Trott puts tough times behind him
When Chris Gayle arrived in Cape Town this week, he hijacked a press conference for the South African media and inquired: "Are you ready for me?" It was a fair question, on the evidence of Friday's first T20, but there was never likely to be such cheek from Jonathan Trott, even though it is his home city. Trott and the ECB had turned down a request for an interview from the prestigious BBC Today programme, despite not having to contend with John Humphrys. One short appearance after net practice, the England Lions coach in tow, was to be the extent of any questioning.
More than a year after the abrupt cessation of his international career, Trott was under the radar in the beautiful club ground at Claremont, a few Gayle clouts away from Newlands. Trott's doings will be of little interest in these parts unless he returns as a member of England's tour party later this year. The good news, though, is that he looks and feels abundantly healthy.
This short Lions trip represents the ideal rehabilitation for Trott following his return from Australia last winter with a stress-related illness. For a start, the Cape is where he grew up and Cape Town holds an equal place in his affections with his adopted home of Birmingham. "There are no family members coming to watch me play and this is more a holiday destination now," he said.
South Africans who make their living in England are, of course, under pressure to state that they prefer UK hot spots, although Kevin Pietersen, who has been in touch with Trott, famously did not care for Black Country accents. Trott will be commencing the first-class leg of this tour with a match against South Africa A in Paarl this Sunday. His opposite number as captain, Rory Kleinveldt, played with him at both school level and for Western Province. "I am not surprising Trotty is making a comeback," Kleinveldt said. "He has always been a fighter."
The pitch, examined on Friday by Trott and Mark Robinson, who is coaching the Lions along with Andy Flower, is expected to be a flat one. Yet, recalling what happened when Mitchell Johnson was unleashed on Trott in Australia, Vincent Barnes, the South Africa A coach, was unequivocal: "We'll be bowling fourth stump at him - with the odd bouncer." So we shall glean more at the end of this match and the second first-class fixture in Bloemfontein about whether Trott can meet the challenge to revive his career and add to his still impressive Test statistics of 3,763 runs at an average of 46.45.
There is no mistaking his intention to do so. "I speak to Alastair Cook now and again when he is not busy, although the selectors have not spoken to me," he said. "But they do not send players on this kind of tour without having an eye to them coming back into the England side. It has been pretty hard to have been out for some time. It's definitely a learning curve and I look back on a period when I have definitely grown as a person. I found a bit of form with Warwickshire - it was not all plain sailing, there were some tough times I had to go through again. But I managed to come through them, that's the pleasing bit." Then, a none-too-thinly veiled remark: "This kind of tour will benefit anyone coming back to play for England against South Africa at the end of the year."
Returning for England in his homeland, rather than suffer the potential stress of another Ashes series this summer, could well be ideal for Trott, for he knows the pitches and the people so well. He has made a good start: 79 from 127 balls in the Lions' first match in Soweto this week. Now 33, he intends to continue playing for as long as he can. "Until I am 45," he said. "No, I'm joking - 38 at least." Lions' tours are drawn up to engender self-belief. "I would not have been as confident a cricketer had I not been on one before."
And he did not contemplate spurning the offer of the captaincy. "As a schoolboy I really enjoyed it and I did in Soweto as well," he said. "It is nice being able to guide a side in the direction one wants to go." As well as having had conversations with the England captain, Trott has been in contact with Pietersen, who wrote sympathetically of his illness in his autobiography. Should Pietersen be afforded a return to international cricket? "It would have to suit both parties," Trott said. Eventually, he, too, will write an autobiography. "When I am done. I have a few stories and experiences I want to tell. There has got to be closure."
Robinson, the Sussex coach who is here to oversee the development of a strong Lions side, emphasised the value of having Trott involved. "We are ever so lucky to get a senior player like Jonathan on this trip," he said. "Sam Billings has already spoken of how much he has learnt from him." And with it, perhaps, closure comes a little closer.