James Lawton: Clear message from the nets and Planet Trott

Only four batsmen ended their Test careers with a superior average to the one owned by Jonathan Trott
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The Independent Online

if it really is true the balance of an Ashes series has rarely tilted so far in the direction of England on Australian soil, you don't have to delve too deeply into the bushes searching for supporting evidence.

Some of it was plainly visible in the nets of the beautiful Oval ground where Sir Bradman came to prosecute his trade and the Chappell brothers made their family dynasty.

You could trace it in the work and the demeanour of two men, one Australian, the other English – at least in a manner of speaking – and the contrasting extent of the help they seemed to need before the start of the second Test tomorrow.

Michael Clarke, the Aussie vice-captain so desperately out of touch at The Gabba he has had to repeatedly deny that his chronic back problem has come near to breaking point, was clearly happy to accept vital signals from his captain, Ricky Ponting.

As always, the source of those being received by Jonathan Trott was more a matter of speculation, some suggesting they might even be coming from outer space, Venus or Jupiter maybe.

However, if the South African-bred Trott remains very much in his own zone – or planet – it is one which, for the moment at least, cannot be said to be short of cricket acumen or nerve or concentration.

Trott's composure may be a little eerie, his preparations before receiving each ball a ritualistic hell to everyone else involved in a Test match, but the results are no less than astonishing. He has played 14 Tests starting with his debut century at The Oval in 2009, has scored four hundreds and four fifties, and when he takes arguably the most elaborate, infuriating, and some might even say ill-mannered guard in the history of the game, no one can protest that there is an excess of ado about something really not that much.

The figures provide stunning vindication for the 29-year-old, who was yesterday reiterating his claim that if the Australians think they can sledge him into the kind of emotional eruption that led to a fracas with one of the Pakistani tourists last summer, they would probably be better off humming "Waltzing Matilda".

Only four batsmen in the history of cricket have finished their Test careers with a superior average to the one owned by Trott after the three-run improvement brought by his impressive century at the weekend.

Bradman, of course, was one of them with his uncanny 99.94. In second place, but now under the most severe threat from his former compatriot, is Graeme Pollock, who played just 23 Tests before the anti-apartheid boycott took hold.

His batting was dynamic and beautiful, inspiring Bradman to say that Pollock and Gary Sobers were the best left-handers he had ever seen. The South African's numbers were 60.97. In third place is the West Indian George Headley (60.83), followed by the relentless Yorkshireman Herbert Sutcliffe (60.70.) Then there is Trott, closing fast, if you will forgive the expression, on 59.95.

He says he doesn't fret about averages, as Geoffrey Boycott did at almost every waking moment, or think about perceptions like the one that says England won a crashing moral victory in Brisbane, but simply the chance to go out and bat in the most competitive circumstances.

From wherever he receives his messages, there is no doubt about the thrust of the advice.

It is to shut out everything but the business of building each innings he plays shot by shot, run by run. All else – sledging, crowd noise, dreamy views of the cathedral here – cannot be allowed to exist.

The launching of his career in England underpinned the idea of a man operating out on his own terrain. In his first game for Warwickshire seconds he amassed 245, his debut in the county side brought a knock of 134 and in his first Test it was 41 and 119.

Occupying the crease so long and so profitably at The Gabba, he says, was "very good, very pleasing, and should be helpful here, where we can't assume it will be a batting paradise".

Did he think an additional bonus was the possible knockout blow to Australia's most troubled strike bowler, Mitchell Johnson, who many here feel will be left out when the team is announced tomorrow morning?

"I don't bother with that kind of thing," said Trott, "I just do what I'm told, bat where I'm told and try to do my best at the things I can control."

Trott insists he has some earthling tendencies. They include much anticipation for the arrival in Perth later this month of his wife, Abi, the grand-daughter of former Warwickshire captain Tom Dollery, and their new baby, Lily. He says this with great formality but claims he is indeed working on a dimension beyond the batting crease, saying: "When I was young I wasn't too good at putting cricket in perspective but lately I've done better in terms of finding a balance between life and sport."

Meanwhile, Clarke, who doesn't exactly occupy the basement of batting averages with 14 centuries, 19 fifties and a world-class mark of 48.91, was receiving a public tutorial from Ponting. The captain said: "We have played together a long time and it is natural for us to talk about things occasionally. I was batting in the net next to him and I heard a few snicks behind me, so we did a bit of work together."

Clarke seemed particularly grateful after his ordeal in Brisbane – where he made possibly the most painful nine runs in his entire career before nicking the 50th ball he received, from Steve Finn, into Matt Prior's gloves – as Ponting put down his own bat and launched a brief but intense throwdown session. At the end of it, Clarke said: "I feel a lot better now. Ricky thought I needed to stand up a little more in my stance and it does feel right."

Trott's time in the nets was much less eventful. He didn't seek or receive any assistance – except, maybe, a bleep or two from who knew where.