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Jonathan Trott and the science of selfishness

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Tom Fordyce | 18:01 UK time, Monday, 7 May 2012

You think you know Jonathan Trott as a batsman - obdurate, intensely focused, obsessed with accumulating runs, a player who appears to have been born for long Test innings. It's the first of many misconceptions.

"I haven't always been like this," he says, surprised. "It's something I've developed and worked on.

"As a young player I was actually quite a reckless batsman. I get bored quite easily, and I'd often try to hit the ball all round the ground. But as I got older I began to realise what batting was all about. I watched a lot of great players to see what you need to be successful at the top level."

He clearly found the answers. The 31-year-old has developed into England's best number three in a generation, an immovable presence in a pivotal position.

Jonathan Trott

Trott's career has been an exercise in dedication to the craft of batting. Photo: Getty

Concentration at the crease has been transformed from flaw into career-defining asset. In Galle, Sri Lanka two months ago he batted for five and a half hours for England's first century of a troubled winter, and both of England's last two Ashes wins have been built on the foundation of big Trott tons in the deciding matches.

"I find it very helpful to work on the partnership in the middle," he explains. "You're a lot more powerful when you're playing as two in an innings. It can be quite lonely otherwise; it's you against 11 out there.

"You also have to think, 'I might not play here again, so I might as well enjoy it'. With my debut at The Oval [in August 2009 against Australia] - I got out in quite bizarre fashion in the first innings, hitting it straight to short leg and being run out. A lot of players would have been happy with 40, but I was really upset because it was the most fun I'd ever had playing cricket - 35,000 people cheering every run!

"You've got to be able to enjoy the battle. Sometimes you can have a fast bowler taking aim at your head or your feet at 150kph (more than 90mph), and you've got to be capable of dealing with it or you won't survive.

"You need the confidence in yourself to say, 'This is amazing, let's relish it.' You play best as a batsman when you don't try to premeditate what you're going to do, when you just go out there and trust your instinct, your hands. You'll find sometimes that you'll play three shots you didn't even know you had. Let the instincts take over."

Enjoyment is not a word you would readily associate with Trott at the crease. Satisfaction, certainly, but his near-obsessive routine of repeatedly taking guard and gouging a line in the turf has been interpreted as that of a man lost in nervous compulsion. Misconception number two.

"It comes from a lot of practice, from working out what suits me best," he says, looking out over the wet Edgbaston outfield from a hospitality suite high in the stands.

"The scratching the line has come from playing in England and batting out of my crease. I'd find that, on early season wickets, I'd be batting on middle stump when I should have been on leg or middle and leg, and I needed to be sure of my guard. I find too that the scratching helps me clear my mind. It helps it keep ticking."

Doesn't it present an easy target for endless sledging from the opposition?

"Yeah, but you get sledged about everything, anything that's a little different. If you're out there fielding it's almost like a red flag to a bull. They really go for it.

"But I think they're starting to get bored of it now, and I don't really care what they think. Everyone's got their ways that make them feel comfortable, and that's the most elusive place to be as a sportsman. Everyone wants to be there."

Trott has admitted in the past to being teased by some of his team-mates for the amount of time he spends in the nets.

"They don't mind me batting for a long time out in the middle," he points out. "Especially the bowlers.

"If I make people laugh then that's fine. Sometimes I'll be at the non-striker's end and I'll look up and see guys messing about, and I'll often wonder what's going on. But I'd much rather be in the middle batting than back in the dressing-room finding out."

Earlier in his career Trott was accused by Warwickshire's director of cricket Ashley Giles of being too selfish in his approach, finding satisfaction in his own successes rather than those of the team.

It's something he both admits to and feels has changed.

"I think you have to be selfish in some ways. Not to the detriment of the team, but selfish as meaning getting yourself right for the game. And being prepared. Doing your routines, and saying, 'No, I don't want to do that' because I have to be ready for a cricket match.

"Sometimes you'll miss out on some social time, or family time. You might turn down sponsors. But they will always be there if you're delivering in the sport.

"The way I'd like to gauge my career is how many series wins I've been involved in in Test and one-day cricket, more than how many hundreds I've scored.

"I do enjoy a stat or two about how many big partnerships I've been involved in - 100-run partnerships, 200 runs - because they are huge in winning big matches. I like that sort of stat rather than my own stats."

I ask him if he knows his current Test average.

"No."

Really?

"No."

Have a guess.

"Well, people keep telling me it's about 50." (It's 52.7)

What about the number of Test runs you've scored?

"I've got no idea. I think someone told me I was over 2,000, and I don't remember anyone telling me I was over 3,000."

The actual total is 2,319. "Brilliant," he says, deadpan.

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Trott wants to leave a legacy in Test cricket

Trott has been immersed in cricket since he can remember. As a child helping out in his father's sports shop in Cape Town he would sit out the back, knocking in bats and changing grips. His reward would be a set of gloves and bat of his own.

His dad would coach him after hours; his mother, a hockey and softball international, would work on his hand-eye coordination.

"I probably had something of an abnormal childhood, because everything was about sport. At the weekends a lot of friends would go to the movies or go swimming at the beach, but I was always at the cricket club, the hockey pitch or the softball club. School took a bit of a backseat.

"I grew up playing sport against adults from a young age, and I think I benefited enormously from that."

As an adult himself, he settled immediately whenever stepping up a level. On his debut for Warwickshire second XI he scored 245, on his first-team bow 134. In the second innings of that Oval Test debut came his match-winning 119.

"You're always finding things that work for you, and after a good innings you can think, hey, I did that really well, I felt really good when I did this," he says.

"You try to take that into the next innings. You always have the things you try not to do, and you have the things you consciously try to do.

"Those are your core values. You don't stray too far away; you tinker. It's really important to any top player. You ask a Ponting or Tendulkar, and they have key things they work on all the time."

Trott's father now coaches at St John's school in Leatherhead. Despite his son's successes he still phones up occasionally with advice.

"I think he's a bit scared now," smiles Trott. "When he does I always take it in. The other week, before Warwickshire played up at Liverpool, he came to the nets here at Edgbaston and threw a few balls at me.

"He's a very good coach and he loves it. It's something of an art how he gets his points across."

The younger Trott is now a father himself. One of the most touching moments of the last Ashes tour came in the aftermath of England's innings thrashing of Australia at the MCG, when Trott walked his wife Abi and then two-month-old daughter Lilly out to the middle, the ground now empty, to show them where he had scored his match-turning 168.

The insight works both ways. Abi is apparently able to predict, with great accuracy, how many runs he will score, simply by watching him walk out to bat. He grins. "It's quite spooky sometimes."

Trott also believes his young family has helped him develop as an international cricketer as well as a man.

"It's definitely changed me," he admits, "The emphasis on yourself and cricket doesn't go out of the window, but it becomes a bit less.

"Sometimes you can get wound up and take things a little too seriously. Cricket is hugely important. It's my job and something I really take pride in, but you take pride in being a husband and father.

"Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice and spend a little extra time in the gym or the nets when you could be at home. But there are also times when it probably does you good to stay away from the nets. Even me."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    One of the reasons that the England team has enjoyed success in recent times has been the reassuring stability of Trott at No:3, solidifying after the loss of an opener and draining the enthusiasm of the bowlers with his patient approach. A class act!

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    He's been a great find at number 3 in Tests, which has been all the more necessary because of Strauss's poor run of form. But he's also criminally underrated in ODIs by some England fans. The calls for him to be dropped from the side after his achievements have been ridiculous...joint fastest to 1,000 ODI runs, 3rd or 4th highest scorer at the last World Cup (even more impressive when you consider our performances), an average in the 50s, a reasonable SR (not as slow as some people seem to think), 6th in the ODI player rankings. Top player!

  • Comment number 4.

    Great piece Mr Fordyce. Is Trott as cool in person as he comes over in interview? Agree with 1.'s comments - Trott is perhaps the most important member of the test batting line up - and by the way the ODI side too despite criticism of his style in the shorter format. He never throws his wicket away, something England batsmen have been guilty of in the past. Great player - played a huge part in recent successes.

  • Comment number 5.

    What an absolutely class act he is.... !!

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree he is a top player and understand his focus but when over in Sri Lanka I found his attitude to the England fans a bit dissappointing, as we spend a lot of money a supporting the team surely it is not to much to ask for the players to be civil. Having said that I would still have a slightly aloof Trott scoring 52 average over a flaky Bopara or Shah !!!

  • Comment number 7.

    I was really surprised to see winnie 1969's comment (16:29). I've watched him train at Edgbaston and been very generous of his time to very young fans and players. A true gent. And I've never seen (or heard) anybody hit a ball so hard in the nets.

  • Comment number 8.

    6.
    At 16:29 8th May 2012, Winnie 1969 wrote:


    I agree he is a top player and understand his focus but when over in Sri Lanka I found his attitude to the England fans a bit dissappointing, as we spend a lot of money a supporting the team surely it is not to much to ask for the players to be civil
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Winnie, maybe you caught him on a bad day. Even famous people have off days, and it depends on the situation you met him in, he does strike me as an introverted character.

  • Comment number 9.

    I know this is slightly off topic but does anyone know the real story with Ajmal Shahzad and Yorkshire? It seems a very strange story, and Martyn Moxon's comments about 'how we see the player' and 'he has very strong views about how he sees himself as a cricketer' are cryptic. Does he want to bowl more, less, bat higher up the order, bowl differently? Taking it at face value none of it makes sense, so there must be something going on that isn't being reported. What is his disagreement with Yorkshire or the source of his unhappiness there?

  • Comment number 10.

    Mike - suggestions are that his Yorkshire coaches, including Gillespie who knows a thing or two about bowling, (and Saker in the England set-up) wanted him to work on his consistency, building up pressure on batsman, bowling as part of a unit. But Shahzad wanted to search for the magic ball too much.

    I've heard some people say that it's okay for bowlers to be selfish. But if the bowler at the other end is bowling to a plan, then they're going to be very frustrated if someone like Shahzad refuses to bowl to that plan, throwing away any hard work done by the others.

    I suspect he also wanted to bat higher too. In interviews a few years ago, he described himself as an all-rounder, but he was never going to bat ahead of Rashid and Bresnan when he only scores the occasional fifty.

    It's a pity, because he looked a decent player on his England outings. A tad expensive, but that's often the case with less experienced players. He had some passion, plenty of potential and, as the Americans put it, "good hustle". A crucially, he was different to our other bowlers, with more of a skiddy action.

  • Comment number 11.

    He is certainly a very good batsman. However, he's not English and he shouldn't be in the side. Unfortunately, with these ridiculous rules nowadays allowing pretty much anyone to play for another country, I personally have lost a lot of interest in our cricket and rugby teams in particular. Others might not care but this is how I personally feel.

  • Comment number 12.

    I know a very similar player to tim Bresnan. He bowls a little wayward and his batting is poor and he is very over weight! However he has the passion and desire in him that Bresnan has which counts for a lot!

  • Comment number 13.

    JT is a Class act just what England needed at number 3. It a pleasure to watch him grind the opposition down and build great foundations at the same time.
    Fred. You have to get over this, the rules apply to everyone from all countries.
    Looking forward to the upcoming series ... come JT get the average up to 60.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think of all our South African batsmen Trott is miles better than Strauss, Pietersen, Prior, Lamb, D'olivera, Grieg (Tony and Ian) Smith (Robin and Chris)

  • Comment number 15.

    @FoxGell (at risk of feeding the troll), and @Fred: it's a bit strong to call Strauss and Prior South Africans, especially. They're both way more than half English, and way less than half South African. For whom would you have them play? Even Pietersen is half English by blood, if you want to be essentialist about these things. I forget if it was Trott's mother or his father who was born and raised in England, but he has held a British passport from being a child. In this day and age the boundaries of nationality are just a little more fluid than they used to be. You're going to have to get used to it, I'm afraid...

  • Comment number 16.

    Ajmal Shahzad was born in Yorkshire. He grew up in Bradford, went to grammar school there, and then went to university there. To say he’s not English is racist. Could the moderators of this blog please be more careful about allowing racism on to the BBC website please?

  • Comment number 17.

    No-one here has said Shahzad is not English. Think you might be getting some posts mixed up.

  • Comment number 18.

    Wow! That's really nice. Trott has proved that man can change himself by hard work and his own will. May u become more successful in your carrier.

 

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