Sportsmen, unlike sports fans, are generally pragmatists. For lovers of aesthetic beauty, cricket is a game of how. For the people who play it for a living, it's a game of how many. But even pragmatism has its limits, apparently.
Having watched him bat for hours already this year, it's evident that you can only tell if Jonathan Trott is in form by looking in the scorebook. If there are runs in there, he is. If there aren't, he isn't. There's no point looking at him because it will just provoke pain: the endless obsessive ritual of chicken-scratching the crease, the frowns and grimaces, the rictus of tension in the neck...
And that's just before the ball comes down. When it does, it might be shovelled through midwicket off the back foot, or bunted behind square with a cut, or functionally push-driven through cover [with a truncated follow-through, natch - no flourish necessary].
Trott hurts the eye. He is not alone in this. What's interesting is how far aesthetics intrude into the judgement of a player. To take an obvious example, compare David Gower to Allan Border. Gower - 8,000 odd runs at 44. Border 11,000-ish runs at 50. Yet when greatness in batting is discussed, Gower is mentioned, misty-eyed, as often as nuggety AB is left out. In the mind's eye, Gower exists as an idyll. It's a struggle to remember too many of Border's shots [especially if you're English...], and yet palpably he was the better, more important cricketer.
Trotters is used to mixed messages. After one Test he was a saviour. After South Africa, he was a weirdo, after Bangladesh a dupe. During this summer, a career that has brought him a Test average of 50 with one hundred and one double in nine games, and an ODI average of 70 with a hundred and a 90 in six matches, he has been regarded with a combination of suspicion and doubt.
Partly, that is because of aesthetics. Stress tells on his face and his body language. Unable to offer anything that looks more than functional, it's hard for him to excite the imagination, even of the pragmatists in the dressing room. If he'd produced exactly the same set of figures, but batted like Mark Ramprakash while he did it, we wouldn't even be having the conversation.
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