Trott's patient approach earns overdue acclaim
After a summer of contests that tickled the fancy without quite hitting the spot, here at last was a day of Test cricket to savour. For England it began with catastrophe - the loss of four wickets for eight runs in the space of 16 morale-shattering deliveries - and at 47 for 5, with England's No. 11 being summoned from the nets barely five minutes into the day's play, it would have surprised no-one had the slump culminated in the fourth double-figure total in the space of five Tests. It's been that sort of a season after all - one characterised by abject batting surrenders, not least those instigated by the prodigious and seemingly unplayable Mohammad Amir.
But great Test cricket requires flow to counterbalance the ebb, which is why what happened next will live on in the memory long after the cheers of a raucously absorbed Lord's crowd have faded into the night. With their credibility on the line after squandering a 2-0 series lead amid a clatter of wickets at The Oval, the onus was on England to fight with greater tenacity than at any stage since their rearguards at Centurion and Cape Town last winter. In the improbable pairing of Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad they found two men capable of bending the contest to their will.
The manner in which Trott and Broad tore through the record-books was impressive in its own right, as they extended their unbroken stand to a massive 244, which is just two runs shy of England's all-time eighth-wicket record, and already the tenth-best for any wicket from No. 7 to 10. That they did so with the innings at the absolute point of no-return at 102 for 7, however, was little short of awe-inspiring. As Graham Gooch had said on the rain-truncated first day, this Test is the only Test that counts - not the one that got away at The Oval, nor the moderately significant one that takes place in Brisbane in three months' time. And to England's credit, they found sufficient focus to keep the entire arena mesmerised by the here-and-now.
"I knew that if we were 100 all out this Test series was going to be 2-2," said Broad. "So I looked to take a bit of responsibility, and Trotty was fantastic in the way he was so clear with his thoughts. He said to play straight as you can and look to have positive intent, and we didn't think about getting even to 200. We just talked about going up in fives - 105, 110 - which keeps your mind clear and you don't worry too much about what the wicket is doing."
Though Broad stole the show with the purity of his maiden first-class hundred, it is Trott who has been England's banker batsman throughout this most puzzling of summers. While his team-mates have never once questioned his value to the side, it's taken the English public a long old while to warm to his awkward charms, which is especially strange when you consider how ubiquitous his form has been in home internationals, ever since he seized the Ashes with that brilliant debut hundred at The Oval last August. Today he brought up his 1000th Test run in his 23rd innings, but if you include the 94 and 110 he made in the Bangladesh ODIs back in July, he has 998 international runs from his last 15 home innings in all forms of international cricket, at a formidable average of 90.72.
In another era, such credentials would have been sufficient to earn him instant cult status - take Robin Smith and Allan Lamb, for instance, two other South African-born batsmen whose heritage was not held against them by an adoring public. But the further problem with Trott is the fussy, borderline-OCD nature of his cricket. Like his fellow Capetonian Jacques Kallis, he cloaks his talent with a one-size-fits-all batting tempo that seems out of kilter with the entertainment-obsessed era into which the game has now moved. But as Kevin Pietersen unwittingly demonstrated with a ghastly first-ball mow to the keeper, patience remains a virtue that no Test cricketer can live without.
Trott's average in Lord's Tests currently stands at an incredible 411, but if his double-century against Bangladesh earlier in the season was harshly derided for its langueur, this tour de force left no-one in any doubt about the value of a cricketer who sets himself for survival like Ray Mears in a bushtucker trial. His attacking strokes, such as they were, were nothing more than calculated caresses, as he utilised the precise amount of power required to pick the gap and find the boundary - and in so doing virtually eliminated any prospect of a false stroke, even while Amir and Mohammad Asif were probing his outside edge.
"In the position we were in, he was out there for the whole collapse and saw the ball nipping around. That can easily get in a batsman's mind," said Broad. "But he played with such clarity, hit strongly through the leg-side and picked up anything that was slightly a bad ball and put it away. It was a special effort, and we all know what a great temperament he has. I think that will be fantastic for him in his Test career to come, because he's already got more than 1,000 runs, averaging 50, and that is testament to the player he is."
Trott's 149 was the second time in this bowler-ruled series that he had racked up more than 100 runs in a Test, and while his pair of fifties in the victory at Edgbaston were reasonably warmly received, their overall impact was lost amid the navel-gazing about Broad's wayward shy at Zulqarnain Haider, and the question marks that that fit of pique raised about England's temperamental readiness for the Ashes. However, the clarity of this response brooked no equivocation. The mongrel in Broad that compels him to tread a precarious disciplinary line will be invaluable when the going gets tough in Australia, as will Trott's bloodless desire to bat on regardless of circumstance. But right at this moment, all that matters is the task at hand. And neither man is content with their position just yet.
"It's a very important morning tomorrow, because our big aim is to get 400," said Broad. "It was key that we communicated this evening, because it would have been easy to give away a cheap wicket, and then - boom, boom - you're not in a good position. We just talked of not giving our wickets away, because they'll have a 30-over old ball tomorrow when their seamers are bowling, and hopefully we can capitalise on that."
For the time being, though, Broad can reflect on a seminal day in his development as an international cricketer. His only previous century in any form of cricket had come for Leicestershire Under-19s against Derbyshire during the formative years of his professional career, but now - thanks in no small part to the immense assurance provided by his partner - he has gone one better than his father, Chris, and scored a hundred at the home of cricket, no less.
"I always dreamt of an extra-cover drive for my hundred," he said. "But luckily, it was on my legs - and I'll take anything. If I was to pick any ground in the world it would be at Lord's, so this is one of those days that will live long in my memory. Today has given me a lot of confidence that I can score Test match hundreds, and I hope this is a stepping stone to go and score many more."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.