part, and also by the emergence of key challengers, and the collective impact on his psyche has been plain to see.
"Every time you don't get runs when you put on the England helmet, it's disappointing," said Trott. "You want to do as well as you can, but perhaps I got over-keen. It's not so much that I was trying to chase the game, but having done so well in the Ashes Test and the one-day games in South Africa, and the first Test as well, you think it's something you really enjoy, because it's a great feeling and a great buzz. So when a few innings don't go your way, you start to ask: 'Why am I not getting runs?', and you start to look for things that perhaps aren't there."
The rot for Trott had set in with an inexplicable fury shortly after the first Test in Centurion. He helped to save that game, with a gutsy five-hour 69 in the second innings, but even during that performance the doubts were visibly creeping into his mind. Whereas on debut against Australia he had stretched forward to pace and spin alike and dominated the crease even in defence, now he found himself camped on the back foot, literally and metaphorically, with gripes about his time-wasting chiselling away at his psyche.
Somehow, Trott found it impossible thereafter to extricate himself from the negativity of that performance, and his first innings of the decisive final Test at Johannesburg was grim, as he thrashed at every delivery and was eventually pinned lbw for an eight-ball 5, while South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur, mimed the suggestion that he had a screw loose prior to his final innings of that campaign. In Bangladesh, bad judgment gave way to bad luck, as he was caught off his helmet, bowled off his armguard and run out by an erroneous decision in three of his four innings.
"I was a little bit disappointed with the way I ended the South Africa tour," he said. "Everyone seems to speak about that, but I played a few good innings. It was just a few bad shots, a few good balls, but that's cricket. I was a bit frustrated in Bangladesh, getting a few scores but getting out in a few funny ways, but that's in the past, and to be able to stay composed and get a good start today was important. I had a positive frame of mind and intent when I walked out there today."
A new season has brought with it a new serenity, and the demons of the winter appear to have been cast aside. "I'm really chuffed to be able to sit here overnight with a chance to bat tomorrow morning," he said. "It's not payback, but the game just works itself out. That's a bit philosophical, but the more you play it the more you see things go someone's way when they need it, after having a rough time."
Right up until the moment that Trott emerged to replace Alastair Cook midway through the first hour, his position at No. 3 had remained the subject of some speculation. With few pundits giving him much hope of playing in the crucial first Test at Brisbane in November, the match towards which Andrew Strauss admitted that this entire summer is being geared, it seemed counter-intuitive to play an apparently peripheral figure in such a key position.
But equally, Strauss had also called upon his batsmen to turn their starts into big hundreds, and in that regard, Trott has lived up to the demand magnificently. A pretty fifty would have proved little against opponents of Bangladesh's calibre; even a middling 120 would have left him open to a shrug of the shoulders. But a big daddy of an unbeaten 175, with the promise of more to come, is a performance that sets the cat among the selectorial pigeons.
All winter long, Trott has batted with the joie de vivre of a condemned man, but now, all of a sudden, he's decided it's time to fight for his stay of execution. The pressure for Ashes places is hotting up already.
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