With the exception of the great Allan Donald spell v Mike Atherton all those years ago and some hostility by Curtley and Courtney in the mid 90s, the 9 ball shellacking Jonathan Trott received at the hands Mitchell Johnson and co early in England’s second innings was perhaps the most uncomfortable I’ve ever watched as an England cricket fan.
If Australia spent the summer showing they had worked him out and then the first innings proving that he was en route to becoming steepling bounce’s pet bunny, then those nine balls dressed him in a giant rabbit’s outfit and removed parts of his brain to boot. “Scrambled” was the buzzword in the gantry and I can’t think of a better way to describe it.
Trott’s problems against the short ball due to his propensity to walk towards the ball and across his stumps have been well documented, and although it may seem harsh to argue for the dropping of a batsman who has scored 3,774 runs at an average of 47.39 for his adopted nation, the Ashes is harsh, and he needs dropping for more than his own sanity.
As anyone who has played cricket will tell you, in the middle is no place to work out your demons. You can try of course, you can shuffle and try and play down your legs, open out to off and duck, whatever, but as he showed when he chipped to Nathan Lyon, Trott hasn’t a clue what to do against Johnson. And, if not managed correctly, that will become a cancer. And not just in his head.
A batting line-up needs to be more than the sum of its parts, and if the whole top and middle order are worried about what will happen when Trott gets in and they are batting with him it affects all of the other moving parts. It may seem suicidal to suggest moving Bell to three and bringing in Gary Ballance, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and if anyone doesn’t think this is desperate and it will all go away in the next test then I’d suggest you’ve been taking bouncers on your forehead.
Although there are no secrets in international sport anymore, the inclusion of Ballance (rather than Bairstow who has his own technical demons) would be a positive. Of course, there is the prospect that he could soon be found out, and if not then bounced out. Yet if these players are to be the future of English cricket then they need to be tested in the white-hot intensity of an away series. All of the greats, from Hobbs and Bradman to Clarke and KP, have proved their mettle under the utmost pressure. They have stood up and been counted when the muck and bullets are flying. They have taken on, and beaten, everything the opposition can throw at them. That is how careers are made, not by waiting for a safe series in New Zealand or Bangladesh.
Trott of course wasn’t the only culprit, but you’d argue that in the first innings especially, with the exception of Carberry who got a jaffa, that England’s batsmen fell to stupid decisions. If Bell and Prior’s inexplicable identikit shots to Nathan Lyon made me think about introducing screwdriver to eye, then it was Pietersen’s that made me hold tip to eyeball.
Pietersen simply didn’t need to play that shot. We know he favours that side but I don’t care if he middled it, there were two fielders there to catch him and he let ego rule and tried to take them on. The problem here is that Pietersen can score everywhere on the pitch, he turned an average ball into a wicket ball rather than waiting for the one he could drive through the covers or pull. If he really does want to be an elder statesman rather than a fading vaudeville act, then he needs to play for the team in this second innings. Get a long time in the middle, give some punishment back to the Aussie bowlers when the ball softens and go into the next test on a positive.
And those of you praying for rain? If it’s come to that we may as well jack it in now.