Thursday 27 October 2011

There may not be an answer to the question of Jonathan Trott

Andy Flower's face doesn't do happy very happily, but displeasure writes itself eloquently across it. After England's final defeat in Kolkata he looked like a man extracting a wasp from a loose filling with his tongue. In his 50 over team, there aren't just questions over the so-so players, there are questions over the successful ones, too. If he was to list, in order, the batsmen over whom there is no quibble, it would start and end with Eoin Morgan. Next - equivocal only in the minds of the press - would come Pietersen, then the made bed we must lie in, Alastair Cook. And then it's the ICC cricketer of the year, Jonathan Trott.

Trott occupies that category of batsman for whom flair is another country [current proprietor S. Chanderpaul, notable residents Simon Katich, Paul Collingwood, Graeme Smith]. There may be little aesthetic pleasure to his game, but there are consolations, and not just in the scorebook. Behind Trott trails the obsessive-compulsive's checklist of ticks and rituals, the mad-ass rundown of scrapes and sidesteps of a man who must impose clarity and order. Once he has done, he is set. His mental landscape is entirely different to Lara's or Pietersen's or Ponting's, players who need the challenge to escalate as they bat, and who will escalate it themselves if the bowlers won't.

There is something ineffably English about debating the merit of a man who has the best record in the team, is the cricketer of the year and has, with 1,310 ODI runs, 172 more than anyone else in 2011, yet that is his lot, because he is a man out of time. Had he played ten years ago in the pre-T20 era, when the possible was comfy and predictable, he would appear without argument. But the possible is no longer comfy and anyone can score anything; limited overs batting is now the art of vicious, unpredictable acceleration set around periods of accumulation. These are the surges that will define games.

The broad, non-penetrative measures of average and strike rate cannot and do not tell the story of those surges. In a small room in Loughborough, England's analysts have recorded every ball delivered in international cricket in the last five years. While Flower does not talk publicly about what they've found, you can be sure that he will pondering stats like those in Mohali, when Trott made 26 from 25 deliveries in the last 10 overs of England's innings, and the numbers that tell him that Trott has scored at better than a run a ball in three of his 38 ODIs.

Put simply, Trott's runs are useful at certain points of the innings and less so at others. They suit games that have middling totals of 250-280. This is what makes him a percentage selection. The choice of Cook as captain and by default, opener, has also compromised Trott's value as the man to bat around.

The rest of the order needs to coalesce before Trott's position becomes clearer. It's not inconceivable that the answer is for him and Cook to open together, and for batting below them to be supercharged by Bell, Pietersen, Morgan and Patel, with Keiswetter or Bairstow keeping wicket and batting deep, plus the option of Bopara and the versatility his bowling brings.

Trott's game may not have fully flowered. His success so far has lain in ruthless elimination of error and risk. Collingwood introduced his thump over cow corner and, allied to his scampering, his fielding and the odd inspired spell of bowling, it made him the essential selection that Trott is not. Even Chanderpaul can and has destroyed teams in short bursts. Trott has bullishly claimed he can hit sixes, so maybe he should try. It's no longer a luxury, a skill like that.

Flower is trying to overcome a notoriously cautious culture, and one scarred not just by failure but by humiliation and embarrassment. This is the nation that opened in a World Cup final with Brearley and Boycott; that for a decades would have loved to have enough talent at its disposal to just get into position to choke. The really adventurous long-term selection as 50-over captain was Eoin Morgan, which strangely, would have shored-up Trott's position. With Cook, they have hedged to some degree. Whether he or Trott make it to the 2015 World Cup is a question that at the moment has no right answer.


diogenes said...

My bias but I think that Trott could be coached into an effective limited-overs style by flexing his wrists and easing the ball into gaps etc - a la Boycott in extremis (the one-day series in 79-80, when Brearley attracted the hatred of Australia simply by growing an enormous beard). I simply do not think that Cook has that level of technical ability. The ideal solution would be for Bell to get into the order and play with freedom.

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

I love the line 'this is the nation that opened with Boycott and Brearley in a world cup final,' how can that ever be topped.

My simple summing up on my own blog was when we have 6 batsmen who all score the same amount of runs, but a lot quicker, then drop him.

I know that is a very simplistic view, but what option is there at the moment?

I don't believe that Trott is the whole problem, as you have eluded to in your piece. The fact is that the whole balance at the top of the order with Cook and Trott seems wrong.

I don't know the answer, it will be interesting to see which route we go down in the next series.

Andy Flower said that wrong personal was part of the reasons for the failure. How far wrong we don't know.

Kieswetter and Bopara seem the obvious two, but maybe Flower has more reservations about Cook than he previously did. On form I don't see how we could leave Trott out and pick Cook, but we are obviously not going to leave Cook out at the moment.

England have backed themselves into a corner with our selection of captain. I await the next ODI squad with interest.

John Holmes said...

"...that category of batsman for whom flair is another country.." yes, yes !

I nominate (from the 70s) Brian Bolus, John Barclay and Chris Tavare

price per head said...

as John wisely said, I would nominate John Barclay and Brian Bolus too, those two are my favorites no doubt