England v Bangladesh, 2nd Test, Old Trafford June 2, 2010

'Trott determined, not obsessive' - Giles

George Dobell
Despite scoring 226 at Lord's, Jonathan Trott's performance didn't satisfy everyone and his mindset was again picked apart. George Dobell, who knows him well, looks at what drives him

An interesting exchange occurred during Jonathan Trott's Test debut.

As the Australians watched him re-mark his guard in what was rapidly becoming familiar fashion, Ricky Ponting remarked "Watch you don't fall down that canyon you're digging"

"It's the only way you'll get rid of me," Trott replied.

So it proved. Trott went on to record a debut century that went a long way towards England regaining the Ashes. It seemed as if a star had been born. A star whose calm determination would serve England for several years.

Yet, somewhere along the line, Trott's rigorous, methodical approach has started to be ridiculed. Instead of admiring his professionalism, there were some in the media box at Lord's who could scarcely contain their antipathy towards the man even as he made his double-century against Bangladesh. Instead of admiring Trott's concentration, some were keen to dismiss his approach as the tortured mannerisms of a crazed loon.

Which is nonsense.

Trott is no lunatic. He's not quite an obsessive, either. But he is driven and he is professional. So he's worked out a method that works for him and that helps eliminate the lapses in concentration that used to blight his batting. As he's averaged 62.73 in first-class cricket since the start of 2008, the evidence suggests it is working rather well.

The trench that Trott now builds in each innings was born out of practicality. He used to 'fall over' to the off side so, in attempting to retain his balance, he marks a line over which he will not step. It helps him play straighter and, just as importantly, it helps occupy his mind between deliveries when, in the past, he might have started to think about milestones and averages.

It's far from unique. Think of Shivnarine Chanderpaul using a bail to mark his guard. Or Graeme Smith ensuring his grip on the bat is exactly as he likes it. It's not about an obsessive compulsive disorder; it's about the pursuit of excellence. It's really not such a bad characteristic.

To understand Trott, it's probably necessary to go back to the 2007 season. He started that year with ambitions of playing for England but ended it struggling to hold down a place in the Warwickshire team. The Championship campaign yielded him just 396 runs at an average of 19.8.

That experience hurt Trott. It threatened his dreams and instilled in him an insatiable hunger to take advantage when conditions improved. He knows what it's like to fail and he doesn't want to go through such a trial again.

So, when Ashley Giles took over as director of cricket at Edgbaston at the start of 2008, he and Trott sat down and discussed his approach.

"His batting now is all about remaining process-focused," Giles explained. "Before then he was too results-focused. He was always worrying about how long he had to bat, how many runs he had to score and what the effect on his average might be.

"Now he just concentrates on the little things. He makes sure he's prepared for each ball and that he concentrates on that and nothing else. As a consequence he's built up a series of rituals and routines, but he's far from unusual in that.

"I don't ever recall his rituals becoming an issue in county cricket. And I wouldn't say he holds up the game. Certainly no more than someone like Graeme Smith.

"The great strength of his batting is that it is not about the situation. He stays in the moment and simply plays each ball on its own merit. So when he came into the England team for that huge Ashes Test, it didn't make any difference to him. He played each ball on its merit just as he did against Bangladesh."

There was one moment at Lord's that caused particular mirth. Just after he hit the winning runs - his 262nd of the match, it should be noted - Trott once again re-marked his guard before dragging himself back to the pavilion and the celebrations.

Why? Because he was still in his bubble. Still concentrating. Still focused. Just as it took Bob Willis a few minutes to come out of the trance-like state in which he bowled England to success at Leeds in 1981, it takes Trott a little while to switch off. Again, in a game where tiny lapses of concentration can prove decisive, it's not such a bad habit.

"He does love batting," Giles agrees. "It's not his life by any means, but he does really love it. Quite often you'll see him marking his guard just after he's hit the winning runs in a T20 match and everyone else is celebrating. But, a couple of minutes later, he relaxes and enjoys it as much as anyone.

"He has copped some flak this week. But it seems to me that he should take that as flattery. He's batted for long periods and people couldn't think of anything else to criticise. He's just getting to the stage where he could be rated as one of the best in the world and, from the perspective of Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss, I'd think they were very happy to have him in the side."

You bet they are. But spare a thought for Warwickshire who, without Trott, look runless and rudderless. It's surely no coincidence that the club were relegated when he endured his grim season in 2007 and regained first division status and respectability when he rediscovered his form in 2008 and 2009. Without him they are once again struggling. But Warwickshire's loss should be England's gain.