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England's odd couple produce again

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Tom Fordyce | 19:42 UK time, Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cardiff, Wales

You know it's been a slow day at the cricket when the loudest cheers are reserved for a spectator dressed as a master of the hunt clambering aboard a pantomime horse and riding it round the boundary boards.

All morning long, unrelenting waves of rain had washed across Cardiff, and everyone had complained of terminal boredom. Then play began, much sooner than anyone
expected, and the complaints actually increased in volume.

It might not have been rock and roll, but the England hierarchy liked it. By the close the hosts were 287-2, the partnership between Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott up to 240 and apparently impervious to anything except old age.

England, 353 runs behind at the start of play, had gone from second best to a point where a draw is a near certainty. The new-look Sri Lankan attack, mystery spinners and all, looked as spicy as a slice of white bread.

Test cricket has always been as much graft and grind as thrills and spills. Forget the thousands of empty seats hours before the close, or the fact that the dominant topic of conversation all day had been the evening's Champions League final. This was one for the puritans. The cavaliers could seek their breathless pleasures elsewhere.

Serene through all of it, immune to anything the day could throw at them, Cook and Trott simply continued to bat. And bat, and bat, and bat.

Fast it wasn't. The England 200 took 434 balls and almost five hours, contained just 13 boundaries and dribbled along for the most of the afternoon and under 2.5 runs an over. At one stage Cook went almost two hours without a four.

He couldn't have cared less. Neither could Trott. It's exactly what has made them England's predominant batsmen in the last nine months.

Together they are starting to make the top order look rather unbalanced. In the Ashes last winter they dominated the run-scoring, putting on 502 unbroken runs over the first two Tests and eventually ending with averages of 127 and 89 apiece. Between them they scored 25% more runs than the rest of the top six put together.

The opposition and weather may have changed but their approach and outcomes have not.

Some in the crowd clearly felt a few more fireworks were required to light up such a damp squib of a day. There was talk of what a pumped-up Kevin Pietersen could do, or whether Eoin Morgan might repeat his Lions mauling of the tourists from a week ago.

Instead Pietersen sat with his pads on for another age, and Morgan didn't even liberate his from the kitbag.

Cook and Trott have formed a bond as successful as it is unlikely. The latter is an anxious starter and twitchy stayer - scratching that trench on the popping crease, fiddling his way through an extended routine before every ball that he faces. Cook, by contrast, increasingly resembles a run-making robot, as unflustered on 99 as he is on nine.

Alastair Cook (left) and Jonathan Trott

Alastair Cook (left) and Jonathan Trott have become the dominant pairing in England's batting line-up. Pic:PA.

Physically they could not look more different; the tall, lean left-hander with a headful of thick dark hair, the short right-hander with a stubbly scalp and stocky frame.

But this is an odd coupling that works. This was their fourth century partnership in their last eight matches together, and like most of the others it is a biggie.

Trott's form coming into this first Test was uncertain. In his three first-class games so far this summer his run of scores read nine, 39, nine, four and 32. Despite that he has delivered again, England's best number three in a generation and the answer to a problem position that more glitzy names had failed to fill.

Six centuries in 19 Tests tells its own story, as does an average climbing fast past 65. Of batsmen to have played more than 20 Tests, only Don Bradman began with a better average.

Does he put bums on seats? Not yet. Runs on the board? Almost always.

Cook, meanwhile, seems to have brought his winter's Test form home with him in his suitcase.

This was his fifth ton in 10 Test innings, a near chanceless knock that was so well paced that that the two 50s that made it were scored at precisely the same rate: 112 balls each, four fours apiece.

At the age of 26 he now has 17 England centuries, the same as the infinitely more glamorous Pietersen and only two shy of his opening partner Andrew Strauss, who is also eight years his senior.

Heading the list of England Test century scorers are Wally Hammond, Geoff Boycott and Colin Cowdrey, all with 22, with Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch next in the list with 20.

Strauss has a better than even chance of topping that tree before he retires. Unless injury intervenes, Cook will have it off him shortly afterwards.

Form can fluctuate. Confidence can go. But taking into account his current rate of scoring - 17 Test tons in five years - and the potentially 10 years he could have left in Test cricket, it's not unreasonable to suggest that he could finish with at least double his current number.

34 Test centuries? No-one could accuse that of being dull.


  • Comment number 1.

    Bitterly barcappointed by the other match. But Aggers' Sidebottom tweet had me in stitches. It must be difficult to come into bat after those two have been at work for a few days. Awesome performance....yet again. WHAT A PAIR. But spare a thought for KP (or not, as the case may be).

  • Comment number 2.

    Cook is a great batsman. He and Trott work so well together. I fancy Cook to score in excess of 200 tomorrow... if they get on to play that is.

  • Comment number 3.

    This is truly sensible test cricket; maybe not thrilling, but totally sensible - good article Aggers. I would have a Trott or Cook in the team every time over a Pietersen, people who understand the situation and want to score runs, big runs, rather than a show pony, who occasionally gets a big score. I think Flower needs to instill this same mentality in Pietersen, if he refuses to accept it, then drop him, there are plenty of other very good county players that can step up to the mark (Hildreth, Patel, Taylor, Bopara etc.)

  • Comment number 4.

    It's difficult to see this Test going to anything other than a draw, since England are shorn of their most effective pace bowler. Getting some good batting practice in, knackering the Sri Lankans in the field and denying their best batsmen time in the middle is just what the doctor ordered. Now these two are set, as at Brisbane, it's not all that difficult to imagine them batting until the end of time, weather permitting. It doesn't sound completely ridiculous to suggest that England have the best top three in the world right now.

    That said, England have a wrecking ball of a middle order and it would be great to see them unleashed on this (fairly average) attack if nothing else to put the fear of God into them (and India) for the rest of the summer. It's difficult to reconcile that desire with not wanting either of these two to get out.

  • Comment number 5.

    The Cook-Trott alliance rolled along at better than 3.5 an over, faster than SL scored. The only side that have a prayer of winning this is England; bat for two and a half sessions, get 150-200 north of Sri Lanka and hope to rattle two or three out in the last hour. If, of course, the weather holds, if we can do it without Jimmy, if the pitch doesn't die any further. If I had wheels I'd be a waggon. Given the rain and the stultifying track it's amazing there's even a chance that this could be anything other than a draw. You can't blame Cardiff for the weather but you can blame it for the graveyard wicket and since the ground has been empty for the entirety of the match maybe the ECB might want to reconsider playing a Test match there in the future.

  • Comment number 6.

    Are we interested in winning this game? Or does the over rate of just over 2 for most of the partnership suggest that we have lost sight that this is a cricket match not a batting marathon? Once - when Australia was top dog - the media advised that batting at 4 an over was not only desirable but necessary in modern times to win Test matches. Now 2 an over is just fine. And this in a game which has lost two half days to weather.

    If only a draw is possible, then fair enough, we might as well just bat to the finish and frighten them. But where's the fight? Somehow the Australian model has changed. Stats and centuries are more important than winning a Test match it seems.

  • Comment number 7.

    Sorry Tom, but today's play, in which a very, very average bowling attack took only one wicket (a night watchman with an avg of 11) on an absolute road of a wicket was not 'one for the puritans'. In fact, it was deathly, deathly soporific, and if anything detrimental to a form of the game that has seen its true bowling stars (Malinga, Ahktar, Asif, Lee, Bond and the potentially the greatest bowler since Malcolm Marshall Mohammad Amir) disappear by the bucketload, mainly through injury caused by excessive workload. Sadly, the only great fast bowler in the world right now is Dale Steyn, while 'great' batsmen populate every team bar Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

    Debating about Cook and Saffer Trott's abilities as batsmen is pointless, as they get runs. However, the relevant discussion is about what such days as this do for test cricket. Unfortunately, this is an absolute nothing of a test match, and, in my opinion as a lover of TEST matches, it does nothing but boost support for the IPL.

  • Comment number 8.

    Trott: Second Best test average of all time behind Don Bradman. Says it all.
    Cook: 4 centuries in 6 tests. Beastly knick.

  • Comment number 9.

    Having watched Barcelona absolutely dominant Man Ure last night, we have to say that yesterday saw two exhibitions of men against boys. Cook and Trott may not be as easy on the eye, and possess little of the flair of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and co, but they are every bit as effective.

    Reading your post Tom, brings back happy memories of the Ashes winter. You are right - Cook and Trott may be dour, but hey as England fans who's complaining?

    For those that are interested here's a link to our post comparing England's number two and three to the maestros of Barcelona: Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott are like Barcelona

  • Comment number 10.

    Yes, it was a dull day of test match cricket. But Cook and Trott play every ball on merit, they put runs on the board and I personally love the way they do it. It's interesting how everyone grinds on Trott for boring play but his strike rate was better than Cook's for almost all of the day's play. In all honesty the game is heading for a draw, but considering we only have three fit test bowlers, that's fine with me. And this Sri Lankan attack seems to offer no threat to our really top-drawer batsmen.

  • Comment number 11.

    Ting a ling Tom. If Cooky plays for another 10 years at his current rate that would actually triple not double his current number of 100's to make 51. Funnily enough exactly the same as Tendulkar has currently at age 38. In 10 years Cook will be only 36!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    3 centurions in three days. Congratulations to Jaywardene, Alastair and Trott. Well played.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 13.

    Can people stop saying England scored at 2 an over. This partnership has been at over 3 and a half an over, which even these days is on the fast side. What's more is that the innings will almost certainly finish at a much higher rate due to our middle order and match position. The only reason England aren't in a wonderful position in this match is rain, otherwise it wouldn't even be lunch on the third day!

  • Comment number 14.

    # 13

    Absolutely right - the last session saw them score at a terrific rate and an overall rate of 3.5 which is superb.

    This England batting line-up is looking more and more scary to the opposition as each Test passes. There is none that even come close to comparing at the minute.

  • Comment number 15.

    Empty seats is what you get when you take test cricket to Cardiff...

    And Tom, if you don't like the finer details of test cricket (slow scoring, battling batting etc) can I suggest you go and watch another sport and let someone more enthusiastic do the cricket?

  • Comment number 16.

    First of all lets remember we have lost a session and a half to two sessions with rain (somewhere nearing 50 overs by my reckoning has been lost). Therefore if we hadn't lost that and we were having this conversation midway through day 3 everyone would be saying England are obliterating them.

    All these people saying England have been dour boring and showing no wish to win... you do understand that if England bat all day to day and establish say a 200-250 run lead (only a short increase in run rate from yesterday and with KP and co more that plausible) then we have a whole day to bowl SL out and thereby win. Now given we are short a bowler and the pitch of lifeless its unlikely we will bowl them out in a day but if aren't able to bowl them out in a day then we won't be able to bowl them out cheap enough to allow us a realistic chance at chasing the score.

    I think this approach is perfect for the situation. It removes all risk of the defeat, whereas if we had come in swinging KP style we could have been bowled out sub 250 and forced to follow on which would have opened up a defeat. Something that really isn't on the cards here!

  • Comment number 17.

    Yes, it was a little dull at times. But as others have pointed out, they actually scored faster than Sri Lanka did. These two almost always do their job - that because of the loss of overs due to rain it would be nice if they could go even faster is unfortunate. It is up to their teammates to repay them for their consistency and score the quick runs in an attempt to force a result.

    Weather and lack of bowlers makes that look unlikely, but Trott and Cook have done what they are in the team to do, and well done lads.

  • Comment number 18.

    Fair play Tom, not the easiest blog to construct in relation to this test and what I guess in your arena is known as a 'quiet news day'

    For me, the England approach today is all important. Get level by lunchtime and then press the gas this afternoon giving Swann at least something to bowl at on last day. Thankfully the mindset these days of the Flower & Strauss axis is a world away from the ridiculously ultra-cautious days of the last West Indies tour e.g. continuing to send in the tail when we already had 600+ on the board, night-watchmen against a hardly threatening attack and a general lack of urgency.

    Interested to see who wins the race to become the highest century maker amongst the three leaders. Would have put my house on it being KP at the start of 2008 before he started to throw it away with regularity in the 90's. All three have gone through the lean and full spells and personally find it hard to predict a favourite at this stage. When Trott does eventually (realistically) go through a dodgy spell I'm intrigued to watch his manner. If he's this full on when in the runs he must be a candidate for self combustion when he goes through a lean patch.

  • Comment number 19.

    Cook and Trott have been together for 67 overs. Their partnership strike-rate was close to 2 for around 15 over those - certainly not "most" of their innings. In fact, the rate is now over 3.5, as #13 pointed out. It is good enough and I don't understand why people wanted these two to bat outside of their natural game when they came together 353 runs behind the Sri Lankan total. If we want to accelerate, we've got Pietersen, Bell, Morgan and Prior to do that.

    But it's raining in Cardiff again, so a draw is almost guaranteed. I'm sure that people will blame Cook and Trott, but if you have a game with less than 4 days playable and both first innings scores are 400, a result is very unlikely.

  • Comment number 20.

    It is a shame that some comments here are negative towards playing the match in Cardiff. I think any ground in the country would have struggled to attract crowds with the weather conditions as they are.

  • Comment number 21.

    Most test matches are sold out for the first 3 days months before the match begins. So we do have to question taking tests to Cardiff. Mind you at £30 for the cheapest ticket at Edgbaston this year, the sport is pricing itself out of the Market for the average man, particularly if he has a family he wants to bring with him.

    As far as the match is concerned well done to Cook and Trott. Our batting looks secure but I'm just not sure about the consistency of the bowlers and am concerned by the number of injuries they seem to pick up.

  • Comment number 22.

    I agree that was an excellent partnership and realistically the only way to approach our innings. Had we pressed home our bowling advantage and bowled them out for closer to 300, things may have been different.

    Does anyone have any views on the 4/5 bowler issue? It might have made no difference on this pitch, but against this attack we perhaps only need a top 5 and it would be nice to be able to cope with an injury to your strike bowler.

  • Comment number 23.

    @22, BenL

    The ideal solution is to find a genuine test-quality all-rounder; someone who would be picked twice over: for his batting AND for his bowling. Voilà...6 batsmen, 5 bowlers and a keeper. It's a credit to Flower and Srauss that they've been successful after Freddie's retirement.

    As I understand things, Chris Woakes may well be England's all-rounder elect. But he's young and perhaps not yet physically mature enough (I don't know). But I'd like to get him involved asap.

    Without the luxury of a genuine all-rounder (no disrespect intended to Bopara) the question of the 6th batsman offers Flower an imaginery safety net. Psychologically, it relieves the fear of getting rolled over too cheaply. Whether it works or not is impossible to calculate.

    With this top order (1-3) why fear getting rolled over cheaply? On the other hand, I'm reluctant to criticise the England set-up. Their record speaks for itself. I think most fans are prepared to cut Flower a lot of slack, even if he seems sometimes over-cautious.

    Lastly, and most controversially, who do we drop from the batting line-up to make way for another bowler? I think KP is on thin ice for a number of reasons.


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