7:53 AM ETAlan GardnerAssociate editor, ESPNcricinfo CloseFollow on TwitterFacebookTwitterFacebook MessengerPinterestEmailprint
During his six years as a Test cricketer, there were few more reassuring sights for England than Jonathan Trott in the middle. It is now a decade since Trott scratched his mark for the first time, during an Ashes Test at The Oval, before going on to become the 18th man to score a century on debut for England. He was the final piece in the puzzle for a tank-busting top order that took Andrew Strauss’ side to No. 1 in the rankings.
Things have changed greatly since then – not just in terms of the line-up, but England’s priorities and the landscape of Test cricket in general. Trevor Bayliss’ tenure, which will draw to a close after this week’s final Test against Australia, also at The Oval, has been marked by attempts to play “positive and attractive cricket”, as he put it on Tuesday, but which has resulted in more than a few collapses that have been ugly as sin.
Trott was never a batsman overly concerned with aesthetics, and his advice remains rooted in the old-fashioned virtues that brought him 3109 runs at No. 3 – more than any Englishman other than Wally Hammond. Patience, concentration and forcing the bowlers to come to you.
“It’s a case of earning the right to score runs, and realising that in first-class cricket or Test cricket, it’s not going to happen in 10-15 overs,” Trott said. “Make sure that your ambition is to bat for the whole day – and how you’re going to go about doing that, having an idea and a plan on what you’re going to be doing to each bowler. Facing the new ball, facing the old ball, facing spin; just being prepared for everything that’s thrown at you.
“You need to leave well. That’s something I had to learn going into the job. You’ve got to set your stall out to be batting in two hours’ time, when the ball’s a bit flatter and the bowlers are more tired. It isn’t really spoken about, [but] a good positive leave sends just as good a message as a big booming cover drive.”
“The way Joe Denly played, and [Rory] Burns have played in the last Test match or so has been really good. As an opener you always like to get on and score big runs, set up games.”
In this current Ashes series, it has been two Australia batsmen who have demonstrated the power of the leave: Steven Smith, who Trott describes as the man who “has separated the sides”, and Marnus Labuschagne. But while England have stuck with a misfiring top order throughout the five Tests – the only change being swapping Joe Denly and Jason Roy at the opening spot and No. 4 – Trott believes there have been encouraging signs.
“I think they’ve got the best guys for the job,” he said. “The way Joe Denly played, and [Rory] Burns have played in the last Test match or so has been really good. As an opener you always like to get on and score big runs, set up games. We saw the way Burns played at Edgbaston, that was really, really good. So hopefully those guys can finish the summer well and go into the winter and build on that.”
There are also a few candidates waiting in the ranks, with Trott picking out three in particular. “Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are very good, and Ollie Pope – so those three are the men to look out for. They’ll be spoken about [for the tour of] New Zealand, but also whether they are going to rest a few players, it’s a long winter again. I’m sure there’ll be a few guys included in the squad, so an exciting time for them.”
Now in the next phase of his career, Trott is currently working with Kent as their batting coach and has joined the England set-up on occasions during the summer. If he sounds like he can be a bit of a stickler – “There are some things I always insist on at training, things I think are pertinent to Test cricket” – it also seems as if he is able to just enjoy being in an England dressing room again, after the darker times that lead to his departure from the 2013-14 Ashes tour with anxiety issues.
Unlike 2009, England have already squandered their chance to reclaim the Ashes, but there is still the opportunity for someone – Denly, Roy? – to produce the sort of innings that will echo through the coming years. But, as Trott says, it is important not to look that far ahead. “You want to start batting to win the game now, and then take stock at the end of the summer. You don’t want to look too far ahead and put needless pressure on yourself.”
Trott was famous for his bubble, and it comes as no surprise that the significance of his debut might have passed him by.
“You don’t really realise at the time. You sort of go with the flow. You want to spend time with your team-mates and enjoy the moment, but you also get whisked off to do media and then whisked off to another room to do more media, you can even see your team-mates, you have to go and do other obligations.”
But then ten years down the line, you can reflect on your achievement? “Something like that.”
Jonathan Trott was speaking on behalf of ‘The Test Experts’ Specsavers, Official Test Partner for England cricket ahead of the final Test of the Specsavers Ashes Series at The Oval. Specsavers are encouraging fans to take eye tests and hearing checks this summer.