A little self-deprecating humour can go a long way to winning over a sceptical audience. After receiving England’s player of the year award at Lord’s last night, Jonathan Trott was asked by Nasser Hussain about his relationship with Alastair Cook: “It’s not really our game to go out and smash a load of sixes – or indeed any.”
Asked about his obsessive-compulsive guard-scratching that has so infuriated fans and opponents alike, he said: “You come in our dressing room you’ll find a lot crazier people than me.”
When Hussain mentioned Don Bradman (the only man in Test history to have scored more runs at a higher average than Trott’s current standing), Trott pulled a face. It was the same face he pulled on Monday evening when Andrew Strauss compared him to Tendulkar and Kallis for his ability to “get in a bubble”.
Trott is a man that, one imagines, is not prone to false modesty. Indeed, not long before his Test debut in 2009, a colleague spoke to a coach at one of Warwickshire’s opponents who described Trott as the best player his side had faced that season but the least like-able individual.
But Trott looked genuinely taken aback, albeit with a degree of understandable pride, to be mentioned in the same breath as these batting greats.
Hussain asked him about his struggles in South Africa following on from his debut century against Australia in 2009. Trott’s explanation was that he put too much pressure on himself and certainly that was the impression given by those who were close to him on that tour. There seemed to be an overwrought intensity to him, almost Ramprakash-like, that did not bode well.
He says he has gone back to basics and the results, if not the process, are eye-watering. Since the start of May 2010, he has scored 1,317 Test runs at 94, 72 more runs than the next man on the list Sachin Tendulkar (1,245 at 77). The others with 1,000 or more are Alastair Cook (1,125 at 66), Jacques Kallis (1,104 at 110) and Virender Sehwag (1,003 at 52).
If one looks beyond the averages to the strike-rates, it gets interesting. Of the 20 leading Test run-scorers since May last year, only Sehwag has a strike-rate above 65 runs per 100 balls. His is 89. Trott’s is a steady 50, three an over. Others in the top 10 are slightly higher than that but not much. Tendulkar, for example, is 51. Others of note include Shane Watson whose strike-rate is 48 and Rahul Dravid 41.
The key issue, if there is one, is not the pace at which Trott scores his runs but about an ability to go through the gears, to change the pace of an innings to suit a situation, especially in the one-day game. He is not an ugly batsman. He plays nicely through the covers although he favours mid-wicket. But he plays robotically. He is, as Strauss so admiringly said, in a bubble.
His double hundred at Cardiff was typical Trott. At no point did he force the pace. At no point did he have to force the pace. The bowling was unthreatening and tactically flabby. He and Alastair Cook took the runs that were offered in five hours of relentless accumulation for a third-wicket partnership of 251.
But the one statistic that does raise an eyebrow is that Trott, having scored 125 from 219 balls by the end of the third day, scored 78 from 190 thereafter. He got slower when one might expect a batsman in that situation to quicken up. In mitigation, batting was harder on the fourth afternoon than at any time in the match but still it seems a bit odd.
Few are likely to spend their hard-earned cash with the express wish to watch Cook and Trott bat but Test cricket requires many parts to be played, many different skills to be mastered. It is only because of Cook’s and Trott’s phenomenal appetite for run-scoring that Kevin Pietersen can come in and play with such abandon against moderate, tubby left-arm spinners or Ian Bell can hit his 10th ball for six or Eoin Morgan can start reverse-sweeping from the off.
Since Graham Gooch’s 333 against India in 1990, England batsmen have passed 200 on 11 occasions, four of those have occurred in the past 12 months. Trott has scored two of them, putting him in an elite category of only nine England batsmen who have scored a double (or triple) more than once in their careers. Only two England batsmen have passed 200 more than twice and they are pretty much without argument the greatest batsmen this country has produced: Wally Hammond, who did it seven times, and Len Hutton, who did it four times.
Give me a choice between spending my last tenner on watching Tendulkar or Lara and I’d have gone for Lara every time. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want the other bloke in my team. Trott’s no Tendulkar but he is England’s rock, prepared to bat at No.3, a position that many have tried and failed and a position that few choose to bat. And for that he deserves a pat on the back, not a slow hand-clap.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer and is writing a regular Wednesday column for thecricketer.com. Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John