Trott's success tops Lions report
It is axiomatic that the most heartening aspect of England Lions' two first-class matches on their short tour of South Africa has been Jonathan Trott's return to international cricket following his stress-related illness. In terms of making an unbeaten double century at Paarl and then a half century at Bloemfontein it has been statistically successful, but then no-one doubted he could still score runs. More significantly, he has enjoyed his cricket and, insofar as anyone can pass judgement on a private matter, has appeared healthy and happy.
Nor has he evaded his responsibilities as captain. He is sufficiently media savvy to have perfected the politician's art of tossing a question back at his interlocutor, but has done so with humour. One question from this correspondent about whether he would like to follow Kevin Pietersen in coming up with an autobiography of his own was met with: "Would you like to write it?" Another, seemingly straightforward inquiry, was met with: "Is that a statement or a question?" In the mind's eye, Harold Wilson is sucking on his pipe to bide time and clear his thoughts.
One or two people came up to Trott and told him they knew his father or a friend of a friend of a friend, or some such connection, and he was invariably polite in response. This, after all, is his homeland. He knows the people, the pitches, even the opposition. Vincent Barnes, his old coach from his teenage years in the Cape and now looking after South Africa A, rather gave the game away when he said Trott had told him he was ready to return to international cricket.
Quite when that will be is unknown. Sam Robson is the England opener-in-possession, but he did not excel on the trip in front of Andy Flower and Graham Thorpe. Adam Lyth made 65 in Bloemfontein while wickets were falling around him, but otherwise 7 and 37, and Alex Lees 53 runs in three innings. So Trott could yet be the preferred choice as Alastair Cook's partner in the Caribbean. As for James Vince, the most successful batsman after Trott through innings of 78 at Paarl and an unbeaten 152 under some pressure at Bloemfontein, and whose cover drive is wonderfully alluring, he is not an opener. He will, though, be given the captaincy in the forthcoming one-day internationals.
It would have been ideal for the Lions if they had played in more temperate conditions in Cape Town rather than commute to Paarl (temperatures in the high 30s and 42 degrees on the last day) and then have to leave their Newlands hotel the following morning at 4.30 am to fly to Bloemfontein, where they had to field in the mid to high 30s. It was a chance to give Paarl some much-wanted top-level cricket, but on such a short trip playing in Cape Town would have made sense. There would probably have been more spectators as well.
Mick Newell has been in Bloemfontein in his capacity as an England selector, reminiscing about Pietersen when he was Nottinghamshire's second XI coach: "A quite shy young lad who I thought was going to become an outstanding performer." More significantly, he talked of the feedback that would be given to each county club at the end of this tour, emphasising that there is no pressure from the selectors in terms of which Lions players should be chosen for which format. "We don't interfere with the way the clubs pick their teams."
As to the bowlers, the England hierarchy would have learnt little that they did not already know about Liam Plunkett, who took seven wickets. Much the same could probably be said of Boyd Rankin. Mark Wood is the emerging talent, singled out by Temba Bavuma, a century maker in Bloemfontein. He has a short, springy run-up, strong shoulders, and in addition looks as though he will soon be regarded as an allrounder rather than, at present, as a bowler who can bat.
As for South Africa A, Theunis de Bruyn, who made an unbeaten 202 in Paarl and 161 in Bloemfontein, is clearly a Test cricketer of the near future. Newell rated Chris Morris, who is accurate and lively, but who is now 27. Rory Kleinveldt, his new ball partner, was the pick of the attack, but will be 32 in March. He is to join Northamptonshire this season.
"They wanted me last year, but I had tendonitis in my knee," he said. "I am absolutely a better bowler now than when I played for Hampshire in 2008, when I had to have a hernia operation. I understand the game better and it will be a challenge for me to adapt to bowling different lengths in England. I shall have at least two months with Northamptonshire as an overseas player, but am nationally contracted so may be required to go back home. Which of the members of their team do I know? Richard Levi. I'm not too familiar with the rest."