Jonathan Trott and the science of selfishness
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.
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.
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.
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."