James Lawton: Trott eschews centre stage but sums up beauty of Test theatre

He did not thrill but his contribution to the cause might have been weighed in diamonds

Click to follow
The Independent Online

This was supposed to be the day of Test-affirming glory at headquarters when England and India fought for the right to announce themselves as the best teams playing real cricket – the kind that ebbs and flows and demands the full range of cricket skill and nerve.

There was also the possibility – who could forget? – of some of the beautifully cut, flashing jewels of the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, seeking his 100th international century and his first here in the place they call the home of the game.

Instead we had to settle for a late start, an early finish – and Jonathan Trott.

Not perhaps an automatic journey into cricket rapture but then if we say this was the poorest of deals, we maybe forget what the Test theatre is really supposed to be about.

It is not just the grace notes of superior talent as represented by Tendulkar and his fellow batting legends Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. There is also the need for a relentless competitive instinct, a refusal to forget that the truest glory of all is the winning margin registered on the scoreboard.

This is the belief Trott wholly inhaled some time ago.

If the 30-year-old from Cape Town ever takes his eye off this reality for even a second it might be prudent to check if the earth is still riding on its axis. Trott, with his eternal fidgeting and pitch pruning and guard rituals, has never been a sumptuous vision of cricket's greatest possibilities. Indeed, he is more the grit in the corner of your eye. Yet once again England have a huge debt to the man who opened his Test account for them with an Ashes century at the Oval that underpinned one major shift of power in the modern game. Now, on the other side of the Thames, he has preserved England's chances of creating another one against the number-one ranked Test nation.

Before India's best bowler Zaheer Khan was forced to pull up with injury, England were in danger of yielding vital momentum.

Alastair Cook had gone to a superb delivery from Zaheer and captain Andrew Strauss was lured into a suicidal hook by the same player. Kevin Pietersen's temperament hasn't been secure enough in the last few years to fill Lord's with reassurance after such critical setbacks. So once again Trott was obliged to do what comes to him so naturally. He dug in with the obsessive application that in 21 Tests had carried him to second place in the all-time Test batting averages with 62.23 – and worked his way to a seventh half-century to put alongside six Test centuries.

It was, like so many of the others, not an inherently thrilling process but its contribution to England's chances of beating India by the necessary margin of two Tests in the four-match series might have been weighed in Transvaal diamonds.

When England seemed likely to be forced back to the wicket after an afternoon delay of nearly three hours India no doubt still had hopes of gaining some advantage from the winning toss of captain MS Dhoni. But at 127 for two, with Trott on 58 and Pietersen a 22 that was notable for his extreme concern about throwing his wicket away in such high-pressure circumstances, England had reason to believe that their hopes of gaining the top ranking might already have been in ruins. But for the trademarked defiance of Trott, that was.

What he had achieved, most of all, was confirmation that English batting had stiffened so appreciably since he joined in Strauss's effort to renovate the team after the chaos of Pietersen's brief reign as captain.

India may have a batting line-up rich in superb talent but Trott reminded them that in their English counterparts there are elements of authentic steel. Trott is the supreme representative – a fact which makes his place in the historic averages ahead of all but the phenomenal Sir Donald Bradman less a statistical freak which is likely to be levelled to some extent at least by the growing of his Test appearances, and more a tribute to some quite stunning application.

In the last Ashes series Pietersen produced a superb double hundred in Adelaide and Alastair Cook gorged himself on runs, but from Trott there was one unbroken sense. It was that whatever the situation he could be relied upon to refresh his extraordinary levels of commitment, almost a separation from the pressures that surge around even the most gifted of professional sportsmen.

Trott's gift is a stillness of mind and purpose, an absolute ability to shut himself off from any hint of distraction.

It is true that his performance was less than flawless yesterday. Dravid might have taken a sharp chance that came off Harbhajan Singh's first delivery – and Trott might also have fallen to the persistently dangerous Zaheer but for a moment of incoherence shared by wicketkeeper Dhoni and, again, Dravid. Neither alarm, however, began to disrupt the confidence of the man from Cape Town.

Each ball is a separate challenge, a new ritual to be observed with chilling self-absorption. He faced 104 of them over nearly three hours. Eight of them were dispatched for four. All of them were given maximum scrutiny.

After each successful negotiation by Trott, Dhoni had another reason to suspect that his hopes of a winning gamble had drained away a little further. Geoffrey Boycott, among others, suspected that the Indian decision to put in England was not so much an act of self-confidence but respect for the ability of Jimmy Anderson and his seam colleagues to exploit the damp, overcast conditions against even the highest quality of opposition.

For the ploy to work, India had to bowl at optimum levels – only Zaheer came vaguely close – and field in a way that concealed a shocking lack of adequate preparation in local conditions. It would also have helped if Jonathan Trott hadn't decided to once again prove that no one is more at home under the rigours of Test cricket.

Stats magic: The numbers that matter from the first day

6 Times England have lost the toss in their last seven Lord's Tests – being inserted on each occasion. Far from suffering, though, they lost none of the previous six – beating West Indies, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and drawing with South Africa and Sri Lanka.

50 Alastair Cook has to settle (for now at least) for a quarter share of one England record after being out for 12. Patsy Hendren, Ted Dexter, Ken Barrington and Cook all hit six consecutive Test fifties.

24 Andrew Strauss has fallen to left-arm pace bowlers 24 times in 152 Test innings. Perhaps more relevant, Zaheer Khan has snared Strauss six times in 11 innings (including four dismissals during the three-Test 2007 series). Right-armers Shane Warne (eight) and Makhaya Ntini (seven) lead the way when it comes to having Strauss's number.

1999 A specially produced coin for the toss and too many dignitaries to count – that's an awful lot of fuss for the 1,999th Test. The ICC, of course, reckons it is the 2,000th, but having included the 2005 match between Australia and a World XI, it conveniently discounts the five matches England played against the Rest of the World in 1970.

1000 Kevin Pietersen became the sixth batsman to score 1,000 Test runs at Lord's, joining Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart, Andrew Strauss, David Gower and Geoff Boycott. KP has the highest average.

Hot to Trott: An incredible Lord's record

v Bangladesh (First Test, May 2010) 226 & 36 not out

v Pakistan (Fourth Test, August 2010) 184

v Sri Lanka (Second Test, June 2011) 2 & 58

v India (First Test, July 2011) 58 not out

Second-day details

Weather Mostly cloudy with some sunny intervals. Patchy rain throughout the day. Maximum temperature: 19C

Television Live Sky Sports 1, HD1, 10.30am-7pm. Highlights Channel 5, HD; 7-8pm