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Jonathan Trott - A career killed fairly young by media pressure

ANALYST
Modified 30 Jun 2015
Feature
Jonatan Trott walks off the field during a 2013 Ashes match

Under the partly grey and partly gloomy skies of south London, England hosted Australia in the final Ashes Test during the summer of 2009. The series was locked at 1-1 after four contests of varying pedigree. Cardiff saw a tantalisingly close draw, where James Anderson and Monty Panesar – the final wicket pair – holed out from under pressure from Australia’s bowling, whereas triumph was England’s by 115 runs at Lord’s, where they beat their bitter rivals after 75 long years. Though the Aussies quite dominated at Edgbaston, rain forced another no result; while Australia hit back with dominance in the fourth Test at Headingley.

The urn belonged to the Aussies after a whitewash victory in the 2006-07 series at home. But they had last won an away Ashes only in 2001. England, having already lost the prolific Pietersen to injury, were bowled out for a mere 102 in the first innings in the previous game.

Brilliant batting was the need of the hour if the urn was to return. So the hosts brought in Jonathan Trott – who also was a part of the squad at Headingly – for Ravi Bopara. Runs for Warwickshire in the county circuit prompted Trott’s selection into an England side desperate to turn the tide in their favour.

Though his international debut was against the West Indies two years back – Trott played two T20 internationals – single digit scores meant he returned to serve his county. And on The Oval pitch, he had to face the experienced quartet of Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Stuart Clark and Peter Siddle.

The emergence of Trott

England’s South Africa-born captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and decided to bat on an Oval surface very uncharacteristic of its true nature, meaning there loomed a large possibility that Ian Jonathan Leonard Trott would have to bat on the first day itself, unless he was asked to bat way down the order or his side lost too few wickets. But five deliveries into the forty eighth over of day one, when Collingwood fell to Peter Siddle, entered the 28-year-old debutant.

Himself born a South African, he was considered apt to replace another from his native territory. Though he took Bopara’s place in the line up, it was the vacancy caused by Kevin Pietersen’s injury that Trott was asked to fill.

Trott took a dozen deliveries to score his first Test runs in that Ashes decider– a brace. He was batting on 41 off 80, when with 15 overs remaining, Simon Katich’s reflexes fetched the Kangaroos their seventh wicket. Trott trudged one down the leg and took off, as short leg managed a magnificent save whose direct hit caught Trott short of his crease. Run out for 41. An impressive debut saw an annoying end. Jonathan Trott was denied a debut fifty, or maybe he would have gone on to score in triple figures.

But triple figures were not far. England gained a 172-run first innings advantage, and with nerves a tad rested following one outing, Jonathan Trott arrived in the eighteenth over in the second essay.  Partnering his captain, he added 118 for the fourth wicket. A crisp back foot drive off Michael Clarke through mid wicket earned him his maiden fifty. And more was to follow. 43 crucial runs with Stuart Broad after six down and another 80 with Graeme Swann for the next wicket swelled England’s lead to 495.

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Trott also found an able ally in James Anderson, who saw him complete a maiden hundred from the other end. When on 97, Ben Hilfenhaus was cleanly driven down the leg for four by England’s number 5 to justify his selection with a century. He finally departed on 119 after five-and-a-half hours at the crease.  

Thus, Strauss declared, asking the Aussies to score a mountain-like 546 in a little over two days if they had any intention to not give up the urn. But only one evening later, England regained the Ashes after a 197-run win. Andrew Flintoff, in his farewell Test, heroically ran out rival captain Ricky Ponting. Jonathan Trott, in his first, contributed handsomely for a memorable win.

Playing saviour for England

This commenced a successful career where Trott scored another eight Test hundreds. His next high came at Lord’s against Bangladesh in 2010; he not only got to his second Test century, but also doubled up to magnificently score 226, eventually his highest in Tests. His first ODI hundred came at Edgbaston in the one-day internationals that followed. Three months later, when Pakistan visited England, Trotty announced himself on the international stage as one who meant business. Once again at Lord’s, he smacked a century and stitched together a current world record 332-run stand with Stuart Broad – who himself scored 169 – for the eighth wicket. Trott left after a slow 184.

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That winter, England were scheduled to tour Australia – an opponent now known to Jonathan Trott – for the return Ashes. Trott played the saviour along with Alistair Cook in the second innings of the Gabba Test. His unbeaten 135 carried England to safety after a massive first innings deficit. Three Tests later, when England had Australia bowled out for a shameful 98 in Melbourne, Trott brought up his second century of the tour – he remained undefeated again – with 168 to his name. Twin triple-figure knocks in the seven-match ODI series on that tour boosted his career further. That included his highest ODI score of 137 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

He targeted Sri Lanka next, as he humbled his second double ton: a 203 in Cardiff set up a surprise England win. His next hundred – also against the Lankans – came nearly a year later, which was a second innings 112 on a slow Galle track, the only one of his Test tons to see England come second.

During his only India tour late in 2012, Nagpur offered Alistair Cook’s men a low, slow dead pitch. A patient 143 on that lifeless wicket proved sufficient to secure a draw in the last Test with England 2-1 ahead. And England won on Indian soil after a 28-year struggle. At the Basin Reserve in Wellington during early 2013, he contributed 121 in the first innings. And when the Black Caps reciprocated and visited England two months later, Trott firmly held his position on the crease with 109 not out at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.   

The English problem of stress

He never scored an international century again. In England’s next assignment – a home Ashes – Trott averaged a moderate 29.30, though they won 3-0; and that was the year of a double Ashes header.

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Falling prey twice to the fearful Mitchell Johnson at the Gabba resulted in Jonathan Trott wearing his England shirt for the last time until more than a year. And while he left the pitch for the second time, he quietly lifted his left hand to the crowd, maybe a gesture of acknowledgement, maybe a gesture of what was coming, which only Trott knew. The 2013 Australian summer reminded the English players – and fans – of something they had left behind twice. Following a humungous loss in Brisbane in Test one, Trott reported of something not new to English cricket – a stress-related illness.

Experienced opener Marcus Trescothick complained of the same more than seven years back. His voluntary exclusion from the India tour – though he blamed a virus – gave incumbent Test skipper Alastair Cook a place in the side’s touring party, one which he never lost till date. And Cook debuted in the whites with a century for his country.

Though Trescothick returned to Test cricket against Sri Lanka later that year and even scored a hundred, his repeated attempts to get back into the England side post the 2006 English summer against Pakistan failed; and he never represented England again. Leaving for England after two practice games in Australia for the 2006-07 Ashes was due to recurrence of the same. A part of the 2007 T20 World Cup 30-man squad didn’t see him back either, and in March 2008, the air was cleared when he announced his international retirement.    

Michael Yardy, England’s bowling all-rounder, was alleged to have flown home mid-way through the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent. The cause was allegedly similar as that of left-handed Trescothick. The group game against South Africa in Chennai turned out to be his last England appearance.

Jonathan Trott – like Trescothick – bravely broke his way back into the national team in April 2015, missing out on, other than the remainder of the 2013-14 Ashes, Test series – both at home – against  Sri Lanka and India. Besides, his services were also absent in five bilateral ODI competitions, a tri-series and the subsequent World Cup.

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The destination was the West Indies, the occasion the homecoming of a fallen-out cricketer. After three hundreds in county cricket, where he finished with an impressive average of 47.69, he was chosen for the England Lions tour of South Africa, where he hit an unbeaten 211 in Paarl against South Africa A. This brought him back where he belonged following a 16-month exile.

But asking him to open on the dead, modern, subcontinent-like Caribbean pitches  was where the English management misused Trott’s talent, despite him having opened only once on 87 previous occasions. For someone out from the highest level for that long; for someone having recuperated from an illness; for a man habituated to bat in the middle order, facing the new, swinging ball would never be easy. To change his batting position and then demanding that he hit top form was poor from England cricket.

The result: 3 matches, 6 innings, 5 single-digit scores, 72 runs, 1 fifty, 3 ducks. The worse followed. After England lost inside three days in Barbados to surrender the lead and draw the series 1-1, Trott bid adieu to international cricket. His career ended amid endless speculation in the English media over his possible selection – or not – for the forthcoming home season against New Zealand and Australia.

The unnecessary hype on his failure in the West Indies turned out to be a sports journalist’s hot property. Trott’s scores were far too many times mentioned, far too many times accused. The very media that showered a flurry of accolades after a debut hundred, the ones who treated him as England’s ideal replacement for Kevin Pietersen turned out to be the chief critics. 

A victim of media pressure?

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A quiet Jonathan Trott walked into the sunset, with his batting average sliding down to a fine 44, though it remained above 50 in ODIs. Once again, a wave to the English supporters was seen after his second dismissal in Barbados. But this was it, for no comeback was possible again, irrespective of how many he scored for Warwickshire. One foolish move by the team management ruined Trott’s career, as he crumbled against pressure from the print and electronic media, and retired; for England, despite carrying specialist opener Adam Lyth to the Caribbean picked Trott – now a former number three – to bear the brunt of the moving new ball.

Jonathan Trott was a part of the England ODI team that reached the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 final at home, where England lost to India at Edgbaston. Fifties against Sri Lanka in the group stage and South Africa in the semi-final were crucial contributions from his bat. That was a time when he was one of only two cricketers – the other being South Africa’s consistent Hashim Amla – to average fifty plus in both formats. His other achievements as an England cricketer were being a part of the team that clinched three Ashes series in a row and one which rose to the numero uno status in Tests.

Ten summers down to 2005, The Oval in London saw the inspirational Richie Benaud – ironically an Australian –give up on his commentary duties after the Ashes Test. Eight years later, a humble Englishman of South African descent played his last home Test there. In between in 2009, Jonathan Trott’s debut was one worth remembering. 

Published 29 Jun 2015, 01:04 IST
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