Monday, 12 July 2010

The awe-inspiring ugliness of Jonathan Trott

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.

7 comments:

Brit said...

I was at the Bristol game on Sunday. Quite a moment when Bell hobbled heroically out, and it really looked like Trott had timed his innings to perfection. Well, he did time it to perfection, but that nick to the keeper is the precise width of the margin between abject failure (England Collapse to Defeat Against Minnows!) and glorious success (Brave Bell and Nerveless Trott Complete Mission Impossible!)

Ghanshyam Nair said...

I'm too young to have watched Border and Gower live, and so all my experiences of watching them have been in highlights packages.
I actually like watching Border more than I do Gower, somehow. His square cut was a truly thrilling thing, as was his cover drive, hit with a gigantic follow through.
But maybe this is because all the highlights I've seen of Gower have been truncated after a couple of fluent shots (a tuck off the hips maybe and a swivelly pull), usually by a daft waft outside off.

Anonymous said...

He's in good company. The other English batsman with a test average greater than 50 are Ken Barrington, Denis Compton, Wally Hammond, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Eddie Paynter, Herbert Sutcliffe and Ernest Tyldesley.

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

I wouldn't disagree with much of that.

Maybe if he was a stylish looking batsman who played glorious cover drives, he would be an automatic selection.

I have said it before that I believe when it comes to the crunch and if all England's batsmen are fit, that OCD Trott will have to do a lot more to keep his place in the side than Bell or Colin Wood. And maybe even Eoin Morgan, if he can score runs against Pakistan.

If it was just down to weight of runs, it would be laughable to leave him out. He must have one of the best records of the England players over the last 12 months.

It's just a feeling I have, but I think something in Trotts make up dosen't fit in too well with the England hierarchy.

The selectors cleary want Bell in the side, and I think he will probably be brought back for the 1st Ashes test, which leaves Trott and Morgan playing for the 6th spot during the Pakistan series.

The Old Batsman said...

Yes, I think they see Bell and Morgan in the side, maybe with Trotters in the wings for when Colly finally hangs them up. England's middle order won't look right without someone doing it ugly...

Brit - good game to be at. I thought all of Belly's bravery was undone by the ridiculous boot. He looked like the elephant man. You can't look brave when you've got a theraputic trainer on your foot.

elflojo84 said...

The English have a funny obsession with good-looking batsmen. Dear old Belly is the obvious example - not so much nowadays, to be fair, but a couple of years ago he was getting away with murder and not getting dropped.

I like Trott though, for all the reasons mentioned, except his South Africanness. I switch it off when I'm watching, but in discussion I still can't gt over the horrible feeling we are employing mercenaries...

Anonymous said...

Surely if you had ever seen AB bat his cover drive with whirlwind like follow through would have been imprinted in your mind - especially if it was a thunderbolt from the likes of Marshall, Holding, Garner or Ambrose that was on its way to the fence at an astonishing speed (and of course in the day when bats rather than tree trunks were used).

Talking of batsmen easy on the eye - let me throw Richie Richardson into the mix. Aside from his hooking and pulling (sans-helmet), his square drive was something of beauty. Both feet of the ground and played with almost no effort at all. Oh how I tied (and failed) as a kid to play that shot.