Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day November 23, 2013

Trott at crossroads with short-ball troubles

Characteristically so cool and clear of mind, Jonathan Trott is now clouded with doubt and thought as he tries to deal with an issue that could define his career

During England's brief first innings at the Gabba, Jonathan Trott tucked a ball from Mitchell Johnson off his legs and, rather than settling for the comfortable single on offer, made a point of pushing for a sharp second run to ensure he stayed on strike.

It was a moment that revealed much about Trott. It was a moment that told the world he was not afraid and that he was not going to avoid the challenge that may well define his career.

But perhaps he protested a little too much. Perhaps that fortitude to ensure he did not duck that challenge went to the heart of Trott's problem: he is so determined to show he is not afraid of the short ball, that he is getting himself into impossible positions from which to play it.

Consider his approach to facing Johnson. Determined not to be seen to back away or in any way appear tentative, Trott is walking across his stumps and towards the bowler. It is leaving him unbalanced and rendering it more difficult for him to leave the ball or play straight.

Indeed, Trott may well be more nervous of appearing scared than he is by the ball. Like all top batsmen, he would gladly trade some thumping blows to the body rather than losing his wicket.

Certainly the suggestion from David Warner that Trott is "backing away" from the ball will hurt him greatly. "Pretty weak" was Warner's description of Trott's second-innings dismissal. "It looks like England have got scared eyes," he said.

Such words will sting Trott. They will sting far longer and far harsher than any bruise or cut from the ball. For such an allegation goes to the heart of how Trott sees himself. It raises questions not just about his technique, but about his character, his courage and even, in the world of alpha male sportsmen, his masculinity.

It is a misunderstanding, too. Trott's issue is more technical than it is a fear of the short ball. His technique - his down to up pull stroke, his movement at the moment the ball is released leaving him unbalanced at the crease and his trigger movement that takes him forward - is rendering it hard for him to leave the ball or keep it down.

That is not to say there is not a mental side to this. Trott knows he has an issue and he knows the world is aware of it. In his anxiety, he is becoming ever more frenetic at the crease and failing to follow his own golden rule not to overthink the game. He head, so clear when he batted England to victory on debut at The Oval in 2009 against Johnson et al. or against a brilliant Pakistan attack at Lord's in 2010 or in Melbourne later the same year, is now clouded by doubt and thought. Trott's apparent imperturbability has always masked some mental torment. Now it is spilling over.

It is a serious problem. He is struggling to deal with Johnson's short ball and, unless he can resolve the issue soon, he could be dropped from the Test side for the first time in his career. In both innings of this Test he has fallen to such deliveries, with the dismissal on day three - pulling straight to the man positioned for the stroke at deep-backward square leg - underlining his confusion and unease.

It is a simplification to state that Trott is simply unsettled by the short ball. From the moment he entered Test cricket with that century against Australia, bowlers have tested him that way. The pitches have rarely been this quick but he has prospered on them before and against bowlers of pace. He showed the folly of those who dismissed him after one poor Test in Johannesburg in January 2010.

But Johnson represents a perfect storm of issues for him. Not only is he fast - though no faster than the likes of Tino Best - but he is unpredictable, slingy and left-arm. Trott, unable to anticipate even a rough area in which the ball is directed, is struggling to judge the length or how high the ball will bounce and is unsure whether to defend or attack. At present he is doing a bit of both and a lot of neither.

He could do worse than look how Michael Clarke has risen to the challenge. Clarke, who has also struggled to deal with the short ball from Stuart Broad, responded to his first innings failure with a textbook innings on day three. While he may well have looked to use the pull short earlier in his innings than he might have done on other occasions, he generally went back to basics: he watched the ball carefully, he remained calm and he played straight. Trott, his mind scrambled, is maybe trying to watch the ball, but he is not playing straight and he does not look calm.

He will not suffer for a lack of hard work. After suffering similar problems in the limited-overs series against Australia that ended the English summer (he was only dismissed by Johnson once, with a perfect bouncer, but it stuck in the mind of both men), Trott prepared for this challenge thoroughly. After a brief holiday, he went into the nets and faced a bowling machine cranked up to its maximum setting and aimed at his head and neck for hour after hour. Clearly it was not quite enough to prepare him for the almost unique problems presented by Johnson.

He now stands at a crossroads. How he copes with this challenge will define the rest of his career. But a man good enough to average in excess of 50, as Trott has done in both ODI and Test cricket for much of his career, and a man good enough to win the 2011 ICC Player of the Year award - arguably the highest award in cricket - should not be written off prematurely.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roo on November 25, 2013, 8:48 GMT

    Really sad to learn the news of Trott having to leave the tour - a good bloke - & maybe the foreign owned news media in Oz have to take a fair shame of the blame for this...

    Anyway, all the best to a top cricketer & all the best in the future :)

  • Subramani on November 24, 2013, 11:58 GMT

    Nutcutlet Trott's predicament is similar to what Mohender Amarnath was in in 1979.After he had played for India for almost 10 years and having done fairly well Jimmy suddenly started falling to short-pitched bowling. In fact in the Bombay test of 1979, Rod Hogg hit him on his sola toupee --before helmets --which fell on the stumps and he was bowled. The selectors saw that he had a problem and he was dropped for 3 years. before 1979 he had even played Roberts Holding and Thomson and had done quite well.Then suddenly it happened in 1979.He made a comeback in 82 on the back of heavy domestic scores He was solid in Pakistan against Imran and co and then in West Indies against Marshall and co.He had switched over to an open stance and seemed infallible till he got out for 0 or so for 6 consecutive Test innings.He would nick to slips almost helplessly.So an open stance can succeed only if Trott gets square behind the line of the ball like Amla does and NOT play side on beside the line of it.

  • Dayne on November 24, 2013, 8:30 GMT

    Trott sat with a therapist for 4 hours when he was correctly given out LBW in the last Ashes, how long is he going to have to sit with them for after being absolutely embarrassed twice in this Test?

    Adelaide starts up in early December, he may still be in therapy by that stage!

    He got absolutely hammered here, completely out at sea.

    Very, very weak cricketer. His last 2160 runs have been at an average of 36. He's been on the decline for literally the last half of his career.

  • Saurabh on November 24, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    @foozball- Even getting rid of his trigger movement might not be an easy thing to do in the short term.He will have a whole array of weight transfer issues into all shots he plays.He might have more time to counter the short-pitched stuff aimed at him,but will end up sacrificing scoring opportunities.I think he is much better off fighting this out mentally,rather than look for technical answers especially on tour.He needs to play risk-free cricket and make the Aussies bowl where he wants it.Take a leaf out of Sachin's 241 against the Aussies where he didn't play the cover drive throughout his stay at the crease.

  • David on November 24, 2013, 5:10 GMT

    @ Pistol Smith thinks that "Johnson and steyn r probably the 2 best bowlers right now - the batsmen never know whats coming."

    Hmm - in Johnson's case the team, the management, and Johnson never know what's coming. When you say "the 2 best bowlers right now" you mean today, right? Johnson could go off the boil tomorrow, and his alter ego Midge the pie chucker could emerge.

    On the other hand, Steyn has clearly been the best quick since 2009. The players, the team, the management, the crowds, the press - all know what's coming. Wickets.More wickets. And even more wickets.

    Philander's record completely smokes Johnson., & he is a hair behind Steyn. Johnson needs more than one match to be accorded such honour.

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2013, 2:47 GMT

    Johnson and steyn r probably the 2 best bowlers right now - the batsmen never know whats coming

  • Geoffrey on November 24, 2013, 0:09 GMT

    Get rid of the forward press and move back or forward depending on the length of the ball. Has worked the same way for 200 years. Back to basic Trotty. Read your ancestors book on how to play cricket maybe.

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    I'm Australian and I grew up watching the tests of the late 70s early 80s. My benchmark for failure is therefore rather high: Greg Chappell at one point had a sequence of six or seven consecutive ducks and wasn't dropped.

    I would describe calls for Trott's axing as premature.

  • Steven on November 23, 2013, 23:39 GMT

    @Ivan Joseph, changing something like a stance or backlift is going to be difficult in the short term. If he stopped walking into the shots and stayed still, he would have time to adjust his backlift and hit down on the short ball. Eliminate those couple of steps, and he'd be in a much better position.

  • Andrew on November 23, 2013, 23:22 GMT

    He looked very poor yesterday, like his problems have gotten to him mentally. He shuffles across the crease and looks to play to the leg side a lot. However he's not the first batsman to be "sorted out" Needs to spend time in the middle and maybe not look to score as quickly and his form will return, but he does have problems with his technique that needs sorting out. he should restrict himself ala Steve Waugh to regain control and get 'in" before accelerating. As for cricpanther I love your optimism (have you been living in Aus) and it is the right attitude to wrest back control of the match but its counter to the English temperament and the way this side has been playing. Also history is not on your side. 550 is 100 more than the previously successful 4th innings chase and this is a wicket that will only further deteriorate in the hot Australian sun

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